Costing the earth

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 October, 2010, 12:00am

What's the price of a bee? Or a tree? Or how about a hectare of mangrove swamp? What is our ecosystem worth?

Often when we consider the environment or climate change, we think in emotional terms. But looking at the damage done financially is another way to consider the problem.

It's hard to put a price on the environment because we've never had to buy or sell these things. But today, as our ecosystem is being damaged and lost, we are finding ways to put a price tag on it.

An ecosystem is the network of all living things and their physical environment. They rely on each other, which means if you damage one part of the ecosystem, the entire community suffers in some way. Pollution is one way in which humans are causing damage to ecosystems around the world.

We are also part of the ecosystem, and we need to protect it for our own survival. We need bees to pollinate our food crops. Mangrove swamps protect our shorelines and create a home for marine life that we rely on for food.

At our current rate of consumption of natural resources, we will need 1.5 planets to sustain human life. We of course know that there is only one earth, so we need to start using fewer resources in order to survive.

Businesses are starting to consider what the loss of our ecosystem is costing us. By some estimates the loss of ecosystems is costing humans between US$2 trillion and US$4.5 trillion each year.

Analysts have produced this estimate by doing things such as measuring the impact of fewer bees, which means lower crop yields.

They have added up all of these negative side-effects of ruining our environment to come up with an overall cost estimate.

Much of what Mother Nature gives us comes free of charge, or at least we don't pay for it directly, so we often forget its real value.

Putting a price tag on the environment is a good reminder that we can't afford to waste what we have.


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Costing the earth

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