Quite simply: If you don’t value nature people put a zero value on it and destroy it.
We value what we price
We value what we price, but ecosystem services – clean air, fresh water, soil fertility, flood prevention, drought control, climate stability, etc – are, mostly, not traded in any markets and not priced. This leads most often to nature being allotted a “zero value” and destroyed.
So deep-seated and widespread is modern society’s inherent market-centric mindset (and our almost unequivocal association of price with value) that the device of demonstrating economic value itself becomes an important strategy for the change we seek.
The Tragedy of the Commons
Biodiversity and ecosystem goods and services usually fit the conventional definition of public goods: enough for everyone, available to everyone, and one’s enjoyment does not impede another’s. Ecological goods such as clean air, fresh water, fish from their mangrove nurseries , carbon storage by forests are usually public goods, not traded in markets, not priced, and mostly available free to beneficiaries.
There is little if any recognition of the contribution of ecosystem services to regional GDPs, or of their larger significance in maintaining human-wellbeing. This leads to a constant depletion of natural resources. More than 40 years ago, this was described as the ‘Tragedy of the Commons.’ ((G. Hardin: Science, 162, 1243-1248; 1968))
“Economic Invisibility” of Nature
The economic invisibility of nature in our dominant economic model is both a symptom and a root cause of the problem. Where is nature in our GDP, or in the balance sheets of big companies? They are unaccounted for. And this economic invisibility of nature is one of the key drivers of its destruction– by replacing natural areas with other land uses which do have visible economic values, such as conversion to human habitation or agriculture.
Without recognising the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services and representing them in decision making we cannot comprehend the full magnitude of the trade-off being made: between different ecosystem services (food provision or carbon storage), between different beneficiaries (private gain by some, public loss by many), at different scales (local costs, global benefits) and across different time horizons.
Private wealth versus Public wealth
Why do we consistently fail to recognise and value our natural capital? Is it because natural capital losses are losses of “public wealth”, owned by all citizens collectively and not individually, and not private wealth? Or is it because these are rarely quantified in monetary terms, making it difficult to assess “how big are these losses?” Or is it because we have an innate bias in favour of man-made capital, as against natural capital? Perhaps the answer is: all three?
It’s time to fix the nature crunch!
The nature crisis outweighs financial crisis. In 2008, the global financial crisis hit the headlines every day of the week, every week for over a year. The International Monetary Fund estimated the loss of financial capital to the Wall Street and City of London firms to be in the order of $US 2.4 trillion. Around the same time, TEEB estimated the value of the earth’s natural capital losses to be from US $ 2 trillion to US $ 4.5 trillion – in other words, greater than the losses suffered through the financial crisis. However, financial crisis got the headlines – and even got bailed out!
Valuing the invaluable
By value, we do not simply mean putting a price tag on nature and treating it as a mere commodity. We recognise that nature has a range of values, from the intrinsic such as aesthetics and cultural that you cannot put a price on, to the economic, such as market prices for goods.
Our aim is not to make money from them but to show nature’s true worth. Our aim is to empower nature by revealing its value, and bring this worth to the attention of the world showing that we can no longer afford to treat nature as a free and limitless resource.
There are a lot of ways for you to help reduce the destruction of nature and start topping up our Natural Capital Account! You can make a difference just by the choices you make in your daily life as a consumer or as a voting citizen. You can choose to buy things which have trusted certifications such as wood or paper approved by the FSC, you can get involved in local community groups to restore biodiversity in your area, you can ask businesses to stock more biodiversity-friendly products – either by telling them out right or choosing to buy more sustainably. You can also get involved with projects communicating the importance of biodiversity, stay informed of the issues by reading about biodiversity and get involved with discussions about what steps we can all take.