, Volume 47, Issue 4, pp 477–492 | Cite as

Should biodiversity and nature have to earn their keep? What it really means to bring environmental goods into the marketplace

  • Donald S. Maier


Pursuit of economic gain has sponsored much of our planet’s despoliation. Yet conservation increasingly operates as an economic sector that markets biodiversity, ecosystems, and nature as natural capital, service provider, or option value. This essay first elucidates what basic moral theory says about the principle that the goodness of biodiversity and nature is largely economic. It explains why economic valuations may be morally unimportant, inapt for environmental goods, and subversive of more important ideals. It also shows why neither econometric notions of option value nor Daniel Faith’s qualitative one credibly applies. The essay then turns to what an economic conception of goodness implies for conservation practice. It refers to two prominent conservation organizations, whose conservation principles match the market-based ones of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development’s. The environmental record of the latter organization’s practices according to these principles predicts what their adoption for conservation entails.


Biodiversity Economic value Ecosystem services Markets Option value Sustainable development 



The author is grateful to his hosts Nathalie Seddon at Oxford University, and Arne Mooers at Simon Fraser University, and for the spirited engagement of audiences at those universities as well as at the meetings of the International Society for Environmental Ethics for the roles of all these persons in catalyzing the development and presentation of this essay’s ideas. The author would also like to express his great gratitude to two Ambio reviewers whose acute questions and comments were the basis for significant improvements in the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SebastopolUSA

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