Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

Economics, the Environment and Our Common Wealth

James K. Boyce

Comprising a decade’s worth of essays written since the publication of the author’s pathbreaking book, The Political Economy of the Environment (2002), this volume discusses a number of diverse environmental issues through an economist’s lens. Topics covered include environmental justice, disaster response, globalization and the environment, industrial toxins and other pollutants, cap-and-dividend climate policies, and agricultural biodiversity.

Chapter 1: The environment as our common heritage

James K. Boyce

Subjects: environment, environmental economics

Extract

What does it mean to say that the environment is our ‘common heritage’? On one level this is a simple statement of fact: when we are born, we come into a world that is not of our own making. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the natural resources on which our livelihoods depend, and the accumulated knowledge and information that underpin our ability to use these resources wisely – all these come to us as gifts of creation that have been passed on to us by preceding generations and enriched by their innovation and creativity. Yet once we take seriously – as I do – the proposition that this common heritage belongs in common and equal measure to us all, we move beyond a positive statement of facts to a normative declaration of ethics. We move beyond an understanding of what is to an assertion of what ought to be. To say that the environment belongs in common and equal measure to us all does not mean that we have inherited a free gift with no strings attached. For our common heritage carries with it a common responsibility: the responsibility to share the environment fairly among all who are alive today, and the responsibility to care for it wisely to ensure that our children, our grandchildren and the generations who follow will share fairly in our common heritage too.

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