Department of Philosophy, Western University
Rebecca Livernois’s work highlights the conceptual and methodological shortcomings of mainstream environmental economics and carries this over to an examination of economic policies that are intended to address environmental problems. She is working on evaluating methods that economists use to estimate the magnitude of externalities and consequently the stringency of optimal environmental policies, including the use of integrated assessment models to estimate the optimal carbon tax rate. These methods are particularly interesting because they establish concrete policy recommendations based on abstract models that embed both the moral values of a given researcher and the assumptions of economic theory. Livernois obtained her PhD in philosophy and MA in economics both from the University of British Columbia. She obtained a BAH, with a double major in economics and philosophy, from the University of Guelph.
Rebecca works on issues in the philosophy of economics and environmental philosophy, especially as they pertain to public policy. One of her areas of interest is the use of cost-benefit analysis in environmental policy decisions. In a recent article, “Regretful Decisions and Climate Change” in Philosophy of the Social Sciences (2018), she argues that the peculiar cost structure of climate change can impede the effective use of cost-benefit analysis in addressing the accumulating harms that are generated by climate change.
She is also interested in the concept of an externality in economics. Externalities, which are generally understood as unpriced spillover effects, play a central role in justifying and guiding market-based policies such as carbon taxes. Yet, externalities are notoriously difficult to precisely define in economics. It is unclear, then, how economists estimate the value of an externality, in order to recommend an optimal policy, when there does not seem to be an adequate characterization of externalities in the first place. In response, Rebecca works on clarifying the concept of an externality and argues that this clarification helps to delineate the conditions under which market-based policy responses to externalities are justified.
Rebecca is also working on evaluating the methods economists use to estimate the magnitude of externalities, including integrated assessment models and contingent valuation studies. These methods are particularly interesting because they are used to recommend concrete policies and they are inherently interdisciplinary, involving climate science, ecology, economics, and ethics.
Livernois, Rebecca. 2018. “Regretful Decisions and Climate Change.” Philosophy of the Social Sciences 48, 2: 168-191
“Are Externalities Ever Truly Actualized?” at The Philosophy of Science Association 2018 Biennial Meeting, 2018 (Seattle)
“Epistemic Ascriptions and the Actualization of Externalities” at CIRED Workshop 2018: Facts in Environmental and Energy Economics, Models and Practices, Past and Present, 2018 (Paris)
“Externality, Pollution, and Policy” at:
- Eye of the Storm: Ethics in the Age of Inaction, 2018 (University of Washington)
- Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, 2018 (University of Regina)
- Canadian Philosophical Association Annual Congress, 2018 (Montréal)
“Regretful Decisions and Climate Change” at:
- Philosophy of Social Science Roundtable, 2017 (UBC)
- Athena in Action, 2016 (Princeton)
- Montréal Summer School in the History of Science and Economics, 2015 (Montréal)
Term 1-2, 2017/18, Introduction to Philosophy, UBC (TA, Discussion Facilitator, and Guest Lecturer)
Term 1, 2017, History and Philosophy of Economics from Aristotle to Adam Smith, UBC (Guest Lecturer)
Term 2, 2017, History and Philosophy of Economics from Ricardo to Keynes, UBC (TA and Guest Lecturer)
Term 1, 2016, History and Philosophy of Economics from Aristotle to Adam Smith (TA and Guest Lecturer)
Term 2, 2016, History and Philosophy of Economics from Ricardo to Keynes (TA)
Term 1, 2015, History and Philosophy of Economics from Aristotle to Adam Smith (TA)
Term 2, 2015, Introduction to Philosophy II, UBC (TA and Discussion Facilitator)
Term 1, 2014, Introduction to Philosophy I, UBC (TA)
Term 4, 2013, Environmental Economics, UBC (TA)
Term 3, 2013, Women in the Economy, UBC (TA)
Term 2, 2013, The Economic Consequences of Religion, UBC (TA)
Term 1, 2012, Economic History of Modern Europe, UBC (TA)