Economics and the Environment

How much is the world worth? According to a 1997 study, $33 trillion a year.

Say what? Robert Costanza and others wrote an intriguing article for
Nature Magazine that attempted to quantify the value of all of the
services that various ecosystem components contribute to human
welfare. Y'know, things like erosion control and clean water and
plant pollination. It all adds up to $33 trillion.

Before you get all lathered up about how dare we put a dollar value on
scenic views and breathable air and endangered species, pause for a
moment. $33 trillion is almost twice the gross national product of
all of the nations of the world.

Which means that knowing the dollar value, at least roughly,
translates into a more quantitative approach to making policy
decisions, as individual nations and as a planet, that spend money to
protect natural resources. In other words, there's a return on
investment in safeguarding watersheds and predator-prey levels and the

To put it another way, absent these sorts of cold, hard calculations,
environmental resources are inadequately built into policy decisions,
which depend on cold, hard calculations. So absent a dollar value on
the environment, decisions get made that short-change that
environment: we pollute and strain and otherwise compromise valuable
resources because not enough value has been assigned to them.

Maybe you think enviro-chic is too crunchy green for you. Or maybe
you think the environment should have nothing to do with that other
green, i.e. the color of money. But maybe you should read articles
like Costanza's and understand that an approach that is both economic
and environmental in nature (no pun intended) is what will best enable
the kind of individual, national, and global action that will ensure
sustainability in our lives and in our childrens'.


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