Skip to Main content

The price of an apology: justice, compensation and rectification

By John O’Neill, School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Arthur Lewis Building, Manchester



Questions about monetary compensation for environmental damage have been at the centre of debates on the defensibility of the monetary valuation of environmental goods. In conflicts about environmental justice, offers of monetary compensations for environmental damage can elicit apparently inconsistent responses. On the one hand, offers of monetary compensation for future environmentally harmful activity are the object of protests by those affected who claim that the wrongs to be committed are not open to monetary compensation. On the other hand, failures of compensation for environmental harms done in the past are regarded as a major injustice. This paper argues that these two responses are consistent. It rejects a standard economic view that backward- and forward-looking cases should be treated symmetrically since in each case a level of compensation should be computed that leaves the well-being of actually or potentially affected agents at least as high with the adverse change as it would have been without it. It shows this understanding of compensation is mistaken in both backward- and forward-looking cases. Monetary damages in the legal context are quite consistent with scepticism about monetary valuation of environmental and social goods and harms.



John.F.O’email hidden; JavaScript is required



Environmental valuation

Texaco Chevron lawsuit Ecuador



The research was undertaken as part of participation in two EU programmes: EJOLT (Environmental Justice Organisations, Liability and Trade) and BIOMOT (Motivational strength of ecosystem services and alternative ways to express the value of biodiversity). I would like to thank members of both projects for their helpful comments. Earlier versions of this paper were read at seminars in Barcelona, Coimbra, Helsinki, London, Lund and York. I would like to thank the participants for their many helpful comments on those occasions. I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Jonathan Aldred, Paul Knights, Larry Lohmann, Joan Martinez-Alier, Clive Spash and Ivonne Yanez for their detailed comments on earlier versions of the paper.

Comments are closed.