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Bulldozing Biodiversity: The Economics of Optimal Extinction

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  • Clive L. Spash

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Abstract

Many conservationists have become enamoured with mainstream economic concepts and approaches, described as pragmatic replacements for appeals to ethics and direct regulation. Trading biodiversity using offsets is part of the resulting push for market governance that is promoted as a more efficient means of Nature conservation. In critically evaluationg this position I start by explaining the assumptions behind biodiversity and ecosystem valuation and how economic logic legitimises, rather than prevents, ongoing habitat destruction and treats species extinction as optimal. Biodiversity offsets provide a means for operationalising trade-offs that are in the best interests of developers and make false claims to adding productive new economic activity. Contrary to the argument that economic logic frees conservation from ethics, I expose the ethical premises required for economists to justify public policy support for offsets. Finally, various issues in offset design are raised and placed in the context of a political struggle over the meaning of Nature. The overall message is that, if conservationists continue down the path of conceptualising the world as in mainstream economic textbooks they will be forced from one compromise to another, ultimately losing their ability to conserve or protect anything. They will also be abandoning the rich and meaningful human relationships with Nature that have been their raison d’être.

Suggested Citation

  • Clive L. Spash, 2015. "Bulldozing Biodiversity: The Economics of Optimal Extinction," SRE-Disc sre-disc-2015_01, Institute for Multilevel Governance and Development, Department of Socioeconomics, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwsre:sre-disc-2015_01
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Fellner, Wolfgang & Spash, Clive L., 2014. "The Illusion of Consumer Sovereignity in Economic and Neoliberal Thought," SRE-Discussion Papers 4092, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
    2. Clive L Spash, 2008. "Contingent Valuation Design and Data Treatment: If You Can't Shoot the Messenger, Change the Message," Environment and Planning C, , vol. 26(1), pages 34-53, February.
    3. Maresova, Jana & Frynta, Daniel, 2008. "Noah's Ark is full of common species attractive to humans: The case of boid snakes in zoos," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(3), pages 554-558, January.
    4. Spash, Clive L., 2013. "The shallow or the deep ecological economics movement?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 351-362.
    5. Hausman,Daniel M., 2008. "The Philosophy of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521883504, Fall.
    6. Spash, Clive L. & Urama, Kevin & Burton, Rob & Kenyon, Wendy & Shannon, Peter & Hill, Gary, 2009. "Motives behind willingness to pay for improving biodiversity in a water ecosystem: Economics, ethics and social psychology," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 68(4), pages 955-964, February.
    7. Spash, Clive L. & Hanley, Nick, 1995. "Preferences, information and biodiversity preservation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 12(3), pages 191-208, March.
    8. Spash, Clive L. & Vatn, Arild, 2006. "Transferring environmental value estimates: Issues and alternatives," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(2), pages 379-388, December.
    9. Clive L. Spash, 2009. "The New Environmental Pragmatists, Pluralism and Sustainability," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 18(3), pages 253-256, August.
    10. Clive L. Spash, 2008. "How Much is that Ecosystem in the Window? The One with the Bio-diverse Trail," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 17(2), pages 259-284, May.
    11. Spash, Clive L., 2000. "Ecosystems, contingent valuation and ethics: the case of wetland re-creation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(2), pages 195-215, August.
    12. Hausman,Daniel M., 2008. "The Philosophy of Economics," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521709842, Fall.
    13. Ryan, Anthony M. & Spash, Clive L., 2011. "Is WTP an attitudinal measure? Empirical analysis of the psychological explanation for contingent values," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 32(5), pages 674-687.
    14. Spash, Clive L., 2002. "Informing and forming preferences in environmental valuation: Coral reef biodiversity," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 23(5), pages 665-687, October.
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