The Value of Nature

So far, we have considered values in line with how they are usually conceived within social sciences. There is a wide consensus that values refer to guiding principles for humans in society (see Reser and Bentrupperbaumer, 2005, for example). Values are also associated with something important and valuable.

Furthermore, values have moral and affective qualities and people may feel strongly about important values. It should also be clear that value is not equivalent to money (Dawes, 1988). The struggle for money can, however, be an indication of the importance of a value such as wealth (Biel and Dahlstrand, 2005). The next case investigates the evaluation of environmental resources by means of economic assessments. In particular, the concern is whether the evaluation of an environmental change through an economic measure captures the range of values that people might associate with environmental management. Before the case is presented, some background on the contingent valuation method is provided.

The contingent valuation (CV) method is based on welfare economics theory and has found extensive application in recent years. The premise behind CV is positive economic theory, which assumes that when confronted with a possible choice between two goods, economic agents have preferences for one over another. It also assumes that through its actions and choices, an economic agent attempts to maximize its overall level of satisfaction or utility (Mitchell and Carson, 1989). This implies that an individual has the knowledge to decide what he or she needs and also has a clearly defined rank order of value importance. As should be clear by now, this one-dimensional value concept as represented by welfare economics differs from the multidimensional classification of values as proposed by Schwartz (1992) and Stern and Dietz (1994) (see also Fischhoff, 1991; Garling, 2002). CV is used in several countries in order to assess, among other things, the environmental effects of government policies. CV is also used to estimate existence values - for example, how much an individual values a wetland or a forest which he or she has no intention of visiting.

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