Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How much should nature cost?

Posted By on Wed, Mar 10, 2010 at 12:53 PM

Since our society is so ga-ga for dollar bills ...

Nature lovers might cringe at the term "ecosystem services" to describe, say, the view of a pristine beach or a stream teeming with trout. But a growing number of experts within the scientific and economic communities say that putting real economic value on components of nature will help protect the environment and promote biodiversity.

Far from cheapening nature, thinking in terms of "natural capital" can offer a way to assess the crucial but unmeasured benefit that humans derive from the nature. Ascertaining that value can then help decision makers bring environmental factors more explicitly into their planning.

Sukhdev, who's also Study Leader for a UNEP initiative called The Economics of Ecosystems and Diversity (TEEB), says that currently "the economic value attached to nature is zero. Our metrics are geared toward consumption and production of man-made goods and services, and we tend to gloss over nature." This, he says, has led to "bad accounting" which, in turn, has contributed to rapid biodiversity loss.

There is clearly an irony in the notion that attaching a "price" to ecosystems can help people reconnect with nature and what it offers us. Yet appreciating nature from an economic perspective may put environmental concerns on the table in a way that governments and institutions can work with. "In speaking the language of economics, you can play a role in the policy process," says Edward B. Barbier, Professor of Economics at the University of Wyoming, who does research on the economics of natural resources. "Twenty-five years ago, people said, 'That's horrendous — you can't discuss nature that way!' Now they say, 'You're right. We've got to put a value on nature."

Read the entire TIME Magazine article, by Judith D. Schwartz, here.

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