Environmental Management

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 26–38 | Cite as

Conservation Through the Economics Lens

  • Joshua FarleyEmail author


Although conservation is an inherently transdisciplinary issue, there is much to be gained from examining the problem through an economics lens. Three benefits of such an approach are laid out in this paper. First, many of the drivers of environmental degradation are economic in origin, and the better we understand them, the better we can conserve ecosystems by reducing degradation. Second, economics offers us a when-to-stop rule, which is equivalent to a when-to-conserve rule. All economic production is based on the transformation of raw materials provided by nature. As the economic system grows in physical size, it necessarily displaces and degrades ecosystems. The marginal benefits of economic growth are diminishing, and the marginal costs of ecological degradation are increasing. Conceptually, we should stop economic growth and focus on conservation when the two are equal. Third, economics can help us understand how to efficiently and justly allocate resources toward conservation, and this paper lays out some basic principles for doing so. Unfortunately, the field of economics is dominated by neoclassical economics, which builds an analytical framework based on questionable assumptions and takes an excessively disciplinary and formalistic approach. Conservation is a complex problem, and analysis from individual disciplinary lenses can make important contributions to conservation only when the resulting insights are synthesized into a coherent vision of the whole. Fortunately, there are a number of emerging transdisciplines, such as ecological economics and environmental management, that are dedicated to this task.


Conservation Ecological economics Transdiscplinary Ecosystem services 



I acknowledge The Vermont Agricultural Experiment Station Hatch Program for providing financial assistance to research and write this article, the Santa Barbara Family Foundation for providing financial assistance to research and develop many of the ideas in the article, Herman Daly for his role as mentor and source of many of the ideas, and Brian Czech and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community Development and Applied EconomicsUniversity of VermontBurlingtonUSA

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