Sunday, 5 June 2011

Costing the Earth?

Buttermere in the English Lake District
Interesting news last week - to the sound of a fanfare the Coalition government proudly announced a ground-breaking piece of work with the publishing of the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA). According to the BBC - "Nature is worth billions to the UK" - no kidding? Or as we say in the UK - 'No shit Sherlock!". Its worth noting that there is nothing new in trying to put a cost on nature. The economist David Pearce did it in his book Blueprint for a Green Economy twenty years ago.

In the NEA, a bunch of economists - could these be the same ones who failed to spot the Great Crash that we've just been through? - set out to measure the monetary value of the UK environment. There were some priceless quotes including this one from Bob Watson, chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and co-chairman of the NEA:

"Humans rely on the way ecosystems services control our climate - pollution, water quality, pollination - and we're finding out that many of these regulating services are degrading,"

Really? Did you need to stick a price tag on a Beech tree to discover that? It seems to me that the people who did the NEA need to get out more - preferably out their cosy offices and into the environment itself. According to the NEA, the benefit to an individual of living near a green space is £300 per year and bees are worth £430 million or so a year to our economy. What's wrong with this is it's arrant nonsense, and potentially dangerous nonsense at that. Imagine that someone wanted to build a brick factory on the park next to your house and was willing to pay you £300 a year for the privilege, would you accept the money? - of course not. You might be £300 pa better off but you would have lost something far more valuable - your peace and sense of well being. As for bees, if we lost them we would all be screwed.

The simple truth, as we all know, is that bees, for example, are irreplaceable and therefore priceless. There is no way they can be costed. And what about the view of Buttermere Lake and Haystacks from Buttermere (see my photo) - how much is that worth? I guess if the NEA can help prevent developers and money grubbers from destroying our natural environment and wildlife it will have been worth the effort, but somehow I doubt that it will.

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