Internalising external costs is key to dissolve conflicts of ecology and economy

Prof. Dr. sc. agr. Jens Poetsch, Hochschule für Forstwirtschaft Rottenburg

Can protecting our natural resources really be economically “too much”? Just as often with our own health, it rather seems to be a question of short vs long-term perspective, or business vs national economy. The degradation of some natural resources, like soil, water or stable climate, will have adverse economic effects on future generations that have also been quantified in many studies. Economic theory also knows non-monetary values like happiness about healthy nature, though there is no market for such goods.
A major problem is, that many decisions made today, seem economically reasonable for the decision maker, when negative consequences are out-sourced to other people or the future. In this context, a better decision means a competitive disadvantage. Here, something must change.
The concept of external costs is well known and has been examined for many sectors, inter alia agriculture or climate change. If environmental policy would only consequently add external costs to the respective products and shift this money to products and services causing external benefits, the forces of market would do the rest, and the supposed conflict of economic and ecological goals would dissolve without causing additional costs. However, a filter against “cheap competition” at the European trading border and long-term planning certainty are indispensable premises to make this work.

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