If We Had to Replace Nature, It’d Cost Us $142 Trillion p.a.
|June 21, 2014||Posted by Staff under Environmental|
This 2014 excerpt of the New York Times, Jun 5, is by Carl Zimmer.
Billion-dollar levees aren’t the only things that protect coasts from storm damage. Nature offers protection, too. Coastal marshes absorb the wind energy and waves of storms, weakening their impact farther inland, and rebuild themselves.
Protection from storms is one of many services that ecosystems provide us — services that we’d otherwise have to pay for. In 1997, a team of scientists estimated they are worth, worldwide, $33 trillion — equivalent to $48.7 trillion in today’s dollars. Put another way, the services ecosystems provide us were twice as valuable as the gross national product of every country on Earth in 1997.
Robert Costanza, a professor at Australian National University who led the study, has concluded that ecosystems do more for us than researchers could appreciate in 1997.
Coral reefs, for instance, have proved to be much more important for storm protection than previously recognized. They also protect against soil erosion by weakening waves before they reach land. Each acre of reef provides $995,000 in services each year for a total of $11 trillion worldwide.
The global figure for all services is $142.7 trillion a year (in 2014 dollars).
Deforestation and other damage we’ve inflicted on the natural world has wiped out $23 trillion a year in ecosystem services. The gross domestic product of the United States is “only” $16.2 trillion.
Yet ecosystems don’t simply provide us with good things. Ecosystems can also harbor diseases and harm us in other ways.
Ed. Notes: We can’t pay Nature so whom would we pay? And who would do the paying? And who would determine exactly how much? For the last question, if we reformed limited liability, then businesses would buy insurance, and insurance companies, not just armchair academics, would also calculate ecosystem values.
We could look at our species’ damage of ecosystems totally differently. Instead of play brain dead and accept it as the price of progress, we could make polluters and depleters pay. We could auction off emission permits and extraction leases. We could require those who own land to set aside an Ecology Security Deposit, like tenants do when moving into an apartment. We could require those who use the environment to buy Restoration Insurance, like drivers must have insurance. And we’d fine those who exceed emission standards.
Something else to do is to charge owners land dues. Having to pay, they won’t want their precious land to get ruined and will provide better care. And with all these collected revenues we could pay dividends to the citizenry. Where land is healthier, its value is higher, so the dividend would be fatter, and everyone would have a financial reason, too, to go with love, to conserve resources and be better stewards.