Friday 23 July 2010

The Value of Nature and the Nature of Value

On 13th July the first “Global Business of Biodiversity Symposium” was held as part of the UN’s International Year of Biodiversity. This was the back-drop to the publication of a major report by an international study called “The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”.

This is global stuff! We hear little about it in our press (but see my May 2010 blog), but there are some mighty intellects trying to work out how to correct the market failure that is our economic system. The point of this symposium was to highlight how business can address the inconsistencies in our current economic valuing systems so we take better account of the natural capital on which we all depend. For a fascinating insight I suggest you go to the web site:

and read some of the quotes from different key people who attended (including the Wildlife Trusts own CEO – Steph Hilbourne). There's also a short film that makes interesting viewing.

The best thing I can do here, however, is just to quote Pavan Sukhdev who has led this international study:

"Our economic compass is faulty and must be updated to better reflect the roles of human capital and natural capital in our economy. We must ensure that the costs and benefits of conserving nature are calculated as best as possible, recognised by leaders, businesses ad citizens alike, included in the accounts of society and managed in order to be distributed more fairly across communities and to remain sustainable for generations to come

We have been losing trillions of dollars of losses per annum as a consequence of our global economic mechanism failing to account for the natural capital that underpins industries such as construction, tourism, energy, agriculture and pharmaceuticals. We must recognise the nature of value and the value of nature and move now to create a sustainable future.

We stand here at a fork in the road of human history – they are signposted “brown economy” and “green economy”. Both paths appear economic in the short term, but only one leads us to a long-term future. It is the path of the “green economy” – a path to recognising and conserving the value of nature, creating jobs and industries and helping tackle poverty."

Monday 12 July 2010

Wishful thinkers lose again.

After a third enquiry the scientists at the Climate Research Unit in East Anglia have been exonerated again. (You remember – that great outcry caused by some leaked emails that had the media wondering if scientists were just making all this climate change nonsense up). And with this another straw that the climate change deniers have been grasping at has also been taken away.

Even if any fault could ever have been found, this ridiculous hounding of a very small number of legitimate scientists does nothing to counter over 200 years of climate change science.

Around the world there are thousands of scientists working on climate change and the overwhelming vast majority say not only that climate change is happening but that it is humans that are causing it. The wishful thinkers, hoping that this can all be made to disappear, are always looking for any scam to try to deflect reality.

There is a clear and obvious strategy in place by climate change deniers. Make climate change look complicated, confusing, “just a theory”, invent controversy, imply disagreement amongst experts and deflect with all sorts of unsubstantiated claims. It was exactly the same when pro-smoking lobbies tried to undermine the link between smoking and ill-health.

This time, or course, the deniers have a lot on their side. Giving up smoking is easy by comparison. Accepting climate change means that we may have to change our lives – and few people want to hear that. Nevertheless, climate change is happening and trying to find imaginary cop-outs simply delays necessary action.

Perhaps a particularly bad aspect of climate change denial is the anti-intelligence, anti-education culture it relies on. As a result, scientist who have spent a career studying climate change (or anything else for that matter) have become “experts” or worse “government scientists”, so are thought of as esoteric, unreliable and out of touch. I have seen blogs where the view of a self-appointed “man on the street” thinks himself far more respectable than any number of climate change professors. Maybe we should use the same principle in other sectors? Medical doctors for example, have spent decades perfecting their skills so obviously must be way out of touch with reality! Next time we need an operation maybe we should consult some man in the pub instead.

In spite of the deliberate strategies to confuse there are some basic facts from which it is impossible to escape.

200 years of climate science amassing vast amounts of evidence points in the same direction – climate change is happening and we are causing it.

Carbon dioxide is known to create a greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide is increasing and the greenhouse effect is getting stronger.

The measured effects of climate change cannot be explained by natural processes alone. It can only be explained when human-emitted greenhouse gasses are included.

Every year our society emits carbon dioxide that it took nature 3 million years to lock-up! Any logic should tell you that 3 million times too much of anything is unlikely to be good!

At the same time human-caused damage to the world’s ecosystems has never been greater, reducing the ability of nature to respond to any imbalance.

You might claim, against all the evidence, that there is some unknown natural process that is going to save the day. Some unknown negative feed-back loop will appear and soak up the surplus carbon dioxide, or counter the effect of increasing temperature. It would have to be an unknown phenomenon because all the known ones are already incorporated into climate change models. This strikes me as wishful thinking at a neo-religious level! We would not take this approach in the economic arena (just keep spending the money, our bank accounts will magically top themselves up at some stage!) so why does anyone give it any credibility when deniers wish to magic climate change away using the same logic?

Let us be clear. Human-induced climate change is a reasonable hypothesis supported by the vast majority of the evidence and the experts in the field. I have only ever met one or two climate change deniers that I would give any credibility to at all; by and large climate change denial is just an emotional response.