Anthropocentrism and Nature Conservation

In the environmental debate the claim can be often heard that granting nature intrinsic value would solve our problems – in other words, the difficulties we have with protecting nature are due to our overly human-centred perspective. Instead of invoking anthropocentrism one should, so the argument goes, move towards some sort of physiocentrism, i.e., grant some non-human entities intrinsic value. According to this view, anthropocentrism necessarily leads to destruction of the natural world. It is pathocentrism or biocentrism or ecocentrism or holism that would “save the world”. I already once showed that anthropocentrism is not as bad as claimed by those self-proclaimed physiocentrists. Today I would like to go further and show that meaningful conservation of nature is not compatible with physiocentrism – i.e., physiocentrism cannot consistently justify attempts to protect the natural world. Continue reading

In Defence of Neobiota

As essentially an anthropocentrist I am entirely comfortable with the notions of useful and harmful species (which correspond with ecosystem services and disservices, respectively). However, I fiercely oppose the notion of “(invasive) alien” species, which is quite popular in the conservation discourse. Notwithstanding its obvious popularity, I think that it is flawed in being xenophobic and arbitrary. Continue reading

What’s So Good About Biodiversity?

Sometimes, there are books you wish you wouldn’t have read. Mostly, these are bad books. Recently, I read a quite good book that I nevertheless first wished had escaped my attention. It’s Donald S. Maier’s What’s So Good About Biodiversity: A Call for Better Reasoning About Nature’s Value. It’s shaken up my view of why biodiversity is valuable (although not as much as initially thought). As I had to think a lot about Maier’s provocative and very polemic argumentation, for it has posed a challenge to the core of my PhD thesis, I would like to attempt a “self-therapeutic” review of his book’s first part, in which he attacks the status of biodiversity as carrier of nature’s value (I haven’t yet read his exposition of an own account why nature is valuable). Continue reading

In Defence of Anthropocentrism

In the environmental debate, economics is oftentimes criticised for being explicitly anthropocentric, which means, among other things, that it ignores any intrinsic values non-human entities might have. The last time I wrote about this subject, I defended an anthropocentric perspective for rather pragmatic reasons. This time, I would like to offer an ethical defence of it. Continue reading

The Economic Value of a Statistical Life

A human life is worth $4 million to $9 million. At least according to an authoritative meta-analysis of economic studies that estimate the so-called “value of a statistical life”. This is one of the most controversial issues in modern economics, which has met with vast criticism. Particularly, it has been argued that one cannot attach a price-tag to the life of a human being. In what follows, I would like to argue that a) this criticism is largely based on a misconception of the estimates; b) economists can only blame themselves that the misconception actually arised; and c) the calculation of the value of a statistical life is not sensible, albeit for reasons different from the ethical ones that are commonly used to argue against it. Continue reading

Putting a Price on Nature’s Beauty

In a recent Guardian piece George Monbiot was quite hard on my profession–or rather, on the issue of how politicians use the ideas behind the concept of economic valuation of ecosystems:

As Ronald Reagan remarked, when contemplating the destruction of California’s giant redwoods, “a tree is a tree”. Who, for that matter, would care if the old masters in the National Gallery were replaced by the prints being sold in its shop? In swapping our ancient places for generic clusters of chainstores and generic lines of saplings, the offsetters would also destroy our stories.

While I do not think that economic valuation is useless, an important question implicitly posed by Monbiot is: even if economists know what they’re doing and where the limits of their work are, is it justified to expect that politicians do? To price or not to price: That is the question…

On highly connected but dysfunctional academics (or The downsides of networking)

Very interesting perspective on scientific networking. Since I see the problems my supervisor has to find time for truly scientific work, I cannot but agree with Joern Fischer’s message.

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

As researchers, we live in a highly connected world. Many colleagues work on things that are related somehow to what we do. Conventional wisdom has it that we ought to keep up with Table of Contents, with conferences, and with funding calls, so that we know what’s going on elsewhere. Moreover, early career researchers are told frequently about the importance of “networking”. You’ve got to know who-is-who and who-does-what to effectively position yourself for a research career. To be part of the next “big thing”, you have to be known to those people centrally involved in that “big thing” (e.g. a new funding call, or some other kind of research collaboration).

Through this kind of logic, powerful research networks have formed around many issues. So, for example, there are scholars interested in “resilience stuff”, others interested in “pollination stuff”, others interested in “Amazon stuff”, and yet others…

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