What’s life on our planet worth? In cash terms, academics are putting a price on the services provided by nature, to persuade us to stop killing the biological diversity that sustains life. Perversely, this UN initiative will accelerate the killing of life as financiers find ways to exploit nature in the money markets.
Putting a price tag on nature is an exercise guided by fraudulent doctrines. It is intended to reinforce the principles of the neo-classical approach to economics.
The big myth is that we don’t already put a price on nature. Hence the current laborious exercise to invent numbers for governments converging on Nagoya, Japan, for the conference on how to protect biodiversity. A UN report, The Economics of Eco-systems and Biodiversity, purports to identify the cash value of nature’s “capital”.
And so, coastal eco-systems, for example, have a rental value placed on them ranging from $248 to $80,000 per hectare per year. There are estimates for coral reefs. tropical forests, grasslands… everything under the sun. But most of these values are already traded in the markets.
We already put a price on the services provided by the sun., for example. Land values would collapse along Spain’s Costa del Sol if the climate changed and the sun no longer bathed the beaches with her rays.
Up in the Swiss Alps, the property values of hotels and second homes would collapse if nature no longer snowed on the peaks. Free snow? Not if you want to go skiing – the rents of that snow are already factored into property prices.
Just about all of nature’s services are valued by us, in one way or another. Think of the rural landscape which home owners enjoy through their sitting room windows. Their property prices would be negatively affected if a developer blocked their views by building in the adjacent fields.
So we know the value of nature already, from the rents we pay. Those services are provided without charge by nature, but most of us have to pay a third party to enjoy them. Therein lies the injustice that will not be discussed in Nagoya as governments agonise over what to do to protect eco-systems which have been abused, in many cases to destruction, under the regime of private property rights.
Hijacking the Agenda
Action is needed to prevent the destruction of eco-systems, but the rational policy will not be on the agenda in Nagoya. Justice requires that people who use those services should pay the rents of nature into the common purse. That would secure conservation of fragile eco-systems, leading to sustainable outcomes.
Instead the perverse proposal is promoted that taxpayers should reward people who vandalise nature. In Europe, taxpayers are already being milked. Subsidies are paid to persuade owners to conserve nature. This is blackmail, but the bureaucrats in Brussels don’t use that language. With minds cramped by the doctrine of private land ownership, we are forced to reward vandals for not pouring chemicals and pesticides on to the land which turn living eco-systems into dead zones.