What is the value of nature? “When we think about a commodity, it’s pretty simple,” says Marion Fourcade, a sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley. “If I’m willing to pay $10 for a lamp, that’s the value that the lamp has to me. But for things that are not exchanged on the market, we have to produce technologies to reveal the supposedly underlying value.”

Comparing the economic valuation of damages from past oil spills in France and in the United States, Fourcade...

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