The perennial problem in natural resource economics is how to deal with emerging natural resource scarcity viewed from the long run and from societal perspectives. How this long-term economic concern of society is understood and addressed depends to a large extent on people’s perception of the relationships between the economic and the natural world.
Standard economic visions of natural resources, and the roles they play in the attainment of human material needs, are generally at odds with those of most physical scientists, and most notably with those of ecologists. Part One, which comprises a single chapter, Chapter 1, examines the basic physical and institutional elements that are fundamental to the understanding of the standard economic perception of natural resources and their role in the economic process. This chapter reveals what could be considered the mainstream economists’ “preanalytic” vision of the economy and its relationship with the natural world. What can be observed from the discussion in this chapter is the treatment of the natural environment as one of the many “fungible” assets that can be used to satisfy human needs. In this regard, the emphasis is on the general problems of resource scarcity. This being the case, the roles of consumers’ preferences, efficiency, markets and technology are stressed.
This view is contrasted in Part Three with the ecological perspective on the natural environment as it relates to human economy.