The Columns

The Ethics of Environmental Valuation A Conference Sponsored by W&L’s Roger Mudd Center for Ethics

— by on October 17th, 2016

The Mudd Center for Ethics at Washington and Lee University will host an interdisciplinary conference on “The Ethics of Environmental Valuation” on Oct. 29, from 9 a.m.–5:30 p.m., in the Hillel Multipurpose Room (101).

The conference is free and open to the public. See the list of panelists below.

The conference will explore two fundamental but related themes: the ethical issues surrounding the valuation of ecosystem services and the proper role of preference satisfaction in the development of environmental policy.

“The aim of this conference is to bring together economists, philosophers and scientists who work in environmental studies to address certain ethical questions surrounding the valuation of ecosystem services—that is, services that the natural world provides,” said Angela Smith, director of the Mudd Center for Ethics.

“Some cases are pretty clear. A wetland provides water filtration services, so we can ask what it would cost to build a functionally equivalent water treatment facility. Bees and other creatures provide natural pollination services, so we can ask what it would cost to truck in bees to get the job done. Other cases are more controversial. How should we value landscapes and other bits of nature that have cultural, historical, spiritual or aesthetic significance? Or parts of nature that have significance from the standpoint of biodiversity or wilderness preservation? How should these values be incorporated into environmental decision-making? The conference will address these and related questions.”

The panelists include:

Rachelle Gould, assistant professor of environmental studies, University of Vermont. Her collaborative interdisciplinary research investigates the relationships between ecosystems and well-being, focusing on the intersection of environmental values, learning and human behavior. Using the lens of cultural ecosystem services and with particular attention to issues of diversity and equity, she examines how nature improves well-being in nonmaterial ways.

Lisi Krall, professor of economics, SUNY-Cortland. Her research explores the interface between economy and the earth. It is oriented to questions concerning the contradictions and challenges in altering the dynamic and structure of the economy to comport to the biophysical limitations and wild impulse of the earth.

Bryan Norton, professor of philosophy, Georgia Tech. In his research, he has addressed the problems of species loss, degradation and illness of ecological systems, the problems of watershed management, and most recently, the problem of placing boundaries around environmental issues so that they can be modeled for study and management.

Stephen Polasky, Regents Professor and Fesler-Lambert Professor of Ecological/Environmental Economics, University of Minnesota. His research focuses on issues at the intersection of ecology and economics and includes the impacts of land use and land management on the provision and value of ecosystem services and natural capital, biodiversity conservation, sustainability, environmental regulation, renewable energy and common property resources.

Sahotra Sarkar, professor of philosophy, University of Texas-Austin. He is one of the founders of systematic conservation planning within conservation biology, promoting the use of multi-criteria decision analysis and supervising the creation of the ConsNet decision support system. In this context he has advocated participatory environmental planning and strongly criticized the imposition of authoritarian and discriminatory environmental policies on local residents.

Terre Satterfield, professor and director, Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia. An anthropologist by training and an interdisciplinarian by design, her work concerns sustainable development in the context of debates about cultural meanings, environmental values, perceived risk, environmental and ecosystem health.