Critical natural capital definition
The minimum level of natural capital that must be preserved in order to ensure a basic level of ecosystem functioning and human survival.
The stocks of natural resources, habitats, and ecosystems. By defining environmental resources as ‘natural capital’, they are immediately brought within the realm of economic analysis and are given a status comparable to that of other forms of capital; thus they are regarded as valuable commodities that may either be used up in production processes or be conserved for possible use in the future
One point of confusion is that some people would divide the term ‘human-made capital’ even further, insisting that a distinction should be made between ‘physical capital’ (which means infrastructure such as buildings, machinery, equipment, tools etc) and ‘human capital’ (which refers strictly to the overall stock of human knowledge)
Substituting natural capital for human capital - controversial
Does natural capital have a special role in contributing to human welfare in the future? Will they worse off if natural capital is depleted?
Economists do not necessarily agree that this depletion of natural capital amounts to ‘unsustainable development’
key question - can the loss of natural capital be compensated for?
In economic terms, the key issue is whether or not future generations of people can be compensated for the loss of ‘their’ natural capital. In principle, some economists argue, it might be possible to compensate future generations for the loss of natural capital by a corresponding increase in wealth, economic opportunities, social service provision, cultural heritage, new technologies etc. Those economists argue that, within the concept of sustainable development, there is room for a certain degree of substitutability between natural and human capital: natural capital may thus be drawn down and exchanged for human capital
Provided that the value of the human capital produced is not less than the value of the natural capital lost, then development may still be regarded as ‘sustainable’ Dresner
Level of substitutability
Is it meaningful to consider exchanging a species (such as the blue whale) or an ecosystem (such as the Great Barrier Reef) for some other type of capital Adams
Strong sustainability, then, requires that stocks of both natural and human capital be maintained over time. In particular, however, strong sustainability places a special significance on natural capital and requires that natural capital stocks are kept intact (Adams 2009).
Weak sustainability’: the idea that trade-offs may be made much more freely between natural and human capital. Proponents of weak sustainability argue that there is no inherent difference between natural and human capital, and that both stocks of capital may be used as required to ensure that optimum levels of per capita well-being are maintained Pearce and Barbier
The distinction between weak and strong sustainability involves myriad beliefs, values, and assumptions about the relationship between humans and nature. Two important concepts have emerged that characterise the main, opposing attitudes towards that relationship.
Anthropocentrism and ecocentrism
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