Back on the 10-12 September, the Italian society of ecology was meeting to discuss all about the natural capital value of terrestrial, freshwater, transition and marine habitats.
But what exactly is this natural capital ? I am sure that you somehow, sometime came across these words, they seem to be abused these days. But are we using this concept right? And, actually, is it a valuable concept at all ?
Let’s have a look at it
Natural capital is the world's stock of natural resources, which includes geology, soils, air, water and all living organisms. Some natural capital assets provide people with free goods and services, which can be considered as the 'flow' provided by natural capital.
Ecosystem services are the contributions that ecosystems make to human well-being, and can be categorised in: provisioning services (e.g. biomass, water, fibre); regulating and maintenance services (e.g. soil formation, pest and disease control); and cultural services (e.g. the physical, intellectual, spiritual and symbolic interactions with ecosystems, landscapes and seascapes)
Natural capital is an extension of the concept of economic ‘capital’. But here is where I would like to raise the first question : should we use an economic based idea for something that is not initially there with the intention of giving us the service ? Trees, microbes, reefs and all of the biodiversity around us is made of living things that are there because , like us, they have a right to it , and if we benefit from the fact that by respiring they make our atmosphere better then..all the better.
But it should not be the only reason we see it fit to have them there! (or so, I think..). The whole idea of maximising and protecting natural capital may make us fall in the trap of being as extractivist as the type of economy that we are trying to shift.
However , the discussion for other side of the coin (so, pro natural capital concept), is also a valid one. If our economy and thus politic is only based on money (still), then we might want to find ways to incentivate the protection of nature by talking in the same language. And if the language that is going to be understood is made up of these symbols ‘£$€’ then so be it... let’s put a price on nature.
Now, let’s look at it from the scientist perception. How do we put a price on nature? Usually this is done mostly by quantifying how much we would spend otherwise for the same service if not provided by nature. The challenge really lies on how to set the right price, especially for less quantifiable ones, like the cultural aspects. What if something provides a service just to a part of the population? (Maybe women or children)?i think this is still a big challenge as big damages can occur if something is not quantified well, especially if it is under-valued.. A good way to go would be to collaborate and be as interdisciplinary as possible, gaining knowledge and gaining accuracy of results...
What do you think? Is it right to put a price on nature ?
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