environmental refugee

Valuating Nature

by Laura Mueller-Soppart

Con­sumers and busi­ness need to inter­nal­ize the real ori­gins of our most cov­eted pos­ses­sions and resources. If the fact that these things are all derived from nature is inter­nal­ized, we can start to under­stand the true worth of our environment.

 The goods and ser­vices that we depend on daily would not exist with­out the assis­tance of nature in the sup­ply chain. Humans con­stantly derive ecosys­tem ser­vices from nature, like how water­sheds source our taps and faucets or how bees fer­til­ize plants for our morn­ing cup of coffee.

 Ben­jamin Franklin once said, “I believe that the great part of the mis­eries of mankind are brought upon them by false esti­mates they have made on the value of things.”

 Ecosys­tem ser­vices are a pub­lic good that are dif­fi­cult to mon­e­tize, yet so much profit is derived from their con­sump­tion. Although we know that these ser­vices pro­vide an annual eco­nomic value of over US$33 tril­lion, we have allowed over US$3.25 tril­lion of Earth’s nat­ural cap­i­tal value to be lost. That is almost a 10% annual loss; to put this in per­spec­tive, we lost US$4 tril­lion in hold­ings’ value in the recent finan­cial cri­sis.  If we placed just a sliver of atten­tion the finan­cial cri­sis received unto our nat­ural cap­i­tal cri­sis, per­haps the out­look for our future’s sus­tain­abil­ity would not be so bleak.

Today, about 60% of ecosys­tem ser­vices are being con­sumed at unsus­tain­able rates. Agri­cul­ture needs to sup­ply 70% more food for the pop­u­la­tion by 2050 and 90% more oil crops for renew­able fuels by 2018. There is a press­ing need to reeval­u­ate the cost of our con­sump­tion rate. Accord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Orga­ni­za­tion, there is suf­fi­cient land avail­able to meet these demands, only if smarter invest­ments are made and research neglect in this area is reversed.

The nat­ural assets exist, yet we con­tinue to strug­gle to man­age these assets because we have failed to devise an effec­tive mech­a­nism to ade­quately mea­sure consumption.

 Politi­cians and econ­o­mists still see nature as a spe­cial­ist sub­ject. They are not see­ing it as nat­ural cap­i­tal, equiv­a­lent to phys­i­cal or finan­cial cap­i­tal. Busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments could increase the longevity of sup­ply chains and pro­grams by using resources dra­mat­i­cally more pro­duc­tively. But first, they need to be pre­sented an incen­tive to do so, a relat­able cur­rency value to push for change.

 The “value of nature” is attained through many avenues: it can be spir­i­tual, health-oriented, cul­tural, or eco­nomic. Yet, its value is bypassed in the mar­ket, is not always included in price equa­tions, and ulti­mately escapes val­u­a­tion. The observed degra­da­tion of ecosys­tems, loss of bio­di­ver­sity, and decrease of nature’s pro­duc­tiv­ity can begin to be reme­died if we invest in mech­a­nisms to devise quan­tify these losses and to quan­tify the sav­ings and returns. We demand our planet to end­lessly pro­vide for us, and now it is time to value that pro­duc­tion for its true worth. 

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