Handbook on Energy and Climate Change
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Handbook on Energy and Climate Change

Edited by Roger Fouquet

This timely Handbook reviews many key issues in the economics of energy and climate change, raising new questions and offering solutions that might help to minimize the threat of energy-induced climate change.
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Chapter 25: Valuing nature for climate change policy: from discounting the future to truly social deliberation

John M. Gowdy


The recent human impact on the environment is so unusual in the geological record that the official geological body that defines the division of geological time, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, is considering designating a new geographical epoch called the Anthropocene (Jones, 2011, p. 133). This will call attention to the global impacts that humans, and particularly the human economy, are having on the earth’s biological, atmospheric and geological systems. The driving force behind previous major geological transitions has been natural processes such as meteor impacts, massive volcanic activity and continental shifts. As the quotation above shows, the current human perturbation of the global environment will have an impact of similar magnitude (Nature, 2011). Yet most people are unconcerned about the looming possibility of environmental devastation and the resulting social chaos in the years to come. What is it about our way of living and associated ways of thinking that put so little value on the future of the planet? A major reason is the narrow logic of the global market economy, which values nature solely on its contribution to the discounted present value of economic activity. Following the logic of the market, the dominant economic model views the natural world from a financial investment perspective.

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