[Coral-List] Value of Hawaiian Reefs - the fundamental problem?

Bill Allison allison.billiam at gmail.com
Tue Nov 22 09:41:59 EST 2011

Why purchase flat screen TVs instead of investing in ecosystem conservation?

Although one valuation metric may lend itself better to a conservation
ethic than does another the valuation metric does not seem to be the main
problem. Irregardless of the metric used, the fundamental problem seems to
be that on the one hand, any action to conserve resources has a discrete
cost to individual entities (people, institutions, nations etc), while on
the other hand, the benefits of such action are diffused across the
population. The benefits to individuals are small compared to the cost to
the individual even though the potential benefits to the population may be
enormous. “Potential” and “may be” because those benefits will be realized
only to the extent that everybody participates. In an unregulated system
(e.g., an open access fishery) or one with regulations serving primarily
vested or political interests or both, the potential benefits are heavily
discounted because the likelihood of a high participation rate is deemed
low. Such a ill-managed system can and has collapsed (e.g., the Canadian
East Coast Cod fishery). If this argument is accepted, and if it is also
accepted that it is the responsibility of government to conserve and
improve the common good, then the problem is a gross and systemic
governance failure (seen much of that recently?)

Note: This is of course just one of several useful ways of framing the
dynamic underlying the “Tragedy of the Commons” brought to our attention in
1968 by Garrett Hardin (Science.1968.162.3859.1243), although he was not
the first to discuss it.

On Tue, Nov 22, 2011 at 4:54 AM, Juergen Herler <juergen.herler at univie.ac.at
> wrote:

> Dear listers, dear Peter!
> I doubt that we can get around talking about values in general if we want
> to establish a useful valuation system. And why considering the monetary
> value system as the most appropriate one? Having only 2 to 3% of the cash
> sum being covered by real values, I would consider this unsustainable
> system - in which values are just “printed on demand” - as inappropriate
> for establishing a sustainable valuation for ecosystems. However it may be
> a good start, before it is too late for everything, but it must not be the
> final aim. I think Ulf Erlingsson’s suggestion is a much better approach.
> And why consider a valuation useful, when it asks for how much money
> people would spend on something when people know they actually don’t have
> to give it away but still can buy the next-generation flat-screen with it?
> Would be more interesting to look at the result when people have to
> exchange their values, which seems not only feasible but even necessary in
> the future, let’s say live without a car, eat much less meat and certain
> sea food and try to make a living at 30% of the current energy consumption
> level but retain primary forests, coral reefs, etc. and have their
> services available for longer than a few more decades. I wonder whether
> somebody would dare to make such a survey and take the risk of ending up
> in deep frustration. The best thing that may turn out is that people just
> do not know about their dependence on ecosystem services, the worst thing
> would be that they know about it, but do not value it.
> But maybe I am just one of these fools who still have a too romantic view
> of nature (and still have troubles to become familiar with the idea of
> diving above and doing research in algal mats instead of coral reefs).
> However, it is for sure less damaging than a too economic view of it. But
> it is definitely correct that we, since we are all in the same boat,
> should spend less energy for endless discussions and for blaiming people
> for putting “useless” actions. We need this energy not only for uniting
> disciplines and developing a reasonable philosophy and methodology for
> valuation (which is maybe out there, but not yet applied) but especially
> for changing our behavior to match it with our knowlegde. So the
> “better-educated” people will be challenged most and are supposed to be
> the first, and others will (probably) follow!?
> Best wishes
> Juergen
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: Peter Edwards [mailto:horlicks_1989 at yahoo.com]
> > Sent: Friday, November 18, 2011 03:43 PM
> > To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
> > Subject: [Coral-List] Value of Hawaiian Reefs - why cant we all just
> > get   along? :-)
> >
> >
> >
> > Hello Coral-Listers,
> >
> > I will try not to be-labor the point, and I am pretty sure that the
> > "pure" coral reef biologists, oceanographers, et al will soon chime in
> > to let us know this topic is not "science-y" enough.? And that all this
> > nonsense about people's preferences, values etc has little or nothing to
> > do with coral reefs (chuckle).
> >
> > But to I'd like to refer to Gene's last email and others of a similar
> > "strain"....
> >
> >
> > There will always be debate among and within disciplines.? This should be
> > encouraged as different points of view help to move science and human
> > knowledge forward.? However I believe that we will continue to witness
> > the decline of precious and "invaluable" resources such as coral reefs,
> > mangrove forests, sea
> > grass beds etc if we continue to remain entrenched in our camps.?
> > Dismissive comments and generalizations about a discipline that people
> > may have little understanding about is not helpful.? If we (natural and
> > social) scientists learned to "speak" to each other perhaps we would be
> > more successful at finding solutions to conservation.? Again I am
> > speaking as an individual who has come from a foundation of biology,
> > coral reef ecology who recognized the need for integrating social
> > sciences including neo-classical micro economic theory as part of my
> > tool-kit.? This has helped me better understand issues of efficient
> > allocation of resources and open my eyes to possible solutions for
> > reducing pollution and environmental degradation.?
> >
> >
> > I get the strong sense from some of the comments that there is the
> > suspicion that by conducting these types of studies the results will be
> > "hijacked" by business interests who want to privatize, sell off, steal
> > these resources. Well I am sorry to say...."News
> > Flash...this just in"...it is already happening.? What this discipline
> > and these approaches try to do is find solutions to ensure that these
> > resources get the respect they deserve and are not completely
> > obliterated from the planet. Message:? WE ARE ON THE SAME TEAM!!!
> >
> >
> > I urge some of you with deeply ingrained philosophical biases to try to
> > be a little more open minded and read a little wider.? Instead of just
> > cherry picking articles against this discipline, look for some balanced
> > articles.? There are indeed pros and cons to these approaches.? I would
> > hate to think that scientists such as ourselves are just as entrenched
> > as the political and religious extremists you know that anti-anything-we
> > don't understand-
> > folks that seem to dominate the news and political discourse these days..
> >
> > Nuff Said
> >
> > Peter Edwards
> >
> > The views and comments expressed here do not reflect the official
> position
> > of any organization I may be employed to or affiliated with
> >
> >
> >
> er
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Is this how science illuminates "reality"? - "the meaning of an episode was
not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the talk which brought it
out only as a glow brings out a haze."
- narrator's comment about Marlow's tale-telling, in Heart of Darkness

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