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The Age of Ecological Scarcity

  • Edward B. Barbier
Chapter

Abstract

A critical problem facing humankind today is the rapid disappearance and degradation of many ecosystems worldwide. For the first time in history, fossil fuel energy and raw material use, environmental degradation and pollution has occurred on such an unprecedented scale that the resulting consequences in terms of global warming, ecosystem decline and environmental degradation are generating worldwide impacts. As a consequence, we are on the verge of a new era, the “Age of Ecological Scarcity”.1

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See Edward B. Barbier (2011) Scarcity and Frontiers: How Economies Have Developed Through Natural Resource Exploitation. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Gretchen C. Daily et al. (2000) “The Value of Nature and the Nature of Value”, Science, 289: 395–396;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  4. Edward B. Barbier (2011) Capitalizing on Nature: Ecosystems as Natural Assets. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 3.
    This is well-documented in Thomas Piketty (2014) Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Harvard Cambridge, MA: University Press:CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. and in the earlier work Raymond W. Goldsmith (1985) Comparative National Balance Sheets: A Study of Twenty Countries, 1688 –1978. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. 5.
    For the original definition of ecological scarcity see Edward B. Barbier (1989) Economics, Natural Resource Scarcity and Development: Conventional and Alternative Views. London: Earthscan Publications, pp. 96–97: “The fundamental scarcity problem… is that as the environment is increasingly being exploited for one set of uses (e.g., to provide sources of raw material and energy, and to assimilate additional waste), the quality of the environment may deteriorate. The consequence is an increasing relative scarcity of essential natural services and ecological functions… In other words, if ‘the environment is regarded as a scarce resource’, then the ‘deterioration of the environment is also an economic problem’.”Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    For some relevant examples of this literature, see Edward B. Barbier (2007) “Valuing Ecosystems as Productive Inputs”, Economic Policy, 22: 177–229; Barbier (2011), Capitalizing on Nature op. cit.; CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    MA (2005), op. cit. Although the Millennium Ecosystem reported that global climate regulation by ecosystems has been enhanced, recent scientific evidence reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that this may no longer be the case. See Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II (2014) Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Philadelphia: Saunders. Available at: www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg2/CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  19. 14.
    See, for example, Edward B. Barbier et al. (2011) “The Value of Estuarine and Coastal Ecosystem Services”, Ecological Monographs, 81(2): 169–183;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  28. 18.
    Freshwater is defined as having a low salt concentration or other dissolved chemical compounds — usually less than 1%. According to I. Shiklomanov (1993) “World Fresh Water Resources”, chapter 2 in P. H. Gleick (ed.) Water in Crisis: A Guide to the World’s Fresh Water Resources. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 13–24, around 3% of the world’s water is fresh, and 99% of this supply is either frozen in glaciers and pack ice or found underground in aquifers. Freshwater ecosystems account for the remaining 1% of the world’s freshwater sources. Lakes and rivers, which are the main sources for human consumption of freshwater, contain just 0.26% of total global reserves.Google Scholar
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  31. 21.
    This example is based on Edward B. Barbier (2013) “Wealth Accounting, Ecological Capital and Ecosystem Services”, Environment and Development Economics, 18: 133–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 22.
    United Nations University (UNU)-International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP) on Global Environmental Change and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2012) Inclusive Wealth Report 2012. Measuring Progress Toward Sustainability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  33. 23.
    United Nations University (UNU)-International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP) on Global Environmental Change and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2014) Inclusive Wealth Report 2014. Measuring Progress Toward Sustainability. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. 25.
    For more discussion of this approach to accounting for ecological capital, see Edward B. Barbier (2012) “Ecosystem Services and Wealth Accounting”, chapter 8 in UNU-IHDP-UNEP (2012) Inclusive Wealth Report 20 12, op.cit., pp. 165–194.Google Scholar
  35. For a more technical treatment based on the same approach, see Barbier (2013), op. cit. In developing these methodologies for ecosystems, I have extended approaches to natural capital and wealth accounting, as suggested by Kenneth J. Arrow, et al. (2012) “Sustainability and the Measurement of Wealth”, Environment and Development Economics, 17: 317–353;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Partha Dasgupta (2009) “The Welfare Economic Theory of Green National Accounts”, Environmental and Resource Economics, 42: 3–38;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  39. and Karl-Göran Mäler (1991), “National Accounts and Environmental Resources”, Environmental and Resource Economics, 1: 1–15.Google Scholar
  40. 26.
    Although this approach to accounting for the contributions of and any changes to ecological capital appear straightforward, in practice there are numerous issues and challenges that need to be overcome. For further discussion, see Edward B. Barbier (2014) “Challenges to Ecosystem Service Valuation and Wealth Accounting”, chapter 7 in United Nations University (UNU)-International Human Dimensions Programme (IHDP) on Global Environmental Change;Google Scholar
  41. and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2014) Inclusive Wealth Report 2014. Measuring Progress Toward Sustainability. Cambridge Cambridge: University Press, pp. 159–177.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Edward B. Barbier 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward B. Barbier
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WyomingUSA

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