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Tagged ‘Monetization of Nature‘

Don’t Put a Price Tag on Nature

Take Part

March 11, 2016

by Richard Conniff 

 

The ‘ecosystem services’ idea devalues the natural world by trying to monetize it.

(Photo: Lena Trindade/Brazil Photos/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Not too long ago, Mexican free-tailed bats seemed like a perfect example of how conservationists could use the “ecosystem services” idea to save the natural world. These bats feed on insect pests in the Southwestern United States, and researchers have calculated that they provide a benefit to cotton farmers that was at one point worth about $24 million a year.

It would, of course, have taken a miracle worker to get the farmers to pay for a service they had always gotten for free. But before that could happen, technology and market forces intervened: BT cotton, a strain of cotton genetically modified to produce the insecticide BT, came on the market. The BT took over the job of controlling insect pests on cotton farms, and suddenly the free-tailed bats were like buggy-whip makers in the automotive age or newspaper reporters today. The value of their services plummeted by 80 percent.

Cases like this have led a lot of biologists to wonder, as the title of a recent article in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution put it, “Have Ecosystem Services Been Oversold?” These critics increasingly question the validity of the entire ecosystem services movement on practical and moral grounds. They ask, among other things: What happens when technological and market forces make the services a species provides, and thus the species itself, seem worthless? Is it even right to monetize and in some cases privatize nature, the ultimate public good?

The questions are worth asking because the ecosystem services idea is a movement, beloved by many conservation organizations, and the subject so far of more than 15,000 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals. Schemes to pay for ecosystem services, such as REDD, are also a big deal in global financial markets. You might think REDD is a brand of apple ale with really stupid television advertising. But it’s an international program, arguably overhyped, called Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation.

The idea behind REDD is twofold: Forests sequester carbon, harbor biodiversity, and otherwise provide ecosystem services. So why not get corporations, governments, and others to pay to protect those services, if only to offset their own carbon emissions or earn public relations bonus points? Thus Norway, a leader in the movement, has pledged $3 billion under REDD schemes to protect threatened tropical forests in Brazil, Indonesia, and other countries. This is serious money being put to work to protect natural resources, so you can understand why conservation groups might love the idea.

But much as was the case with the free-tailed bats, “there are no markets for many of the goods and services that ecosystems provide,” Jonathan Silvertown, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Edinburgh, points out in the “Oversold” article. The solution for ecosystem services proponents, he writes, has typically been to “invent a market” like the REDD scheme for carbon credits. Or they “pretend there is a market” and ask people how they would value ecosystem services in hypothetical situations. But “make-believe markets” are highly likely to fail when people are otherwise, he writes.

But make-believe markets are highly likely to fail when people are otherwise relentlessly focused on nickel-and-dime realities. The market mentality also degrades nature by attempting to turn it into a commodity. “People are not allowed to sell their organs or their children,” Silvertown writes, citing the 2012 book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. “These have intrinsic value that is beyond price.” That’s true of species and habitats too.

The attempt to sell nature went spectacularly wrong for the government of British Prime Minister David Cameron. When he came to power in 2010, he pushed to sell off the roughly 1,000 square miles of forest that until then had been owned and protected by the national Forestry Commission. The ecosystem services idea seemed to offer the new government a bright, shiny “technocratic rationale for the deployment of its natural capital,” Silvertown writes, with the added likelihood of putting bright, shiny millions into government coffers.

Some conservation groups went along, “taking the view that it is regulation” of the forests “and not ownership that matters.” But Cameron, a conservative, was slashing regulations at the same time. The response from the British public was furious. It turned out that no amount of money could make up for what it perceived as the loss of its forests, and no amount of monetizing could capture the value of simply being able to walk in the woods. Cameron quickly backed down, with one government source describing the whole idea as “a cock-up,” or what Americans might call a FUBAR: “We just did not think.”

So, let’s think. Where does all this leave the ecosystem services idea? Trying to “unbundle” all the things we get from the natural world and put a price on them cheapens nature, and it cheapens us. The people who first developed the idea in the mid-20th century meant that conservation could benefit from showing people how their lives depend, in all sorts of unseen ways, on the natural world: Intact wetlands save downstream cities from flooding, coastal marshes serve as nursing grounds for offshore fisheries, and that air you breathe? Yes, it’s an ecosystem service, provided by healthy forests and obscure ocean microorganisms.

This is the only sense in which the ecosystem services idea deserves to live—as a constant reminder of how utterly we all depend on the priceless blessings of the natural world.

 

 

[Richard Conniff is the author of House of Lost Worlds: Dinosaurs, Dynasties, and the Story of Life on Earth, and other books.]

Survival of the Richest or Radical Living

HuffPost Green

March 4, 2016

by Angie Cordeiro

 

 

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Humans need habitat to survive, to live, and to thrive. Air, water, food, shelter.

Reality Check:

We are living on a planet with a scarce amount of drinking water, limited regions that are able to grow food, and ever increasing regulated areas for housing.

Payment for Ecosystem Services (PES) is becoming “… as certain as death and taxes.” There’s even an interactive game to acclimate our young people to evaluate every person, place, and thing on our planet. Placing a price tag, a cost, a monetary value on existence itself.

Time is money, ticktock, ticktock…

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20151008-costing-the-earth

Can You Cost the Earth?
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Natural resources:

Freshwater

Value: $73.48 trillion

Renewal of water supplies is dependent upon a variety of natural assets, for example, healthy soils, wetlands and forests. Without new freshwater there would soon be no economy, so the total aggregate value of the water-related services provided by Nature is presented as at equivalent to global GDP (about $73.48 trillion). Researched by Juniper/WCMC-UNEP.

Trees

Value: $16.2 trillion

The numbers presented in relation to the contribution made by trees are derived from Costanza, R. et al. (2014). Changes in the global value of ecosystem services. Global Environmental Change. The number for ‘trees’ is produced from an aggregation of figures presented in this paper in relation to different kinds of forests. Researched by Juniper/WCMC-UNEP.

Plankton

Value: $222 billion

The value of plankton is estimated on the basis of their role in carbon capture and is derived from Siegel, D.A. et al. (2014). Global assessment of ocean carbon export by combining satellite observations and food-web models. Global Biochemical Cycles. The six billion tonnes of carbon captured by plankton was multiplied by ‘the social cost of carbon’ as calculated by the US Government (at $37 per tonne). Researched by Juniper/WCMC-UNEP.

A bald eagle

Value: $39

The value of a single bald eagle is calculated by Richardson, S. and Loomis, J. (2009) The total economic value of threatened, endangered and rare species: An updated meta-analysis. Ecological Economics.

A gray whale

Value: $35

The value of a single gray whale is calculated by Richardson, S. and Loomis, J. (2009) The total economic value of threatened, endangered and rare species: An updated meta-analysis. Ecological Economics.

The United States

Value: $17.42 trillion

The US is valued by its Gross Domestic Product (Purchase Power parity), (2014 est), provided by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook.

Average US worker

Value: $47,230

The annual earnings of a US worker in 2015 are calculated by the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics on its website under the sections Occupational Employment Statistics and May 2014 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, as published on 5 October, 2015.

Air

Marketed as “the next bottled water” fresh air bottled in Canada and shipped to China as a solution to serious smog problems sells in two flavors, and comes in single or twin packs.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/15/asia/china-canadian-company-selling-clean-air/

Sales of canned Canadian air booming in China...
Vitality Air said that the first batch of 500 canisters filled with fresh air from the Rocky Mountain town of Banff went on sale in China last month (November 2015) and sold out within two weeks.
“Now we’re taking lots of pre orders for our upcoming shipment. We’re getting close to the 1,000 mark,” said Harrison Wang, director of China operations. The air sells for $14 to $20, depending on the size of the canister.

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What about those of us that live in relatively smog free areas of the planet?

http://robertscribbler.com/2016/02/05/co2-rockets-to-405-6-ppm-a-level-not-seen-in-15-million-years/

 

Atmospheric CO2 (has recently) Rocketed to 405.6 ppm — A Level not Seen in 15 Million Years

…Unfortunately, this daily February peak at 405.66 parts per million is not the end to the current year’s ramp up. Typical atmospheric peaks occur during May. And this year, we are likely to see atmospheric levels hit near 407 parts per million in the weekly and monthly averages over the next few months. Such a range thrusts us solidly out of the Pliocene climate context and well into that of the Miocene.

Though the Middle Miocene was not a hothouse extinction climate, it was one much more foreign to humankind. Back then, only the great apes existed. Our most ancient ancestor, Australopithecus, was still at least 9 million years in the future. It’s fair to say that no human being, or even our closer offshoot relatives, have ever breathed air with the composition that is now entering our lungs.

“If you really think that the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.” Dr. Guy McPherson

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Water

Civilization is contaminating nearly all of the natural water resources on our planet by chemical, physical, radioactive or pathogenic microbial substances.

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“There are two categories of people: those who shit in their drinking water supplies and those who don’t.”
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http://humanurehandbook.com/

 

The Humanure Handbook–a 255-page guide to composting human manure, including building your own toilet and turning your own excrement into rich, crumbly brown humus for your garden…deemed “the book most likely to save the planet!”
Jenkins has been a compost practitioner in the United States since 1975 and has grown his family’s food with humanure compost for the past thirty-five years. His website offers videos, instructions and the complete Humanure Handbook free of charge.

Every time we flush a toilet, we launch five or six gallons of polluted water into the world. That would be like defecating into a five gallon water jug and then dumping it out before anyone could drink any of it. Then doing the same thing when urinating. Then doing it every day, numerous times. Then multiplying that by about 305 million people in the United States alone.

Even after the contaminated water is treated in wastewater treatment plants, it may still be polluted with excessive levels of nitrates, chlorine, pharmaceutical drugs, industrial chemicals, detergents and other pollutants. This “treated” water is discharged directly into the environment.

Food

The future for food is vegan. Sadly it’s not because of compassion and a reverence for all life on our planet. Nor is a vegan future about taste, or health, or sustainability; it is simply because eating meat is too inefficient.

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Shelter

Family and community addresses our human need to socialize. Tiny home communities are an empowering solution to dis-empowering high cost shelters that further marginalize the human spirit.

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Tiny houses were seized in L.A. last week without offering any viable alternative to those who will now sleep on the streets, truly homeless.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-tiny-houses-seized-20160224-story.html

 

L.A. is seizing tiny homes from the homeless
Cannon, 58, said her husband, a Vietnam-era Marine veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder and memory loss, was hospitalized with a seizure Feb. 5, then disappeared.

Larry Joe Cannon turned up Friday, but the couple’s house was gone. As Summers (an L.A. resident who says he was once homeless, had placed donated structures within encampments on overpasses along the 110 Freeway, for homeless people to use instead of tents ) drove off with her house on a flatbed trailer, Julia Cannon sat on a thin bedroll on the ground and pointed to the concrete.

“I’m staying right here,” she said, her eyes filling with tears.

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Conclusion

Humanity has a handful of years left of habitat to support life on Earth. Our predicament is dire.

“Live simply so others may simply live” is not being presented as a TED conference “Dream Team” topic by former VPOTUS Al Gore, nor is simplifying our lives being suggested by the 350.org gang.

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The choice of embracing the sacredness of all life, pursuing excellence everyday; or blindly yielding to the cleverly marketed solutions that will only benefit an elitist few; once again, polarizes our collective consciousness as human beings.

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