Magazine article World Watch

Report Turns "Economy-versus-Environment" Argument on Its Head

Magazine article World Watch

Report Turns "Economy-versus-Environment" Argument on Its Head

Article excerpt

The current economic value of the world's ecosystem services far exceeds that of the global GNP, according to a landmark study - the first ever to undertake such a comparison. Robert Costanza of the University of Maryland's Institute for Ecological Economics and colleagues from around the world synthesized the findings of more than 100 studies to compute the average per-hectare value of each of 17 services that ecosystems provide. The result: nature provides about $33 trillion in services each year, compared with $25 trillion for the global GNP. The services measured include water supply, erosion control, waste treatment, climate regulation, pest control, pollination, and food production. For each, the per-hectare value was multiplied by the area of each of the world's 16 major biomes (open ocean, coastal, tropical forest, wetlands, cropland, etc.). The current value of all services and biomes were found to be in the range of $16 trillion to $54 trillion per year. The report was published in the May 15, 1997 issue of the journal Nature.

Attempts to place a monetary value on nature have been criticized by those who believe that such valuation commoditizes and cheapens what is in truth immeasurable. In practice, however, people regularly assign value to nature in the choices they make. The problem is that in normal practice nature is generally not valued unless it is converted to something. Forests, for example, are not assigned value except to the extent they are turned into timber. …

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