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Pub Ecology

November 29th, 2005

I’ll be at a Pub Ecology event at the Red Room, UQ Union 7pm tonight, talking about biodiversity trading. The rest of the week will be pretty hectic. I’m giving a couple of papers at the State of Australian Cities conference, on Wednesday and Thursday (one on water and one on global cities), then a flying visit to Sydney.

I plan a lot of relaxation next week.

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  1. wilful
    November 29th, 2005 at 10:35 | #1

    What do you know about biodiversity, Professor? (That’s a genuine enquiry not an aggressive assertion BTW.) Are you aware of the Vic Parliament’s utilisation of flora and fauna inquiry ?

  2. wilful
    November 29th, 2005 at 10:36 | #2
  3. Terje
    November 29th, 2005 at 10:38 | #3

    I was also wondering how the good professor got engaged to speak on biodiversity.

  4. jquiggin
    November 29th, 2005 at 10:46 | #4

    I should have written “biodiversity trading” (fixed now). I’ve been asked because of my work on related market-based environmental policy instruments, like water markets and carbon credits.

  5. wilful
    November 29th, 2005 at 10:59 | #5
  6. jquiggin
    November 29th, 2005 at 11:40 | #6

    Queensland is running something very similar to Bush Tender. Can’t find a link, but there have been a couple of seminars on it here at UQ.

  7. Harry Clarke
    November 29th, 2005 at 17:08 | #7

    I don’t think Bush Tender helps you to prioritise conservation effort but only to realise conservation efforts that have already been prioritised at minimum cost. And this need not work with even rough efficiency given the quality dimensions associated with conservation.

    John if you are skeptical of privatisation of public utilities I hope you are consistent and see the intractable agency issues in privatising biodiversity conservation by trading schemes. There is some role for encouraging biodiversity on private land using incentives but a crucial major role for the national reserve system will always remain.

    A nice topic is to think about global conservation concerns. If biodiversity existence values are a global public good and most of the willingness-to-pay is in developed countries but most of the really productive conservation options are in developing countries, then an aid transfer is necessary. Not only to buy out private landowners but also to enforce property rights on non-excludable public assets that are being inappropriately destroyed so that lower-valued privately appropriable assets can be substituted for them.

    Its a pity I cannot come to your seminar as I would have been interested.

  8. jquiggin
    November 29th, 2005 at 17:47 | #8

    Harry, I’d be interested to discuss this further. I certainly see private conservation as a supplement to the national parks/reserve system, not a substitute for it. And I mean to discuss the agency issues, drawing on experience with water trading. I’ll report back on the discussion when I get a free moment or two.

  9. Emma Comerford
    November 29th, 2005 at 21:59 | #9

    Great talk tonight, John, especially given the large and noisy crowd!

    I think you came along to my PhD seminar -my PhD is looking at the use of conservation tender mechanisms in QLD, with the state government’s Vegetation Incentives Program (VIP) as a case study. Some info about the VIP is at the Greening Australia website.

    The EPA is also running a Biodiversity Incentives Tender, limited info here.

  10. Emma Comerford
  11. Terje Petersen
    November 30th, 2005 at 07:24 | #11

    QUOTE: A nice topic is to think about global conservation concerns. If biodiversity existence values are a global public good and most of the willingness-to-pay is in developed countries but most of the really productive conservation options are in developing countries, then an aid transfer is necessary.

    RESPONSE: I can’t see aid transfers as being a reflection of a willingness to pay. They are a forced transfer funded through taxes. Unless you mean something else.

  12. Harry Clarke
    November 30th, 2005 at 16:18 | #12

    Terje, I mean they are globally Pareto improving — they create efficiency. Those who want conservation (weathy country citizens) get it with cost efficiency.

  13. Ian Gould
    November 30th, 2005 at 17:43 | #13


    “Aid” in this case is a misnomer.

    The developing country is government is being paid to provide a service.

  14. Terje Petersen
    November 30th, 2005 at 21:10 | #14

    If the payment comes from a rich countries government then it is taxpayers money and can not be regarded as reflecting any willingness to pay. Tax is a forced appropriation not a free willed contribution.

    If on the other hand it was donations made by individuals then I would say it reflects a willingness to pay.

  15. Ian Gould
    November 30th, 2005 at 23:02 | #15


    Ever hear of a public good?


  16. Harry Clarke
    December 1st, 2005 at 06:50 | #16

    Terje, Sometimes your libertarian precepts don’t take you far. In this setting — as in other public goods settings — it is assumed people would pay in full if they would be sure others would pay. It is a standard public goods issue where people have a propensity to free ride. Non-rivalry and non-excludability in consumption (operating here with respect to biodiversity existence values, the values people get from knowing species are not wiped out) provide the motivation. The community is assumed to get a benefit for their expenditure — its just how you access the funds to pay for it and the standard answer is a tax.

    Are the limits to your understanding of public finance that all taxes are forced appropriations? Even Adam Smith understood the need to tax to pay for public works (such infrastructure) that enjoy increasing returns.

    If people have different willingness-to-pay for conservation the state can only take some sort of average. Then private individuals who would be willing to pay more and are unperturbed by free-rider issues could do so with voluntary contributions via private organisations such as private conservation groups. But such groups will only, in themselves, realise desired levels of spending if there are no free-rider issues.

    To argue that any public expenditure requires unanimity in agreeing to pay would leave us with a totally impoverished society because we would have no public goods.

    Let’s move on from this.

  17. wilful
    December 1st, 2005 at 09:14 | #17

    “If the payment comes from a rich countries government then it is taxpayers money and can not be regarded as reflecting any willingness to pay. Tax is a forced appropriation not a free willed contribution.”


  18. December 1st, 2005 at 11:22 | #18

    The technical point may be that taxes are defined in many dictionaries as “unrequited payments”. That doesn’t say anything at all about government expenditures, only about the disconnect between payments and goods and/or services rendered to the payer as a direct consequence.

    I am sure that a great many people will immediately miss the point and start arguing on the basis of irrelevancies. That’s what usually happens.

    The Libertarian issue is to dispute that there is any such thing as a distinct free standing community, and that so ipso facto the claimed common benefits cannot justify anything. Or rather, any meaningful community arises after the fact of consent, and any unconsenting involvement is ipso facto not a community involvement any more than the German Democratic Republic was democratic.

  19. Jeff Harvey
    December 2nd, 2005 at 01:21 | #19

    One of the biggest problems with this is that biodiversity cannot and should not be valued merely on a perceived ‘aesthetic’ basis. I am a population ecologist and I want to drive home the message that protecting biodiversity goes way beyond some moral or idealogical imperative.

    Many economists – among them Parth Dasgupta, Stephan Viedermann, John Gowdy and Geoffrey Heal – realize that valuation of biodiversity must extend to include the provisioning services that ‘permit’ humans to exist and persist. The profound failure of the Biosphere II programme – whereby scientists attempted to recreate in mesocosm a fully functional viable ecosystem complete with life support systems – should warn us against using biodiversity as a political tool to be ‘traded off’ as a commodity. Our understanding of the ways in which these immensely complex systems evolve, assemble and function has barely scracthed the surface, yet what I see from this exercise is nothing more than a futile attempt at valuation based on amenity value and not on truly internalizing services like pollination, waste disposal, water purification, upland stabilisation, maintenance and generation of soils, pest control, nutrient cycling and partial control of climate. These services emerge from the combined biological activities of literally millions of species and billions of organisms, and work in little-explored ways.

    The work of scientists like Gretchen Daily, Paul Ehrlich and others is aimed at better understanding the economic significance and value of ecosystem services for civilization, but until we gain a great deal more knowledge on these systems and the way in which they work any biodiversity ‘trading schemes’ will be nothing more than walking blind. Protecting keystone species and maintaining functional redundancy may be the most immediate tasks at hand, but, as I said earlier, we first have to first identify these taxa, understand the role they play, and also gain more insight into how much systems can be reduced in size and still function effectively. For these problems we have little in the way of empirical data.

  20. Harry Clarke
    December 2nd, 2005 at 02:13 | #20

    Jeff what you are saying is that biodiversity has use values. That is true and intensifies the case for conservation. It does not discredit the idea that it has non-use values as well. In fact this is the first time I have heard an ecologist defend biodiversity conservation on utilitarian grounds. Normally ecologists get stuck into economists for pushing this line. By the way many of the utilitarian values you recognise have global rather than particular national significance — for example climate control. This intensifies the efficiency-based arguments that can be established at the global level for transferring resources from rich to poorer countries to support conservation.

  21. wilful
    December 2nd, 2005 at 11:01 | #21

    The reason biologists have adopted the use values arguments is a result of some good figures for ecosystem services. One oft-quoted figure is that New York State could spend $1Bn on protecting a closed catchment or $8 Bn on water purification plant and measures for the same net benefit in clean water.

    Previously we had to rely on fairly weak figures for future speculated ‘cures for cancer’ and the like – which were a joke.

    It’s still a dangerous course though – plenty of biodiversity has only got intrinsic non-use values. In which case we have to model using consumer preference surveys – and they are dodgy to say the least.

  22. wilful
    December 2nd, 2005 at 11:01 | #22

    Oh, and they’re totally anthropocentric as well. But you can’t expect too much moral development at this stage of the human story.

  23. December 7th, 2005 at 16:39 | #23

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  24. Terje Petersen
    December 8th, 2005 at 12:18 | #24

    QUOTE HARRY: It is a standard public goods issue where people have a propensity to free ride.

    RESPONSE: We have a lot of free riders under our current high tax, redistribution model. I don’t think that taxation fixes the free rider problem it just shifts it. Democratic decisions are full of free rider examples.

    Public goods may be paid for by taxation but that does not mean that are paid willingly. I acknowledge the free rider problem but I don’t believe that taxation is in general a good solution.

    Have you ever read the childrens book called “The King, the Mice and the Cheese”?


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