2 June 2011

There is No Wealth But Life

Finally, in a move that became inevitable once bogus methods of valuing nature were invented by economists with the very same mental framework that produced sub-prime lending and credit-default swaps, a price has been put on the natural beauty of our land. Our country has been degraded into an accounting unit; our beautiful land has been marketised.

This, in my view, is the only possible interpretation of the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, an attempt to put a monetary value on everything that we, the human species, gain from our fellow species and earth's sacred existence. It styles itself as 'the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity' and is 'part of the Living With Environmental Change (LWEC) initiative'. That is what we have to do of course: learn to live with environmental change, rather than learning to cherish and respect nature's way. The ideology here is very much about nature learning to live with us, in contrast to the opposing lessons of permaculture.

The naivety of the respectable, well-meaning but misguided scientists, like Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, who have become embroiled in this exercise is baffling. The majority appear to be natural scientists, and this, alongside the large-scale funding that was presumably available to support this research, appears to explain their mistaken decision to become involved. Perhaps they genuinely do not understand how economists can, once given something 'scientific' to work with, warp and distort values until they arrive at the answer that suits their profit-driven objectives. The process of discounting is just one such technique.

Knowing exactly how much people would pay not to lose a bit of woodland is a real step forward for a developer. He only has to find this much money and give it to the local authority and he has solved the problem of the devastating loss of the trees. A little bit of carbon mitigation, a few bus fares to travel to the next closest park, and the problem of local resistance to concrete is solved. Profits expand and the irritating impediment to economic growth from nature and those who love nature has been eliminated.

The impossibility of substituting money for nature is a central tenent of a green approach to economics; to imply that we can somehow find a price for nature, a price for life, only proves that those who come up with such calculations need to be removed from positions of authority. If they are allowed to continue to dominate our national life it is clear that our future and that of many of the species we share the planet with is doomed.

1 comment:

  1. I may well be being dumb here ... but until we fully change to a goodwill based system of abundance, surely such monetary valuation of improved ecosystem services from good ecological management is a necessary measure but need not be an inherently bad, rather, just a transitional phase.

    For example, carbon farming does not need look a lot different to present farming - but is benign, eco-positive & highly productive. The 'win-wins' could be astronomic here, from improved wider ecosystem services & public health, ending drought & flood cycles, to when applied overseas, a reversal of desertification & reduced emigration, etc.

    The losers however would be myriad, Monsanto, Glaxo, Carlyle Group, Wall St and so on.

    Wider ecosystem services belong to all of us (water, air etc), whether generated by a pristine forest, or a super-naturally managed producing landscape - it is up to us to make sure this metric is properly defined and applied to greatest benefit.