On the Concept and Conservation of Critical Natural Capital

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Ecological economics is an interdisciplinary science that is primarily concerned with developing interventions to achieve sustainable ecological and economic systems. While ecological economists have, over the last few decades, made various empirical, theoretical, and conceptual advancements, there is one concept in particular that remains subject to confusion: critical natural capital. While critical natural capital denotes parts of the environment that are essential for the continued existence of our species, the meaning of terms commonly associated with this concept, such as ‘non-substitutable’ and ‘impossible to substitute,’ require a clearer formulation then they tend to receive. With the help of equations and graphs, this article develops new definite account of critical natural capital that makes explicit what it means for objective environmental conditions to be essential for continued existence. The second main part of this article turns to the question of formally modeling the priority of conserving critical natural capital. While some ecological economists have maintained that, beyond a certain threshold, critical natural capital possesses absolute infinite value, absolute infinite utility models encounter significant problems. This article shows that a relative infinite utility model provides a better way to model the priority of conserving critical natural capital.
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