Nature Left Alone Offers More Than If We Exploit It

Nature Left Alone Offers More Than If We Exploit It

Mangrove swamps are one type of natural asset that’s more use if we don’t try to exploit it. Image: nsplash

Save nature, save money. It’s a simple argument. Wilderness cleared and ploughed offers us less than nature left alone.

British scientists have once again made the commercial case for conserving wilderness. They have demonstrated that in its pristine state − mangrove swamps, wetlands, savannahs, forests and so on − nature left alone is of more value to humankind than as exploited real estate.

This argument has been made already, and more than once. But this time the researchers can provide the detail for their argument: they report in the journal Nature Sustainability that they had devised an accounting methodology to test such arguments, and then applied this in 24 selected sites around the planet.

Some of the value would be in intangibles such as providing a shelter for the wild things and wild plants; some of it would be measurable. For instance, if the damage inherent in carbon spilled into the atmosphere through habitat destruction or fossil fuel combustion presents an overall cost to society of $31 a tonne − and this is a conservative estimate − then almost three quarters of the sample sites have greater value simply as natural habitats.

And that includes 100% of all forests. If that greenhouse gas carbon was valued at a paltry $5 a tonne, almost two thirds of the sites would still be, over a 50-year period, a better investment left untouched.

“At current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity”

But what climate scientists now call “natural capital” − the invisible services  provided by nature in crop pollination, water filtration and planetary air conditioning − is of measurable commercial value even without the vital role of carbon sink. Of the 24 sites, 42% would still be worth more in their natural form than converted to cropland.

“Stemming biodiversity loss is a vital goal in itself, but nature also fundamentally underpins human wellbeing,” said Richard Bradbury, of the University of Cambridge. “We need nature-related financial disclosure, and incentives for nature-focused land management, whether through taxes and regulation or subsidies for ecosystem services.”

And his Cambridge co-author Andrew Balmford said: “Current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unlike anything in human history. Even if you are only interested in dollars and cents, we can see that conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.”

In fact the researchers made their conclusions based on 62 sites, but concentrated on 24 simply because in these cases they had the most reliable information about the potential commercial value of their sample against which to measure the value of restoring it, or protecting it, or both.

Valuable saltmarsh

If Nepal’s Shivapuri-Nagarjun National Park was turned from forest to farmland, investors would gain immediate capital from the value of the timber, and a longer-term income from crops. But the loss of carbon storage would be 60%, and the damage to water quality would be 88%, and Nepal would be $11m worse off.

Even a saltmarsh near Preston in the United Kingdom proved to be worth $2000 a hectare in terms of its value in mitigating carbon emissions: no income from crops or forage grazing could match that.

That left 38 sites for which the economic data was less certain: even in these cases, the “goods and services” delivered by the site in its natural state was, for two thirds of them, of more value to humankind as a whole than calculated exploitation by a few.

“Our findings indicate that, at current levels of habitat conversion, conserving and restoring sites typically benefits human prosperity,” the authors say. − Climate News Network

About the Author

Tim Radford, freelance journalistTim Radford is a freelance journalist. He worked for The Guardian for 32 years, becoming (among other things) letters editor, arts editor, literary editor and science editor. He won the Association of British Science Writers award for science writer of the year four times. He served on the UK committee for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction. He has lectured about science and the media in dozens of British and foreign cities. 

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolutionBook by this Author:

Science that Changed the World: The untold story of the other 1960s revolution
by Tim Radford.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon. (Kindle book)

This Article Originally Appeared On Climate News Network

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