Indicators of natural resource scarcity: review, synthesis, and application to US agriculture

  • Cutler J. Cleveland
  • David I. Stern
Part of the Economy & Environment book series (ECEN, volume 15)


An increase in natural resource scarcity is defined as a reduction in economic well-being due to a decline in the quality, availability or productivity of natural resources. Simple in concept, the measurement of natural resource scarcity is the subject of significant debate about which of the alternative indicators of scarcity, such as unit costs, prices, rents, elasticities of substitution, and energy costs is superior (e.g. Brown and Field, 1979; Fisher, 1979; Hall and Hall, 1984; Cairns, 1990; Cleveland and Stern, 1993). Most neoclassical economists argue that, in theory, price is the ideal measure of scarcity (e.g. Fisher, 1979) though some argue in favour of rents (Brown and Field, 1979; Farzin, 1995). Barnett and Morse (1963) developed the unit cost indicator from their reading of Ricardo as an alternative to the neoclassical indicators. Some ecological economists favour a biophysical model of scarcity and derive energy-based indicators (e.g. Cleveland et al., 1984; Hall et al., 1986; Cleveland, 1991a, 1992; Ruth, 1995).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Cutler J. Cleveland
    • 1
  • David I. Stern
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Geography and Center for Energy and Environmental StudiesBoston UniversityBostonUSA
  2. 2.Centre for Resource and Environmental StudiesAustralian National UniversityCanberraAustralia

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