I would like everyone to please read the comments following a post on anthropocentric value, quasi-option value and frogs.
An anonymous poster (let's call him/her "AP") has commented expressing an opinion that arises each semester. In short, the opinion is that the anthropocentric perspective is bad and that valuation of the environment is impossible and silly. AP is concerned that a) we cannot possibly know enough to understand the value of environmental and natural resources, and b) even if we could, we shouldn't try to do it. AP thinks it is crazy to try to understand every component of value and screams for an appreciation of intrinsic value. Finally, AP calls for a fundamental change in the way humans look at the natural world.
AP makes one great point (I'll leave it up to you to figure it out and comment on it). Unfortunately, I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding by AP (and by many of you as well) regarding the anthropocentric perspective of value and the notion of valuation.
To clarify a few things:
1. "Value" simply means what something is worth. In economics, value is measured by willingness and ability to pay. "Pay" does not necessarily imply monetary payments. You can "pay" with your time, energy or via trade. When you recycle, donate your time to environmental causes, etc... you are showing your value for the environment.
2. The anthropocentric perspective on value simply means that when we try to figure out what something is worth, we try to estimate what it is worth to humans.
3. Humans can and do value the well-being of other creatures. Humans can and do value the well-being of ecosystems. Humans can and do value the environment for intrinsic purposes.
Hence (and here is a huge source of misunderstanding), intrinsic values associated with the environment are perfectly compatible with the anthropocentric perspective. Numerous human cultures and religions emphasize harmony with nature and treating all living things as equal. Many people value care of the environment and promote conservation simply for the sake of conservation. Please note that these are human cultures, human religions and human values and therefore any respect, worship or other values held by people are examples of the anthropocentric perspective, not evidence against it.
4. The economic perspective of value (and a main thrust of natural resource economics) is that we should try to understand, and in some cases measure, all components of value. Market value, non-market value, use value, non-use value, ecosystem service values, etc...
5. Resource economists don't just go around trying to put a dollar value on everything on earth. We attempt to measure the value of things when there are trade-offs involved (its all about scarcity right?). That is, we engage in valuation when there is a need. For example, if a particular natural resource is under threat from pollution, development, etc... a valuation exercise can help us understand the opportunity cost (what stands to be lost) of that market activity. This lends clarity to the trade-offs we face as a society and therefore helps policy makers understand what is at stake.
Questions about the above?
Back to AP... From what I can gather, he/she seems to be worried that valuation will somehow cheapen the environment. To this, my reponse is: many people now look at the environment as FREE (it doesn't get any cheaper than that). Valuation can show everyone that their actions or inactions have a real cost. AP also is concerned that if we put a dollar value on the environment it is sure to be wrong because our understanding of things is incomplete at best. To this I ask: would you rather have an estimate or no estimate at all?
I don't mind the misunderstandings noted above, but here's where AP's comment gets me: AP really wants people to understand that nature has an intrinsic value, that it is indeed worth a great deal when conserved. But then he/she argues vehemently against the one sure way to deliver that message: measure and express that value in dollars.
Final note: If AP had not posted anonymously, I wouldn't use him/her as an example like this. But, since this person chose to remain hidden, I consider this fair game. Heck, for all you know, AP is me, and I'm just trying to get two of the quietest classes I've had in 12 years to start talking!