starting the first lessons on the Economics of Land Degradation (ELD) massive open online course (MOOC), there are a ton of things to dicuss and think of. Additionally quite some new thoughts coming in when discussing these issues online. From the first assignement I copied a paragraph which I stumbled upon and which added another dimension of sustainability to the way I was thinking of sustainability as forester:
If the decrease in natural capital is offset by the increase in physical and/or human capital, some economists consider the system sustainable because the total level of capital is maintained even if there is a decrease in natural capital. In the economics literature, keeping the total level of capital (natural, physical and human) constant is referred to as “weak sustainability” whilst keeping the level of natural capital constant is referred to as “strong sustainability”. Ecologists typically consider strong sustainability whilst economists may consider either strong or weak sustainability. Ecologists are indeed interested in maintaining or expanding the level of natural capital. For economists, the choice between strong and weak sustainability is a matter of social preferences, i.e. which of these two options people choose. This choice relates to how much trade off between the different forms of capital would be acceptable to society as a whole, that is how much extra physical capital society as a whole would need to compensate for the loss of natural capital and still have the same level of enjoyment or satisfaction (utility)
Other interesting reads are provided by an attempt to define assessment tools used by policy makers to economics:
Cost-benefit analysis consists in comparing the costs and benefits of a planned action or project against what would happen if nothing is changed. If physical benefits are considered rather than economic (monetary) benefits against costs, this is called a cost-effectiveness analysis. Damage assessment is linked to litigation and aims to estimate the level of compensation to be provided after environmental damages. This level of compensation can be arbitrarily set from a given level of physical damages or can be estimated from the economic costs of the damage incurred. Regulatory analysis sets standards for environmental quality derived from scientific and/or economic analyses. Land-use planning aims to effectively balance competitive land uses. It can be based on a formal economic assessment of costs and benefits for different land uses, although in practice a full economic assessment of land uses is seldom undertaken. Natural resource accounting aims at capturing the depreciation of environmental or natural capital stocks at the country level, complementing more traditional indicators of an economy’s health such as the Gross National Product (GNP). Natural resource accounting is now piloted in different countries following the 2009 report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, also known as the “Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report”. Sustainability assessment aims at identifying whether a current activity can be sustained over time or not, i.e. whether the level of physical (and/or monetary) benefits derived from it can be maintained. Multi-criteria analysis is a method that helps choosing between different scenarios from quantitative and qualitative data using a scoring system. Multi-criteria analysis can include economic data but not exclusively. The scenarios considered in a multi-criteria analysis are explicitly traded off one against the other to be able to choose the best one.
both taken from the learning material, page 4 ff.
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