What’s a Tree Worth?
In recent years some conservationists have started promoting ideas like “ecosystem services” and “natural capital” to get more people to take environmental protection seriously. Natural systems, the argument goes, produce real and measurable benefits to humans – forests suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, marshes and wetlands blunt storms. By putting a price tag on those services, we can create new incentives to protect natural areas. Some environmentalists, however, worry that the idea ends up cheapening nature by commodifying it. Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, says the idea of natural capital can reinvigorate our respect for the environment. Tom Butler, editorial director at the Foundation for Deep Ecology, says we should conserve nature for nature’s sake.
Money Talks – So Let’s Give Nature a Voice
by Mark Tercek
Mark Tercek, a former partner at the investment firm Goldman Sachs, is president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.
People have typically valued nature either sentimentally, or else as a bunch of commodities – raw materials – whose value is based on what it costs to extract them and what price they ultimately bring on the market. Now, everyone from farmers and fishermen to bankers and financiers are waking up to two vital facts: We depend on nature in far more complex ways than we knew, and natural capital is not inexhaustible.
Environmentalists generally believe in nature’s inherent value. That idea is the bedrock of the environmental movement. However, environmentalists cannot persuade everyone to think along the same lines. Focusing only on the innate wonders of nature risks alienating potential supporters and limits the environmental community’s ability to reach a broader audience and to mine new sources of ideas. …
“Natural Capital” is a Bankrupt Metaphor
by Tom Butler
Tom Butler, a writer and conservationist, is editorial projects director of the Foundation for Deep Ecology. His books include Wildlands Philanthropy and ENERGY: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when putting a price on human beings was acceptable. Humans who were owned by other humans didn’t freely volunteer their labor – their “services” were appropriated through legally sanctioned brutality. Such violence was normal.
Today, the idea of human slavery is morally repugnant, but the enslavement of Earth and its countless nonhuman inhabitants is perfectly acceptable. Toilers in the field of ecological economics assign dollar valuations to the labors that nature provides, the “ecosystem services” such as clean water, climate stability, and pollination that undergird human well-being. We strip the world of its wild beauty and diversity through an organized system of brutality, and such violence is not just normal, but celebrated. We call it “progress.”.…
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