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‘Natural Capital’ and the Tragedy of Environmental Value

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Debating Nature's Value
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The concept of natural capital offers environmentalists a dangerous metaphor. While it has limited positive uses for implementing the recognition that natural resources and the capacities of ecological systems are not free goods for the economy, at the level of earth systems it radically misrepresents the relationship between human beings and their planetary home. I argue that this is an economistically inflected instance of a more fundamental misrepresentation, that involved in seeking to attach values to our constitutive natural context at all; but also that we are so constituted as not to be able to avoid doing this so that value-conflict becomes tragically inescapable in this domain.

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  1. 1.

    Those interested should see the papers in Part II of Foster (ed.) [4]. The case has been reiterated, in essentially the same terms, many times over the succeeding two decades.

  2. 2.

    Quoted by Richard Spencer in “Costing the earth” at (accessed 15.3.18).

  3. 3.

    See (accessed 24.4.18).

  4. 4.

    See (accessed 24.4.18).

  5. 5.

    On which, see [5].


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Foster, J. (2018). ‘Natural Capital’ and the Tragedy of Environmental Value. In: Anderson, V. (eds) Debating Nature's Value. Palgrave Pivot, Cham.

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  • Publisher Name: Palgrave Pivot, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-99243-3

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-99244-0

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