Geoffrey Heal

 

On his book Endangered Economies: How the Neglect of Nature Threatens Our Prosperity

Cover Interview of May 03, 2017

A close-up

The natural world contributes in crucial ways to our physical wellbeing. There are also spiritual and esthetic dimensions to what it brings, and it is these that have traditionally motivated people to argue for conservation. Nature’s economic contributions are not taken into account. I look at how these can be measured and what the results are.

To give a sense of where this takes us, the world’s populations of pollinating insects represent an asset that is worth at least $14 trillion. Without them, up to a third of our food crops would be lost. And the world’s forests are worth well over $10 trillion just for their contribution to stabilizing the climate by photosynthesis, taking carbon dioxide out of the air and replacing it with oxygen. I calculate these values by estimating the value of the services the assets provide each year, and then capitalizing this over their lifetimes – the standard way of valuing any capital asset.

Biodiversity is another asset that is undoubtedly of great value, but we understand so little of why it matters to us that we can only value a few of the many aspects of its contributions to human societies. I identify several contributions. One is the development of medicines through bioprospecting. Another is the insurance role played by crop varieties that are not currently used commercially and can be used to replace current commercial varieties, if these fall to the assaults of pests. Yet another contribution is that biodiversity has allowed the development of all of our important foods crops and animals from their wild originals. And, of course, the popularity of nature programs shows that we have an intrinsic attraction and attachment to biodiversity.