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Bananas: $1.00/pound. Dry cleaning: $2.00/shirt. Clean Air: ?

Jun 8, 2011


We’ve written previously about the understandable dilemma environmentalists often face when confronted with the notion of putting a price on nature. How exactly do you put a dollar figure on the planet? It seems almost offensive to compare clean air and water to Dior bags and Blu-Ray players. However when rationality isn’t sufficient to promote environmental protection (we only have one planet after all) it may be necessary to look to the almighty dollar.

BBC News recently highlighted findings of a report commissioned by the UK Government aimed at placing a monetary value on the environment and the numerous ecological services it provides. The “National Ecosystem Assessment” found that not surprisingly the environment is worth a lot. For example the health benefits of living near green space are worth £300 (about $500) per person per year. And that’s only one of the hundreds of economic benefits that a clean stable environment provides. Another example: the fiscal boosts from tourism. Hundreds of millions of people pay to visit Britain’s woodlands and forests each year adding £1.2 billion ($2 billion) to the economy. If those places vanish or decay say goodbye to that part of your bottom line.

In addition to the aesthetic and recreational benefits that nature provides there are myriad “ecosystem services” that the environment supplies such as plant pollination and water and air purification many of which we don’t ever consider despite the fact that we rely upon them for our daily lives to function.

As the assessment indicates these services are extremely valuable. Alarmingly however they are degrading some rapidly. If we want to maintain the services the environment provides (and their corresponding economic benefits) we need get serious (and quickly) on climate energy and other major environmental issues. As a Yale University study devastatingly pointed out the planet has certain boundaries (climate change biodiversity loss ocean acidification etc.) beyond which it can’t be stretched and still expected to perform as is. We’ve already breached a couple of those boundaries and we’re reaching the limits of others very quickly.

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