The Forest at the Intersection of Ecology and Economics

September 22, 2004

I've been reading a great deal about ecology and conservation biology lately, and thus found the article Ecolonomics: Valuing Forests quite timely. Of course it is an intriguing article whether or not one has been reading up on the subject, and I recommend it even more to those who haven't been doing so.

An aside: though it was staring me in the face, it took me a few moments to decompose "ecolonomics" into "ecology" + "economics." So perhaps this message will save you one of those moments.

The gist of the article is: how do we put a reasonable monetary value on a forest system (for example) in order to properly weigh its economic benefits in comparison with alternate uses for its resources? More specifically, the article presumes that we are already putting a value to the forest's products (primarily wood) and goes on to look at the services provided by that forest, with several lucid examples. The whole is inspired by the book Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth.

The article closes on a strong point of considering the free market system (after all, this about modern neoliberal economics). My version of this point: It has been said that the free market works best when the consumer is fully informed about a product in question. In the case of today's industry, we are often left without full knowledge of the ramifications of unsustainable practices; that is, we are not fully informed. Thus the lack of proper valuation of natural resources means that we have a "free market" system that is heavily skewed toward the sellers and to the disadvantage of the buyers.