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By Ian Hodge

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What is the Best Environmental Quality? Damage to the environment is clearly undesirable. Why not stop it? While this might seem to be an attractive objective, in practice it is not realistic. As we saw in Chapter I, environmental impacts are pervasive. All activities require energy and materials, and usually both, and so they emit waste energy and produce residuals. These emissions into the environment must have some sort of impact on it. If we take the view that all environmental impacts should be stopped then we would have to stop all forms of production.

There is an incentive to cover up problems and inefficiencies. In fact the position may be similar in large corporations, but where the overall corporate objective is to make a profit, it may be easier to maintain control over the performance of individuals and sections within the corporation. The Elements of Environmental Problems 43 We therefore cannot rely on governments to act simply to correct for market failures in some sort of ideal way. As we shall see later, it is generally not even possible to say what this ideal way might be.

If the value of the resource is small relative to the transaction costs of allocating and enforcing a property right over it, then it is unlikely that an agreement will be made as to its allocation. If I own a fishing lake, I 34 Environmental Economics might decide to let some of the fishing rights. I could reach an agreement with some fishermen as to when and how often they could fish in my lake. I could visit the lake to ensure that they kept to the agreement. The transaction costs would be quite small in relation to the value of the fishing and I could determine how the lake is to be used.

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