I was asked to write an article for The Conversation that explains how economists place values on environmental goods (with examples). Here's what I came up with. Apologies to all of those involved in the research if this comes across as self-promoting--the perils of writing with an editor. All of the examples mentioned in the article were team efforts--most were not my idea--and I was a minor part of each team. It takes a village, and every village needs an idiot.
Millions of Americans head outdoors in the summer, whether for a day at a nearby lake or a monthlong road trip. For environmental economists like me, decisions by vacationers and outdoor recreators offer clues to a challenging puzzle: estimating what environmental resources are worth.
In 1981 President Ronald Reagan issued an executive order that required federal agencies to weigh the costs and benefits of proposed major new regulations, and in most cases to adopt them only if the benefits to society outweighed the costs. Reagan’s order was intended to promote environmental improvements without overburdening economic growth.
Cost-benefit analysis has been so successful as a tool for policy analysis that every administration since Reagan has endorsed using it. However, it requires measuring benefits that are not “priced” in typical markets. Fortunately, putting a price on non-market environmental outcomes, such as safer drinking water and fewer deaths from exposure to dirty air, has proved to be possible, and highly valuable. These estimates help to make the case for actions such as cleaning up beaches and protecting scenic areas as parks. ...