Innovation, Justice, and the Value of Nature

Industrial societies have long treated nature as a freely available “natural resource” and as a public dumping ground. The results have been catastrophic. Extinctions, pollution, global climate change, and pervasive environmental injustice are just a handful of the terrible consequences of taking the value of ecology – and equity – for granted.

What should be done? One worldwide policy trend is to double down on economic thinking: let’s figure out ways to assign monetary values to nature and innovate new, often market-oriented governance institutions to help “internalize” the terrible costs of industrial society. An opposite approach is to disavow economic approaches to environmental governance, perhaps because we think nature is intrinsically valuable or priceless, and instead build institutions that attempt to isolate nature from the economic sphere.

Rather than taking either of these “paradigm-first” approaches, at RESL we investigate real-world innovations in climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation to try to understand how they interweave economic and moral considerations at once. A major component of RESL’s work is developing a more fully sociological account of the valuation of nature that can better explain how politics, morality, and justice shape innovations in environmental governance.

Related Scholarship

in progress

Ecology and Society: The social origins of ecological value (monograph.)

Ecology and Society uses a cross-national comparison of biodiversity offsetting schemes in the United States and Germany to develop a first-of-its-kind sociological treatment of ecological valuation and environmental governance in the Anthropocene.


Romero-Lanko, Patricia; Nicole Rosner, Christof Brandtner, Christopher M. Rea, Adolfo Mejia-Montero, Francesca Pilo, Fedor Dokshin, Vanesa Castán-Broto, Sarah Burch, Scott Schnur. “A Framework to Center Justice in Energy Transition Innovations.” Nature Energy.


Rea, Christopher M. “The EU Emissions Trading Scheme: Protection via Commodification?” Culture, Practice & Europeanization 4(1), 48-73. (data and code)


Lockhart, Andy and Christopher M. Rea (equal authorship). “Why there and then, not here and now? Ecological offsetting in California and England, and the sharpening contradictions of neoliberal natures.Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 2(3), 665-693.


Rea, Christopher M. “Regulatory thickening and the politics of market-oriented environmental policy.” Environmental Politics 28(7), 1167-1191.