Environmental Quality Analysis: Theory and Method in the Social Sciences

By Allen V. Kneese; Blair T. Bower et al. | Go to book overview

2. A Materials-Process-Product Model

Robert U. Ayres


INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

Real, as opposed to rhetorical, progress toward improved environmental management in the future is likely to depend increasingly on the availability of detailed knowledge of the specific physical and chemical processes that occur in the production and use of goods. Whether the optimum environmental management strategy is to concentrate on regulation and enforcement--as at present--or to alter the price structure so as to eliminate or compensate for market failures, as many economists would advocate, it quickly becomes apparent that one cannot expect simply to put an absolute stop to all waste discharges that may have a deleterious effect on the environment. The awkward fact is that all materials that are converted to useful goods eventually outlive their usefulness and become waste products.1 The same is true of energy. These are simple consequences of the basic physical laws of conservation, even though they seem to be somewhat at odds with the traditional language (at least) of economics, where one speaks of "final" consumption as though the physical substances involved actually disappeared. Obviously, they do not.

Since wastes, as such, cannot be eliminated by decree, the aim of environmental management is to minimize the disutilities resulting from economic activities as they now take place. To do so, one must know a good deal about available alternatives. Thus waste products could, in principle, be collected and reprocessed--or the wastes might be treated in some way to make them less dangerous or obnoxious. Or the production process

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1Residuals in the terminology used elsewhere in this book.

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