, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 105-109

Environmental functions as a unifying concept for ecology and economics

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In spite of the increased awareness about many environmental problems, degradation and pollution of the natural environment by human actions still continue on a large scale. Some of the main reasons for man's continued abuse of the natural environment are the short-term nature of the economic planning process, which largely ignores the negative long-term effects of economic production on the environment (e.g. pollution), and the fact that the pricing system mainly concentrates on man-made goods and services while considering most natural resources to be ‘free goods’.

This paper argues that environmental functions (i.e. natural goods are services) are at least as important to human welfare as man-made goods and services and should, therefore, be included in economic accounting procedures. To this end, it is suggested to replace the term ‘natural resources’ by the concept of environmental functions and, efforts should be undertaken to increase our understanding of the ecological and socio-economic benefits of environmental functions to human society. Only when ecological principles become an integral part of economic planning and political decision-making is there a chance of achieving a ‘happy global village’ based on harmony between man and nature.

Rudolf S. de Groot is an environmental consultant and a Ph.D candidate in environmental planning and management in the Nature Conservation Department of the Agricultural University Wageningen. As a member of the IUCN Commission on Environmental Planning he is involved in the activities of the European Committee for National Conservation Strategies, to implement, monitor and update National and European Conservation Strategies.