Does Money Grow on Trees?
The answer is no. Of course, you can save money by growing (and selling) your own produce, as guerilla gardener Ron Finley told us.
Stake holders have been trying to decipher how much our environment might be economically worth. We’ve all heard the popular example of how pollination is supposedly worth £1 billion a year in the UK alone. A paper by Costanza et al. (1997) calculated the economic value of 17 ecosystem services, finding the total annual value to be somewhere around $33 trillion USD.
The term ‘Natural Capital’ has been the subject of many a controversial debate, and is being used with increasing frequency. So what is it all about?
‘Pricing nature for biodiversity conservation: opportunities, challenges, and limitations’ was the subject of a recent panel discussion at the Zoological Society of London in early March. Panel members included environmental consultants, conservation researchers, soil specialists, and economists, giving views that covered a huge spectrum.
Together, they discussed how the term implies that nature and its services are worth a measurable value. Critics suggest that its use will skew the attention toward those ecosystems which are supposedly more ‘valuable’, causing problems on a global scale. It has also been suggested that spiritual and religious beliefs are not fully accounted for as beneficial values, and though mentioned in the Millenium Ecosystems Assessment, often go unrecognised.
However, as conservation is often short in funding, turning down opportunities to value its worth and encourage protection of biodiversity should not be ignored. The term seems also to help encourage those with little care for the environment, to start turning their attention. In 2011, Jirinec et al. showed how increasing ecological connectivity of forests nearby coffee plantations helped reduced the costs of pest problems, by increasing abundance of birds with increased roosting areas.
‘Biodiversity offsetting’ is a term for allowing one area of wild habitat to be developed, whilst its ecological worth is simply reinstated elsewhere. Debates surrounding this issue in the recent months have suggested how objectifying nature is entirely inappropriate, and ignores the complexity of ecosystems. A business development director from EFTEC stated the importance of biodiversity offsetting, and how this kind of economics may inform conservation policy, importantly in areas lacking official protection.
Popular science writer George Monbiot argued that pricing nature is unlikely to have a positive effect on the conservation of biodiversity.
We treat both natural resources and the biosphere’s capacity to absorb our waste as if they were worth nothing. The obvious answer is to place a financial value on what used to be called nature, but has now been rebranded natural capital.
For now, it seems likely that natural capital as a term and concept will grow in popularity; whether it is readily accepted by policy makers, and by the public heart, is likely to have impacts on a national scale.