Natural Capital: Should Nature Have a Price Tag?

Natural capital is the term used to describe the earth’s stocks of natural assets, such as air, water, soil etc. These assets provide us with the services that are called ‘ecosystem services’, and are the very things that make life possible (for all animals, human and non-human). The issue, however, is whether we should be applying an economic value to nature in the first place.

There are countless discussions and debates weighing up the pros and cons of applying economic value to natural services and goods. These debates have been sparked by concerns over the attitudes towards nature that this approach involves, many saying that it detracts from the intrinsic value of nature being nature, whilst others argue that it is the best approach in the battle to provide an environmentally and economically sustainable future.

Natural Capital - Water

Resources such as water would be valued economically

This is an important issue because the earth’s current natural processes and services are being over exploited to support unsustainable economic growth that is driven by global markets, but generates a fragile wealth only in favour of a relative minority in terms of world population.

As such it is our responsibility to ensure the survival of the environment, and it is our responsibility to decide the best possible strategy for delivering sustainability. But before we start forming opinions (I’m still finding it difficult to pick a side to support 100%), let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each side:

Natural Capital: Adding Economic Value to Nature – The Pros

Tony Juniper, a journalist for the Guardian, brought forward the argument that although we should appreciate the ‘intrinsic values’ of nature for its own sake, that approach will not be enough to change the ways of people who value money more than the environment that essentially ‘gets in the way’ (2012).

This is supported by Paul Hawken (pp.3-4), who argues that valuing nature recognises the important interdependency between the use and production of human-made capital and the maintenance and supply of natural capital. Dong et al. (2014, p.768) also argue that a proper evaluation of natural capital and ecosystem services, such as grasslands, may help to promote new environmental protection policies.

In other words, by adding a price tag to nature we can encourage people, businesses and governments to be much more careful about the way we use it.

Natural Capital: Adding Economic Value to Nature – The Cons

Although this seems to make financial sense, we cannot deny the fact that ‘adding a price tag’ to nature is a huge ethical concern. The very idea that the rivers, mountains, fields and wildlife should be assigned a specific value based on their place in an ecosystem service is questionable.

The biggest problem with this though is how an agreeable value would be established for certain aspects of natural capital; a value that can be used as a basis of a ‘policy for the Commons’ (Ulgiati et al.2011, p.778). How can a group of people decide the importance of certain ecological processes in relation to others?

The British government paid researchers to produce a total annual price for England’s ecosystems and received a response that stated the project was ‘theoretically challenging to complete’ with some researchers even stating that the idea wasn’t sound.

Natural Capital - Difficulty

How can something as complex as nature be valued?

Natural Capital: Valuing Nature for Itself – The Pros

George Monbiot, also a Guardian journalist, puts forward the idea that nature should be valued for what it is rather than the ‘services’ it can provide to humans. By continuing to emphasize the fact that humans do not own the earth, we can advance to an age of sustainability where we recognise our place as part of the natural world, not as its handlers.

He argues (2012) that no matter how many regulations are put in place to stop exploitation, the money to be made by protecting natural capital will rarely match the money to be made by destroying it. He makes the point that the importance of nature will diminish, and uses the example that if it is in the best interest of a quarry company to destroy a meadow, it can “buy absolution by paying someone to create another somewhere else”.

So in essence, avoiding the valuation of natural capital would prevent us from losing sight of the actual object of our protection: the environment, not the money it could make.

Natural Capital: Valuing Nature for Itself – The Cons

When it comes to making changes, it is an unfortunate fact that most people are quite reluctant to comply. This becomes apparent when we consider the fact that environmental movements have been highlighting world issues for decades, but even though there has been progress, it is by no means astounding.

How much can environmentalists realistically achieve?

How much can environmentalists realistically achieve?

There is also a distinct possibility that by opposing the attachment of economic value to natural capital, environmentalists could inadvertently be supporting those who believe that nature has little or no economic or moral value. Without a world market to apply regulations and agreements on value, some resources may continue to be over exploited.

Making a Decision

As you can see there are valid arguments from both sides, making this an extremely tricky issue to navigate. The pressure applied by the declining condition of today’s environment does nothing to aid the situation either, and with every passing day we take to decide our course of action more forests are torn down, seas polluted and resources taken for granted.

Some argue that the economic valuation of nature is a necessary evil that must be recognised in order to take swift action on environmental issues. By supporting the valuation of natural capital we can ensure a sustainable future, and it is once we reach that goal that we can once again value nature for being nature itself.

I hope that by reading this article you now have a clearer understanding of the dilemma, and have the information you need to make your decision. Will you support the economic valuation of nature, or should we keep fighting and avoid the price tags? I would love to hear your ideas, so please leave a comment and let me know where you stand.

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[Featured Image – Nature / City Wallpaper | Flickr – Photo Sharing! : taken from – https://www.flickr.com/photos/thoth-god/3680653891Author: Thoth God of Knowledge https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/]
[References :
Dong, X.B. , et al. (2014). Environmental and economic consequences of the overexploitation of natural capital and ecosystem services in Xilinguole League, China. Energy Policy 67, pp.767-780.
Hawken, P. , Lovins, A. , Lovins, L.H. (1999). Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Juniper, T. (2012). We must put a price on nature if we are going to save it. Guardian, 10 August, [Online] Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/aug/10/nature-economic-value-campaign (Accessed: 28 February 2015).
Monbiot, G. (2012). Putting a price on the rivers and rain diminishes us all. Guardian, 6 August, [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/06/price-rivers-rain-greatest-privatisation (Accessed: 28 February 2015).
Ulgiati, S. , Zucaro, A. , Franzese, P.P. (2011). Shared wealth or nobody’s land? The Worth of Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services. Ecological economics 70, pp.778-787.]

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Nausicaa: Ghibli’s Environmentalist Masterpiece?

‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’ (風の谷のナウシカ – Kaze no Tani no Naushika), written and directed by Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki, was released in 1984 and was based on Miyazaki’s own manga of the same name released in 1982. The film has been a huge success, catching the hearts and minds of people all over the world (that is ignoring the terrible ‘Warriors of the Wind’ re-release by New World Pictures!), with it’s beautiful animation and amazing score, composed by Joe Hisaishi, it truly is one of Miyazaki’s best works (and although produced before the establishment of Studio Ghibli, remains a shining star on their profile). *For the sake of character accessibility of some users I will use Nausicaa for this article instead of the original  Nausicaä*

*Please be aware that this article contains spoilers*

For those of you who have not (yet) seen the movie: The story focuses on the young princess Nausicaa, who lives in a dystopian future set 1000 years after an apocalyptic war called ‘The Seven Days of Fire’ ended most of civilisation. The world she lives in is now dominated by massive toxic forests, filled with giant insects that were able to adapt to the noxious spores and gases, and have since become it’s protectors. The forest is constantly growing and threatens to consume the remaining pockets of humanity, one of which has settled in the ‘Valley of the Wind’ which is protected from the encroaching forest by ocean winds that repel the spores.

The people are constantly threatened by the toxic forest, but live peacefully in the valley. However, whilst Nausicaa is trying to find out how the people can live safely with nature, other nations are at war with each other and with the forest. Nausicaa must help the people understand the value of the environment and avoid humanity from completely destroying its relationship with nature, but a dark shadow from the past may become the ruin of mankind…

Well, with the theatrics over, lets get to the point. ‘Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind’ actually holds a very poignant ecological, anti-nuclear and anti-war message that is as powerful today as it was in 1984. The film portrays nature as a formidable entity that is dangerous and unpredictable, yet shows us that it is also restorative and spiritual when approached peacefully, and this is the message that Nausicaa wants to reveal. She also later reveals that the forest is actually cleansing the land, removing the poisons left behind by the ‘Seven Days of Fire’, and the toxins are just a by-product of this process. It highlights the restorative powers of nature and reminds us how important environmental processes are in maintaining a healthy planet.

Nausicaa 1

However, the ignorance of the empire states leads to unnecessary and foolish conflicts which do more harm than good; they strive to assert their dominance over nature and establish a world where humans are in charge (sounds familiar right?). It is true that in this film, the actions of the empire states are mainly driven by their fear; they are not evil, just misguided. The awakening of the Giant Warrior (an ancient, living biological weapon) is a reference to nuclear arms, and the ‘Seven Days of Fire’ could be seen as a nuclear war that destroyed civilisations and poisoned the earth.

Despite the militaristic actions of the empire states, Nausicaa remains a pacifist who values life, regardless of what form it takes. This is obvious from her attempts to stop the fighting between the Ohmu and humans, and far from being cowardly, she bravely faces the rampaging Ohmu to calm them. It is only when the Ohmu are calmed, and the people see them revive Nausicaa, that peace is established.

So the message of this film is simple, nature is a very powerful thing, but if we are respectful, we can live in harmony. War is never the answer, it only serves to create more problems and awakens the darker side of the human condition. Nuclear power is dangerous and shouldn’t be tampered with, lest we get burned.

If you think you would like to watch this film (which I wholeheartedly recommend as one of Studio Ghibli’s best productions) then you can find it here on Amazon:

Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind [DVD]

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[Image credit: Featured – Watercolour Ohmu | Flickr – Photo Sharing! : taken from – https://www.flickr.com/photos/feline_dacat/4921641686/in/photolist-8uUGB9-5Zwayr-giZ8ai-f6yM4M-m3DUrw-oY2hBH-7RQseS-rRPpTb-4eT3zb-xetW9A-8Vtsi5-sd2Xqh-vSyuN6-bAG57-bsQqj2-6psu4YAuthor: Feline DaCat https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/
Nausicaa 6716 vu0 2 unfilt  Flickr – Photo Sharing!  taken from – httpswww.flickr.comphotostheprofileth5350653484inphotolist-99PuSh-6gB2g-ewUEZS-e7Py2o-99MgGp-99PzYC-99PvAd-rYLw6A-4gqGgM-hY5WPv-kvD3b-7t9z8c-6gB63-6gB2Z-6fWvq-eDxdc2-tKtgZk-7aKv63-fQqGUY-97AG6y-7gt7yu-aHrbnt-t55ZNZ-7gpbKT-d74ce9-6SesPL-6SanKt-97xRQi-eFobN6-eFobbM-ckP8yf-sdJmY3-5qdL1N-4sE2PK-4VUqY8-sTh2hw-gcUTjg-5oCwZA-nAZrAX-5oyfhD-sTr5Nx-sTimfF-qKJw9x-9j883r-ass2Kw-6v3WGA-nxNbz-96Pif-2ffig-8jSSpjAuthor TheProfileth httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0]

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