Tuesday, 25 May 2010

At last, some news in a newspaper!

Well maybe I’m being unfair, but I don’t tend to buy national newspapers as the news is always the same – and usually badly reported. But at last, on Saturday 22nd May the Guardian ran an article on things that actually matter. And it was given a decent level of priority – front page news.

This was a full article making the economic case for global action to stop the destruction of the natural world.


To some of us it may be sad that we have to make an economic case to conserve the natural world. Surely the natural world should lie above the petty economic squabbles that seem to dominate the world. But if that is what it takes to make the bean-counters take notice then maybe that’s what we should do.

The gist of the article is that, while we always seem to know the cost of looking after the natural world, we seldom calculate the benefit. Costs are easy and obvious – benefits are hidden but vital. Not surprisingly, if you do some calculations then the economic benefits from the natural world are 10 to 100 times greater than the cost of looking after it. A while ago I heard someone refer to calculations like this as a “poor approximation of infinity” – and I tend to agree, but even so this approach can be helpful. At least it should make the politicians and policy-makers sit up and take notice.

This is not a new subject. The idea of ecosystem services has been around for a long time. For those of you who want to find out more the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is where some of the recent impetus sprang from, so here is the link:


The work that the Guardian referred to is a major international initiative called “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” (TEEB) – and this has some fascinating stuff:


It also has to be said that some good work is being done in Britain – see the UK National Ecosystem Assessment at:


If all this work is taken seriously then, fairly soon, there should be a shift in how economic valuing works. Nature will be viewed as the huge asset it really is and will be taken properly into account in all decisions. If it is not taken seriously then the same shift will be painfully forced upon us, in the longer term, as we end up paying for services that were once provided by nature for free.

Just to make sure I do not get too optimistic though – in the same issue of the Guardian there was a shorter report on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It was reported in the same old way – an oil spill was in the process of damaging some wildlife-rich piece of coastline. Dull-headed people could still read this and conclude “a shame, yes, but we need oil and maybe the loss of some pretty wildlife is unimportant by comparison”. If on the other hand it was presented in terms of the huge and long-term economic loss due to damaged ecosystems as a result of the oil then maybe the equation might look rather different.

No comments: