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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. …

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I like that this article points out that economics can’t capture everything about what we value in nature, which any economist worth their salt will recognize. But I think it misses the point of what the ecosystem services movement is trying to do. In your closing you mention that we take care of children and elderly, have passions and hobbies out of love and not because we’re being compensated. But the point is that all those things, just as nature, have *value* to us. The difference between these examples is that the environment provides immense benefits to us all, but sole individuals and corporations have little private reason to conserve it when these things they get for “free” are not recognized. The ecosystem services framework simply tries to make the value of these things explicit.

By Brian E Robinson on Fri, October 14, 2011 at 9:47 am

Tangible & Intangible Values

Going forward, a balance will be required to achieve true sustainability.

Sustainable Land Development Initiative
Cracking the Code: The Essence of Sustainability

By Terry Mock on Wed, October 12, 2011 at 9:48 am

I feel less intelligent for reading this. First, how can you have an article talking about ecosystem services without referencing the Costanza et al? You can’t tell me you are writing an article on ecosystem services without reading the paper that started it all in 1997, by estimating the value of the worlds ecosystem services (averaged at $33 trillion a year compare to global GDP of $18 trillion and year). Second, your moral argument is doing a great job of protecting mountains in West Virginia (a price on carbon would). Leave the confines of the 415 and head up to Lake or Humbolt Counties and ask if they care about the morality of saving the Spotted Owl. You are going to hear about lost jobs. Morality has not stopped drilling in the gulf after the oil spill. Your two examples, the American Revolution and the Abolition of Slavery were and economic and military decisions, not morality. Taxation without representation has a nice populist ring to it, but the first part was the driving force. Had the south not left the union Lincoln wouldn’t have emancipated the slaves, by freeing them he undercut his enemy. (If you are going to use morality at least argue the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, which were caused by outrage and are presently under assault) The ecosystem services argument did, however, do a great job of protecting the Catskill Watershed by demonstrating the cost of conservation was (and still is) considerably less costly than building water treatment facilities so clean the same amount of water to device New York City. Thanks to this argument NYC has some of the best water in the nation and beautiful scenery upstate (and added benefit, but not the primary motivator). People that want to conserve for emotional reasons will anyways, it is simply preaching to the choir. This is what the environmental movements (yes movements, most environmentalists have their one niche issue that pigeonholes them) have been doing with little success. It is time to bring conservation into the main stream, and in today’s economically focused society, that means Ecosystem Services.

By Jeremy on Tue, October 11, 2011 at 9:47 pm

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