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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