A difficult problem
A difficult problem
The value of nature has always been difficult to define. Communicating nature's value to the wider population, and crucially to decision makers, is becoming increasingly important if we want to preserve and enhance the natural world we live in. The following article was published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 Suffolk Coast and Heaths Newspaper. Two articles referenced in that article are linked below.
What is the value of Nature?
Despite every effort, the natural environment has progressively declined over the past 70 years. Conservationists refute environmental degradation is necessary or acceptable, with many seeking to halt or even reverse this alarming trend. In recent years, the ‘natural capital approach’ has emerged as a potential ally in the fight for environmental endurance.
My role is to understand what the ‘natural capital approach’ is and how it might work in practise. Of primary concern is the need to place the environment higher in the minds of decision makers to ensure the beauty and functionality of our natural world will be nurtured rather than eroded.
This is a complex problem that necessitates questioning; ‘What should be done about a declining environment?’ and ‘Why is action necessary?’, but also ‘How can we value nature?’ and importantly, the question of ‘Is valuing nature right?’
Decision making is based on weighing up economic arguments. The option with the greatest net benefit often wins out. Currently, nature doesn’t have a readily assignable value and so it struggles to ‘win out’ in the decision making process. We know the environment underpins our way of life but this value is hard to ascribe because the benefit (natural capital) is offered without money changing hands. Use of air quality, clean water, wildlife and landscape have allowed all humans to better ourselves without direct cost, whether directly (farming for example) or indirectly through sense of place.
It is uncomfortable for us to think about the environment in monetary terms, principally because we have never had to pay for natural capital. This is not to say the natural world is for sale, rather that there is a need to recognise the benefits it offers. The issues we face at present, and the relative lack of success with other initiatives to date have prompted us to ask these questions and consider if it is possible, to consider the natural environment in economic terms to make a stronger argument in decision making.
There are no easy answers, with debate raging in the national press between Tony Juniper (head of WWF) and George Monbiot (Guardian Columnist) amongst others. One point of agreement is that the awareness of the issue needs to be broadened. Regardless of your perspective, each argument raises interesting points that are being explored right here in Suffolk Coast and Heaths.