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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Environmental Regulation, Cost-Benefit Analysis, and the Discounting of Human Lives

  • Author(s): Revesz, Richard L.
  • et al.

Lives Probably the most vexing problem raised by the cost-benefit analysis of environmental regulation is how to deal with the fact that the loss of human life generally does not occur contemporaneously with the exposure to certain contaminants. In some cases, the environmental exposure produces a harm with a latency period whereas in others it produces harms to future generations. The article underscores the extent to which the cases of latent harms and harms to future generations are analytically distinct, even though they have generally been treated as two manifestations of the same problem. In the case of latent harms, one needs to make intra-personal, intertemporal comparisons of utility, whereas in the case of harms to future generations what is needed is a metric against which to compare the utilities of individuals living in different generations. Thus, the appropriateness of discounting would be resolved differently in the two contexts.

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