Friday 22 November 2013

Nature is Not for Sale

Yesterday and today Edinburgh has hosted the World Forum on Natural Capital, which is discussing how to put a financial price on nature. Many thinkers and some environmentalists see this as a positive step as it would ensure that the value of nature and ecological services (including clean water and air) is included in decisions around economic development.

Others feel that by putting an economic value on nature, we turn it into a commodity and effectively sell it off to the highest bidder. World Development Movement yesterday held the Nature Not for Sale Forum to 'stand up to global finance and share ideas to protect our natural world for the benefit of all.'

The first speaker overused economics jargon. Maybe she thought she was speaking to an audience of experts, but I was scratching my head trying to work out exactly what she meant. Yes I'd heard many of these economics jargon words before but so many of them packed together in a speech? Hard work.

The second speaker joined us via Skype and similarly used a lot of jargon.

Over a delicious vegan / vegetarian supper, Crafty Green Boyfriend and I discussed the importance of Plain English and avoidance of jargon when addressing the general public. You want to inspire people to get involved, not leave them wondering over exactly what you meant in your talk.

The panel discussion after supper was distinctly more engaging and contained much less jargon. Speakers discussed a range of ideas including how to appeal to individuals' personal values to get them engaged in campaigning and acting on issues.

There was discussion around the fact that some conservation bodies are tempted by the possibility of receiving funding for their nature reserves through biodiversity offsetting (where damage to the environment in one place is 'balanced' by protecting it in another place.) This could mean however that funding for nature reserves might become dependent on the environment being damaged elsewhere, surely not an overall conservation success! Also specific habitats are irreplaceable and replacing them with something similar elsewhere doesn't compensate for the specific losses to local wildlife and communities.

One of the speakers made an analogy that if he injured someone in a car crash and then paid for the victim's medical costs that didn't make things okay! But effectively that is what is being suggested by biodiversity offsetting.

A member of the audience shared the story about a community in Indonesia (I think) who had protected their local rainforest for generations as they saw it as sacred. A Japanese company then came in and offered to pay the community to look after this forest. This support lasted for a few years. By the time it was withdrawn, the community had lost its traditional reasons for protecting the forests and now saw it as a potential source of income. I think the forest ended up being felled.

At root, the problem is that society has become too focussed on money, believing that everything has a monetary value and that economics are more important than more abstract values. In the small nation of Bhutan, success is measured by Gross National Happiness rather than Gross Domestic Product (a measure of economic success). That certainly entirely changes the way people perceive the world.

Cross posted to my website

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Optimistic Existentialist said...

I am in complete agreement with you that the societal focus on money has really hurt our world. I only hope it's not too late.

EG CameraGirl said...

I definitely think too many people put money first. I want to gag every time I hear my government talk about how something is "good for the economy" as that's a signal that it's likely NOT GOOD for the environment.

bunnits said...

I definitely agree with you. And I liked the car crash victim analogy, although I can see some individuals deciding that getting the money would be okay as an alternative--some folks can't see beyond dollar signs.

RG said...

Troublesome concept - for sure.

I suppose there are cases where being able to create a large preserve/wetland/habitat area in exchange for losing a small one can be useful. Around here, destruction of wetlands is usually required to be mitigated with something many times larger.