Money does make the world go round

Runner up in the 2018 CES World Environment Day blog competition:

Author: Rebecca Mitchell

The Environment, Society, and the Economy form the three main pillars of what we term ‘Sustainable Development’. The intricate balance and complex interrelationships between which determine every aspects of modern life (Holden, Linnerud and Banister, 2016). The continued degradation of our global ecosystems is increasingly becoming a key concern within international political circles. It’s easy to get the sense that the continued destruction of our natural environment is simply an unavoidable repercussion of development and economic growth (McCarthy, 2015). How this can be prevented has never been more relevant, and, as is true with many core contemporary questions, the answer is highly contested.

The Theory of Ecosystem Services strives to put an economic value upon natural capital and the services it provides to human wellbeing, health and livelihoods. It relies on the belief that putting an economic cost upon the services we receive from nature will act as a disincentive to environmental destruction (McCarthy, 2015), and with this, the global market and economy which are heavily supported by nature itself (Redford and Adams, 2009) will be much more reluctant to take undue advantage.

The monetisation of ecosystems has, as would be expected caused much debate within conservation and political circles. The increased recognition of ecosystem services could redefine the relationship we have with nature and enhance the importance to anthropocentric values (Costanza et al., 2014). Putting a price on nature could mean that the natural world becomes a resource; fundamentally changed into something that can be traded (McCarthy, 2015) and the term ‘services’ automatically puts us at the centre of any exchange.

There are those that argue that this could promote a more exploitative relationship between humans and the environment and commodification of nature (Schoter et al., 2014). However, many of the ecosystem services in question cannot necessarily owned by anyone and so therefore cannot be privatised. The ocean for example sources provisioned services such as fish, which may enter the market as a private entity while the ocean remains a common asset. The price associated with the fish is an estimate of its value and benefit to general society, published in way that the masses can easily understand. Such power in a price can help in raising awareness for the importance of ecosystem service and better inform political decisions regarding ecosystem damage (Costanza et al., 2014). Costa Rica has been a country that has in some ways pioneered the idea of paying for ecosystem services, transforming itself from a nation with one of the highest deforestation rates to one of the few nations with a net reforestation rate (Guerry et al., 2015).

Shouldn’t nature be saved purely for what it is (its intrinsic value) and not for the economic price of what it does?

…Sure, but where has this current system got us to this point? The answer to such question I think is quite evident. Deforestation of our global rainforests still continue at a truly alarming pace, degradation of habitats are leading to the increasing pace of species extinction (Juniper, 2012) and loss of ecosystem services due to changes in land use between 1997-2011 has been estimated to have been worth US$4.3-20.2 trillion/yr (Costanza et al., 2014).

Indeed, putting a value upon nature and what it provides makes me feel uneasy to say the least. In an article written for the Guardian, Dearden (2013) likened the “absurdity” of the concept to introducing a financial market in crimes against human rights- that, for example, one could torture people in one place as long as one invested in protecting people in another (Dearden, 2013). However, the environment and human rights are very different concepts. Our human society is centred round the concept of economic growth. The sad truth is that people relate more to the cost of an item than they do the environmental and/or social affect that the production of that item may have had elsewhere in the world.

For now, at least, I feel an economic case for the environment has the capacity to resonate more with the political figureheads that ultimately make the key decisions of what stays and what goes. No longer do we have the time to sit back and wait patiently in the hope that people will see beyond monetary value and truly appreciate what really matters. In a perfect world I would hope measures such as these would not be required, and the intrinsic value of nature would be enough. Money does make the world go round. Unfortunately, at least in the short term, we may have to embrace this ethos so that we save what in reality, money just cant buy.



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Dearden N (2013) Putting a price on nature would be disastrous [online] [last accessed: 21/05/2018

Guerry A D, Polasky S, Lubchenco J, Chaplin-Kramer R, Daily G C, Griffin R, Ruckelshaus M, Bateman I J, Duraiappah A, Elmqvist T, Feldman M W, Folke C, Hoekstra J, Kareica P M, Keeler B L, Li S, McKenzie E, Ouyang Z, Reyers B, Ricketts T H, Rockstrom J, Tallis H, Vira B (2015) Natural capital and ecosystem services informing decisions: From promise to practice, PNAS, vol 112, issue 24, pp 7348-7355

Holden E, Linnerud K, Banister D (2016) Imperatives of Sustainable Development, Sustainable Development, vol 25, issue 3, pp 213-226

Juniper T  (2012) We must put a price on nature if we are going to save it [online] [last accessed] 21/05/2018

McCarthy M (2015) Nature Studies: Is it possible to put a price on nature? And if we can, should we? [online] [last accessed] 21/05/2018

Redford K H, Adams W M (2009) Payments for Ecosystem Services and the Challenges of Saving Nature, Conservation Biology, vol 23, issue 4

Schroter M, van der Zanden E H, van Oudenhoven A P E, Remme R P, Serna-Chevez H M, de Groot R S, Opdam P (2014) Ecosystem Services as a Contested Concept: A Synthesis of Critique of Counter- Arguments, Conservation Letters, vol 7, issue 6, pp 514-523