Take a class in economics, and you will soon discover the concept of “externalities” — those effects of production or consumption that are not priced or valued in the marketplace. Pollution and wildlife habitat loss are good examples of negative externalities. Because neither air quality nor a healthy ecosystem have any value in a purely market-based system, the market doesn’t really care what happens to them. With the earth facing not only a climate change crisis, but a biodiversity crisis, one approach to address the problem is to attempt to put prices or values on such ineffable things such as “nature.” Linda Bilmes is the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy and Public Finance at Harvard University.
Image of old-growth forest by Patte David, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons