Ethics and environmental attitudes with implications for economic valuation

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This paper tests the hypothesis that different ethical belief systems are unrelated to the attitude an individual takes towards the environment. More specifically, the neoclassical economic approach is seen to require a belief in utilitarianism while many individuals may operate on the basis of a deontological or rights-based approach to decision-making. The concern with this relationship arises from the use of the cost-benefit analysis approach to environmental policy and the specific application of the contingent valuation method. Evidence is found to support the view that environmentalists choose to operate on a rights-based approach which rejects the relative welfare arguments of economics and positively attributes compensation to future generations for environmental damages. This implies that the contingent valuation of environmental attributes will lead to values which are biased towards technocentric optimists and against the environmental movement. In terms of policy, environmental management on the basis of totalling economic values is liable to be undemocratic because of the systematic exclusion of a section of the general public.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Contingent valuation
  • Cost-benefit analysis
  • Deontology
  • Environmental ethics
  • Future generations

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  • Clive L. Spash

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