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Utilitarian and nonutilitarian valuation of natural resources: a game‐theoretical approach

Swart, Jac. A. A., Zevenberg, Jorien
Restoration ecology 2018 v.26 Suppl S1 pp. S44
coasts, collective action, ecological restoration, ecosystem services, ethics, freshwater, fuels, minerals, models, risk, students, surveys
Ecological services such as food, fresh water, fuel, minerals, and flood control—to name only a few—are essential conditions for human well‐being. Many of the areas that provide such services—wetlands, coastal areas, and deserts—are common pool resources, which are characterized by nonexcludability and subtractability that makes them vulnerable to collective action problems such as the prisoner's dilemma, where individual and collective interests collide and ultimately result in overexploitation and degradation. Damaged areas that provide ecological services are increasingly recognized as targets for ecological restoration. However, restored areas run the risk of backsliding to the previous state if their common pool characteristics are ignored. Collective action problems are often analyzed from a game‐theoretical perspective that usually assumes rational, self‐interested individuals, who do not take collective and nonutilitarian perspectives into account. However, people do not value natural resources just for utilitarian reasons but also because of ethical nonutilitarian ones. This paper develops a multiple‐actor game‐theoretical approach to one's “value achievement” by taking into account both utilitarian and nonutilitarian perspectives. It demonstrates that someone's value achievement is contingent on choices made by others and that considering nonutilitarian perspectives may avoid the prisoner's dilemma. Accordingly, this model was empirically tested and confirmed by a survey among life sciences and biology students by presenting them a hypothetical case of a restored natural area. Based on these results, it is argued that emphasizing nonutilitarian considerations may be an important additional strategy in conservation and restoration projects.