Saturday, October 22, 2011

Paul Newton's view in how society assesses Natural Resources

October 18, 2011

Workshop 2 Assignment
Question 1:  As a society, how can we assess natural resources?
Environmental and ecological economists seek ways to assess the quantity and quality of natural resources and services in order to help internalize costs and develop strategies for achieving sustainability (p. 156).  Although it is widely accepted that natural resource assessment is important and necessary, it is difficult to come up with methods for performing assessments of natural resources, particularly ecosystem services.  In its 2003 report (updated in 2008) on natural resources assessment, the National Parks Conservation Association stated, “To date, no rapid, affordable, comprehensive and authoritative protocol for evaluating and rating natural resource conditions and/or ecosystem health is in widespread, generally accepted use” (Natural Resources, p. 2).  This report describes the National Park Service’s natural resources assessment methodology to examine and rate natural resource conditions within the national park system; however, it acknowledges that the collection, analysis and interpretation of the relevant data for even a single ecosystem is “daunting” (p. 3).  Although acutely aware of its constraints, the NPS natural resource assessment methodology gathers, evaluates and reports current scientific information on major ecosystem attributes, environmental conditions and biotic health measures for the purposes of park management, planning, public education and policy recommendations (p. 4).
Other examples of ways to assess natural resources include contingent valuation (uses of surveys to determine how much people are willing to pay to protect or restore a resource) and revealed data valuation (analyzes the amount of money, time and effort people expend to visit, use or replace natural resources).  A related approach using repair and replacement costs was used by researchers for the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change.  They surveyed the scientific literature on impacts of rising temperatures, changing precipitation levels, and increasing major storms, then estimated the economic impacts to assess the cost of global change (Withgott & Brennan, p. 152).

Question 2:  As a society, how can we establish environmental regulations that have an impact on our culture and lifestyle (e.g., the BLM in the economic development of our society)?
                  Environmental regulations impact our culture and lifestyle through limitations, fees, taxes, reporting requirements, incentives, quotas, and many other approaches. The overall objectives should be to establish effective policies to bring about changes to enhance the wellbeing of human communities while achieving environmental sustainability.  Note that the establishment of principles comes first in this definition of “regulation”:  the establishment of principles, rules, or laws designed to control or govern conduct (  Our society has attempted to come to agreement and formally establish such principles on a national level by passing legislation such as the National Environmental Policy Act.  We must recognize that effective policy is based on input from science, ethics, and economics, including cost-benefit analysis of direct and indirect factors.  We must recognize the limitations of the tools and knowledge we use even as we must apply them in the present but be prepared to continuously seek improvement.  Dynamic and flexible approaches to regulation (perhaps modeled on the biotic systems we seek to protect?) are more compatible with our culture than rigid, punitive and arbitrary approaches.  A primary example of a well-received method of regulation is governing the activities of individuals and businesses by providing “incentives for them to behave in ways that minimize environmental impact or equalize costs and benefits among parties” (Withgott & Brennan, p. 169).  
Interestingly, one of the biggest policy issues that has been identified is not the establishment of sound policy but rather the implementation. In a report presented to the European Institute of Public Administration, Demmke (2001) calls attention to significant shortcomings in implementing environmental law: 
In the field of environmental law at present, ineffective application and enforcement remains a major problem and ranks higher than in any other policy (with the exception of the much bigger internal market sector). In the environmental sector hardly one directive (be it in water, waste, soil or other sectors) has been implemented and enforced by all Member States. (Demmke, 2001).

It appears our society needs to recognize and take steps to confront the fact that its biggest challenge in effective environmental regulation is in the implementation phase.


Demmke, C. (2001). Towards effective environmental regulation: Innovative approaches in implementing and enforcing European environmental law and policy.  Academy of European Law Online.  Retrieved October 18, 2011, from
National resources assessment and ratings methodology. ( August 2003, updated April 2008). National Parks Conservation Association. Fort Collins, Colorado.  Retrieved October 17, 2011, from
Withgott, J. , & Brennan, S. (2010). Environment: The science behind the stories (4th ed.).  New York. Pearson Benjamin Cummings.

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