Amy W. Ando and Noelwah R. Netusil
Green stormwater infrastructure (GSI), a decentralized approach for managing stormwater that uses natural systems or engineered systems mimicking the natural environment, is being adopted by cities around the world to manage stormwater runoff. The primary benefits of such systems include reduced flooding and improved water quality. GSI projects, such as green roofs, urban tree planting, rain gardens and bioswales, rain barrels, and green streets may also generate cobenefits such as aesthetic improvement, reduced net CO2 emissions, reduced air pollution, and habitat improvement. GSI adoption has been fueled by the promise of environmental benefits along with evidence that GSI is a cost-effective stormwater management strategy, and methods have been developed by economists to quantify those benefits to support GSI planning and policy efforts. A body of multidisciplinary research has quantified significant net benefits from GSI, with particularly robust evidence regarding green roofs, urban trees, and green streets. While many GSI projects generate positive benefits through ecosystem service provision, those benefits can vary with details of the location and the type and scale of GSI installation. Previous work reveals several pitfalls in estimating the benefits of GSI that scientists should avoid, such as double counting values, counting transfer payments as benefits, and using values for benefits like avoided carbon emissions that are biased. Important gaps remain in current knowledge regarding the benefits of GSI, including benefit estimates for some types of GSI elements and outcomes, understanding how GSI benefits last over time, and the distribution of GSI benefits among different groups in urban areas.
The economics literature has developed various methods to recover the values for environmental commodities. Two such methods related to revealed preference are property value hedonic models and equilibrium sorting models. These strategies employ the actual decisions that households make in the real estate market to indirectly measure household demand for environmental quality. The hedonic method decomposes the equilibrium price of a house based on the house’s structural and neighborhood/environmental characteristics to recover marginal willingness to pay (MWTP). The more recent equilibrium sorting literature estimates environmental values by combining equilibrium housing outcomes with a formal model of the residential choice process. The two predominant frameworks of empirical sorting models that have been adopted in the literature are the vertical pure characteristics model (PCM) and the random utility model (RUM). Along with assumptions on the structure of preferences, a formal model of the choice process on the demand side, and a characterization of the supply side to close the model, these sorting models can predict outcomes that allow for re-equilibration of prices and endogenous attributes following a counterfactual policy change.
Innovations to the hedonic model have enabled researchers to more aptly value environmental goods in the face of complications such as non-marginal changes (i.e., identification and endogeneity concerns with respect to recovering the entire demand curve), non-stable hedonic equilibria, and household dynamic behavior. Recent advancements in the sorting literature have also allowed these models to accommodate consumer dynamic behavior, labor markets considerations, and imperfect information. These established methods to estimate demand for environmental quality are a crucial input into environmental policymaking. A better understanding of these models, their assumptions, and the potential implications on benefit estimates due to their assumptions would allow regulators to have more confidence in applying these models’ estimates in welfare calculations.
Brent M. Haddad
Watersheds are physical regions from which all arriving water flows to a single exit point. The shared hydrology means that other biophysical systems are linked, typically with upper-gradient regions influencing lower-gradient ones. This situation frames the challenge of managing economic and other uses of watersheds both in terms of individual activities and their influence on other connected processes and activities. Economics provides concepts and methods that help managers with decision making in the complex physical, biological, and institutional environment of a watershed. Among the important concepts and methods that help characterize watershed processes are externalities, impacts of economic activity that fall upon individuals not party to the activity, and third parties, individuals impacted without consent. Public goods and common pool resources describe categories of things or processes that by their nature are not amenable to regular market transactions. Their regulation requires special consideration and alternative approaches to markets. Benefit-cost analysis and valuation are related methods that provide a means to compare alternative uses of the same system. Each is based on the normative argument that the best use provides the greatest net benefits to society. And intergenerational equity is a value orientation that argues for preservation of watershed processes for the benefit of future generations. The need for effective watershed management methods pushed 20th-century economists to adapt their discipline to the complexity of watersheds, from which emerged subdisciplines of natural resource economics, environmental economics, and ecological economics. The field is still evolving with a growing interest in data gathering through land-based low-cost data collection systems and remote sensing, and in emerging data analysis techniques to improve management decisions.
Mark Eiswerth, Chad Lawley, and Michael H. Taylor
Introductions of non-native invasive species can harm ecosystems, heighten the risk of native species extinctions and population reductions, and lead to substantial economic damages on a worldwide scale. Increasingly, economists have made contributions that help other researchers, policymakers, and society better understand the economic implications of invasive species as well as the most economically efficient approaches for managing them. The complexity of invasive species management problems has pushed economists to ask novel economic questions and to develop new analytical approaches in order to address specific policy questions. There are three areas, in particular, where the economic analysis of invasive species management has led to significant innovations. First, there are substantial challenges to quantifying economic damages from invasive species for application in benefit−cost analysis. The challenges relate to defining the counterfactual state of an invaded ecosystem with and without management/policy and to the fact that, in a given ecosystem, estimates of economic damages are available for only a subset of the species and for only a subset of damages for any one species. Recent economic research has proposed innovative approaches to systematically dealing with these two issues in the context of invasive species that have implications for applied benefit−cost analysis more broadly. Second, unique among natural resource management problems, invasive species have the feature that their current and future extents are directly tied to a country’s participation in international trade. This feature has led to innovative research into the design of efficient measures to prevent or delay invasive species introductions along national borders, and into the trade-offs between these measures and the use of border controls as protectionist tools. The issues of optimal inspection policy and the use of nontariff barriers as a form of covert protectionism both have implications beyond invasive species management. Third, researchers have developed bioeconomic models that integrate economic and biological factors in order to analyze strategies to more cost-effectively reduce the damages caused by invasive species. These modeling efforts have dealt with issues related to temporal and spatial dynamics of the biological invasions, imperfect information regarding the extent of the invasion and the effectiveness of management, linkages between management applied at different stages of an invasion, and complications arising from ecosystems’ crossing over ecological thresholds due to invasions. In the face of increasingly rapid ecosystem change due to global climate change, increases in extreme weather, urban encroachment into wild lands, and other factors, many of these features of invasive species management problems are likely to become features of ecosystem management more broadly in the near future if they are not so already.
Leslie Richardson and Bruce Peacock
Economics plays an important role not only in the management of national parks in developed countries, but also in demonstrating the contribution of these areas to societal well-being. The beneficial effect of park tourism on jobs and economic activity in communities near these protected areas has at times been a factor in their establishment. These economic impacts continue to be highlighted as a way to demonstrate the benefit and return on investment of national parks to local economies. However, the economic values supported by national parks extend far beyond local economic benefits. Parks provide unique recreation opportunities, health benefits, preservation of wildlife and habitat, and a wide range of ecosystem services that the public assigns an economic value to. In addition, value is derived from the existence of national parks and their preservation for future generations. These nonmarket benefits can be difficult to quantify, but they are essential for understanding and communicating the economic importance of parks. Economic methods used to estimate these values have been refined and tested for nearly seven decades, and they have come a long way in helping to elucidate the extent of the nonmarket benefits of protected areas.
In many developed countries, national parks have regulations and policies that outline a framework for the consideration of economic values in decision-making contexts. For instance, large oil spills in the United States, such as the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010, highlighted the need to better understand public values for affected park resources, leading to the extensive use of nonmarket values in natural resource damage assessments. Of course, rules and enforcement issues vary widely across countries, and the potential for economics to inform the day-to-day operations of national parks is much broader than what is currently outlined in such policies. While economics is only one piece of the puzzle in managing national parks, it provides a valuable tool for evaluating resource tradeoffs and for incorporating public preferences into the decision-making process, leading to greater transparency and assurance that national parks are managed for the benefit of society. Understanding the full extent of the economic benefits supported by national parks helps to further the mission of these protected areas in developed countries.
Benjamin S. Arbuckle
The domestication of livestock animals has long been recognized as one of the most important and influential events in human prehistory and has been the subject of scholarly inquiry for centuries. Modern understandings of this important transition place it within the context of the origins of food production in the so-called Neolithic Revolution, where it is particularly well documented in southwest Asia. Here, a combination of archaeofaunal, isotopic, and DNA evidence suggests that sheep, goat, cattle, and pigs were first domesticated over a period of several millennia within sedentary communities practicing intensive cultivation beginning at the Pleistocene–Holocene transition. Resulting from more than a century of data collection, our understanding of the chronological and geographic features of the transition from hunting to herding indicate that the 9th millennium
Alfons Weersink and David Pannell
The production of food, fiber, and fuel often results in negative externalities due to impacts on soil, water, air, or habitat. There are two broad ways to incentivize farmers to alter their land use or management practices on that land to benefit the environment: (1) provide payments to farmers who adopt environmentally beneficial actions and (2) introduce direct controls or regulations that require farmers to undertake certain actions, backed up with penalties for noncompliance. Both the provision of payments for environmentally beneficial management practices (BMPs) and a regulatory requirement for use of a BMP alter the incentives faced by farmers, but they do so in different ways, with different implications and consequences for farmers, for the policy, for politics, and consequently for the environment. These two incentive-based mechanisms are recommended where the private incentives conflict with the public interest, and only where the private incentives are not so strong as to outweigh the public benefits. The biggest differences between them probably relate to equity/distributional outcomes and politics rather than efficiency. Governments often seem to prefer to employ beneficiary-pays mechanisms in cases where they seek to alter farmers’ existing practices, and polluter-pays mechanisms when they seek to prevent farmers from changing from their current practices to something worse for the environment. The digital revolution has the potential to help farmers produce more food on less land and with fewer inputs. In addition to reducing input levels and identifying unprofitable management zones to set aside, the technology could also alter the transaction costs of the policy options.
Christopher Fleming and Christopher Ambrey
The method and practice of placing monetary values on environmental goods and services for which a conventional market price is otherwise unobservable is one of the most fertile areas of research in the field of natural resource and environmental economics. Initially motivated by the need to include environmental values in benefit-cost analysis, practitioners of non-market valuation have since found further motivation in national account augmentation and environmental damage litigation. Despite hundreds of applications and many decades of refinement, shortcomings in all of the techniques remain, and no single technique is considered superior to the others in all respects. Thus, techniques that expand the suite of options available to the non-market valuation practitioner have the potential to represent a genuine contribution to the field.
One technique to recently emerge from the economics of happiness literature is the “experienced preference method” or “life satisfaction approach.” Simply, this approach entails the inclusion of non-market goods as explanatory variables within micro-econometric functions of life satisfaction along with income and other covariates. The estimated coefficient for the non-market good yields, first, a direct valuation in terms of life satisfaction and, second, when compared to the estimated coefficient for income, the implicit willingness to pay for the non-market good in monetary terms.
The life satisfaction approach offers several advantages over more conventional non-market valuation techniques. For example, the approach does not ask individuals to directly value the non-market good in question, as is the case in contingent valuation. Nor does it ask individuals to make explicit trade-offs between market and non-market goods, as is the case in discrete choice modeling. The life satisfaction approach nonetheless has some potential limitations. Crucially, self-reported life satisfaction must be regarded as a good proxy for an individual’s utility. Furthermore, in order to yield reliable non-market valuation estimates, self-reported life satisfaction measures must: (1) contain information on respondents’ global evaluation of their life; (2) reflect not only stable inner states of respondents, but also current affects; (3) refer to respondents’ present life; and (4) be comparable across groups of individuals under different circumstances. Despite these conditions, there is growing evidence to support the suitability of individual’s responses to life satisfaction questions for non-market valuation. Applications of the life satisfaction approach to the valuation of environmental goods and services to date include the valuation of air quality, airport noise, greenspace, scenic amenity, floods, and drought.
Ann E. Ferris, Richard Garbaccio, Alex Marten, and Ann Wolverton
Concern regarding the economic impacts of environmental regulations has been part of the public dialogue since the beginning of the U.S. EPA. Even as large improvements in environmental quality occurred, government and academia began to examine the potential consequences of regulation for economic growth and productivity. In general, early studies found measurable but not severe effects on the overall national economy. Although price increases due to regulatory requirements outweighed the stimulative effect of investments in pollution abatement, they nearly offset one another. However, these studies also highlighted potentially substantial effects on local labor markets due to the regional and industry concentration of plant closures.
More recently, a substantial body of work examined industry-specific effects of environmental regulation on the productivity of pollution-intensive firms most likely to face pollution control costs, as well as on plant location and employment decisions within firms. Most econometric-based studies found relatively small or no effect on sector-specific productivity and employment, though firms were less likely to open plants in locations subject to more stringent regulation compared to other U.S. locations. In contrast, studies that used economy-wide models to explicitly account for sectoral linkages and intertemporal effects found substantial sector-specific effects due to environmental regulation, including in sectors that were not directly regulated.
It is also possible to think about the overall impacts of environmental regulation on the economy through the lens of benefit-cost analysis. While this type of approach does not speak to how the costs of regulation are distributed across sectors, it has the advantage of explicitly weighing the benefits of environmental improvements against their costs. If benefits are greater than costs, then overall social welfare is improved. When conducting such exercises, it is important to anticipate the ways in which improvements in environmental quality may either directly improve the productivity of economic factors—such as through the increased productivity of outdoor workers—or change the composition of the economy as firms and households change their behavior. If individuals are healthier, for example, they may choose to reallocate their time between work and leisure. Although introducing a role for pollution in production and household behavior can be challenging, studies that have partially accounted for this interconnection have found substantial impacts of improvements in environmental quality on the overall economy.
Kevin J. Boyle and Christopher F. Parmeter
Benefit transfer is the projection of benefits from one place and time to another time at the same place or to a new place. Thus, benefit transfer includes the adaptation of an original study to a new policy application at the same location or the adaptation to a different location. The appeal of a benefit transfer is that it can be cost effective, both monetarily and in time. Using previous studies, analysts can select existing results to construct a transferred value for the desired amenity influenced by the policy change. Benefit transfer practices are not unique to valuing ecosystem service and are generally applicable to a variety of changes in ecosystem services. An ideal benefit transfer will scale value estimates to both the ecosystem services and the preferences of those who hold values. The article outlines the steps in a benefit transfer, types of transfers, accuracy of transferred values, and challenges when conducting ecosystem transfers and ends with recommendations for the implementation of benefit transfers to support decision-making.