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Putting a price on nature - Aug 7

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Putting a price on the rivers and rain diminishes us all

George Monbiot, The Guardian
'The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying 'This is mine', and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, 'Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody'."

Jean Jacques Rousseau would recognise this moment. Now it is not the land his impostors are enclosing, but the rest of the natural world. In many countries, especially the United Kingdom, nature is being valued and commodified so that it can be exchanged for cash.

The effort began in earnest under the last government. At a cost of £100,000, it commissioned a research company to produce a total annual price for England's ecosystems...

...The UK now has a natural capital committee, an Ecosystem Markets Task Force and an inspiring new lexicon. We don't call it nature any more: now the proper term is "natural capital"...

The argument in favour of this approach is coherent and plausible. Business currently treats the natural world as if it is worth nothing. Pricing nature and incorporating that price into the cost of goods and services creates an economic incentive for its protection. It certainly appeals to both business and the self-hating state. The Ecosystem Markets Task Force speaks of "substantial potential growth in nature-related markets – in the order of billions of pounds globally".

Commodification, economic growth, financial abstractions, corporate power: aren't these the processes driving the world's environmental crisis? Now we are told that to save the biosphere we need more of them...
(6 August 2012)

By insisting that nature is priceless, George Monbiot would condemn the world to destruction

Tim Worstall, The Daily Telegraph
Economists are often told that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing. But now George Monbiot has fallen into the same trap. It's your standard teenage green whine. Nature is priceless, so why are the swine placing a price on it?

The answer being that no one is placing a price upon nature: they are placing a value upon it. The only reason that value is expressed in £s is so that we can do sums, not so that we can place a price tag on it. Further, that value is not profit that can be extracted from that nature, nor is it the capital value of the ecosystem services. It's the value that we, though our actions, collectively place upon that nature...

But the bottom line is that when demand for a resource exceeds the capacity of that resource then access must be limited somehow, whether by regulation, privatisation or communal agreement...
(7 August 2012)

How Do We Value Nature?

J. Mijin Cha, Huffington Post
One of the big questions environmentalists struggle with is whether there should be a price on nature. For some things, like the cost savings that are realized through cleaner air or water, there is a rote calculation that can be done to price out environmental and health benefits. But, if you think of nature as an independent entity having a worth beyond what it can provide to humans, how do you put a price on it? How much is the Amazon River or the Himalayan mountain range worth?

This philosophical question comes face to face with the very real truth that in our current market economy, the value of nature is not being reflected. Even worse, the cost of unsustainable use is not being incorporated into balance sheets and consequently, there is no market incentive to ratchet back the use of natural resources. A core element of Dēmos' Beyond GDP work focuses on what metrics should be incorporated into our economic accounting that would begin to reflect both the benefit of natural resources and the cost of unsustainable use.

As part of their Genuine Progress Indicator calculation, Maryland uses natural resource valuation to highlight the economic benefit of natural resources and the costs that incur when they are used in an unsustainable manner. As part of the valuation, the location of the natural resources is taken into consideration because location and proximity to other resources has an impact on the valuation...
(18 July 2012)

Image of forest river via shutterstock

Editorial Notes: Related from Paul Kingsnorth
Global campaigning for an abstract "environment" does not appear to work. What does work is engaging with nature on a human scale. Perhaps the best rejoinder to those who believe the world is a giant spreadsheet is an engagement with its messy, everyday complexity. A kind of vernacular environmentalism; an engagement not with "the environment", but with environments as we experience them in lived reality. Perhaps it's time to go back to basics.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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