Economic Drama and the Environmental Stage. Formal Derivation of Algorithmic Tools for Environmental Analysis and Decision-Support from a Unified Epistemological Principle

In environmental policy, one is often confronted with the question which environmental problems are associated with which economic activity. The answer to this question is often unclear. On the one hand there is of course a limited knowledge of certain environmental issues. More fundamental, however, is the question who is "responsible", in a well-defined sense, for what. For instance, electric power plants emit carbon dioxide, but they do it because other industries and households exert a demand for electricity. Another example is the case that some countries are cutting down their rain forests to satisfy the import demands of other countries. A question is now: who is polluting or depleting where and for whom? To answer this question, a number of tools for environmental decision-support have been developed, including life-cycle assessment, substance-flow analysis, environmental mpact assessment, and risk assessment. Many of these tools have different economic entities (a product, a regional substance-flow, a factory, a use and emission pattern of a substance, etc.) as their object. It has proven to be difficult to reconcile all these different points of view on environmental problems and put them into a single perspective. This study addresses two main questions: The attribution problem: which environmental problems are to be attributed to which economic activity? The position problem: what is the position of a number of the various tools for environmental decision-support? It does so by building a selected number of tools for environmental analysis and decision-support from unified principles. The principles are the elements that are first discussed: the epistemological basis of all further scientific analysis and synthesis is one of linear attribution. It is stated that current environmental problems are caused by current economic activities, and that certain formal requirements (such as 100%-additivity) lead directly to this linear attribution rule. It is important to realize that the attribution problem cannot be solved by experimental methods, and that the answers given by no means pretend to explain anything in terms of either natural science or social science. It is merely a mathematical structure that to some extent is based on a number of postulated properties. Part 2 develops from the principle of linear attribution the concept of economic processes as activities that convert economic and environmental commodities into other economic and environmental commodities. The operating time of the economic process is a central element in this discussion: it determines how much "utility" is produced and how much environmental intervention is generated in doing so. For more, please contact the author.

Where to find

A small number of copies is still available for NLG 40.00 at Centre of Environmental Science:

Author Reinout Heijungs
Institution Leiden University (Centre of Environmental Science)
Advisor prof. H.A. Udo de Haes, prof. L. Hordijk
Expected graduation 1997