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What does a tree cost, and what is its value?

“You know the cost of everything and the value of nothing,” was a common insult when I was a child. However, some environmentalists say that it’s a genuine problem. The World Forum on Natural Capital meeting today and tomorrow is going to attempt to change how we see the value of nature. They’ve put together an infographic to explain what they mean.

Natural Capital Infographic
What is Natural Capital?

This looks good, but there are some issues. What value do you put on Spirituality? There is more to assigning value than simply picking some numbers you like, but because some of the benefits are so intangible then there are going to be difficulties valuing them.

This has already been an issue in UK policy this year. There is a badger cull ongoing in the UK, in order to protect cows from bovine tuberculosis. A cost-benefit analysis was in favour killing the badgers. However when government minister was asked what value he put on the life of a badger he wou;dn’t give a numerical answer (spin on to 2m20s into the stream for the interview). If you don’t assign any value or benefit to a badger, but you do to a cow, it’s going to be much more difficult to perform an unbiased analysis.

In the EU, in contrast, the idea of valuing natural assets has been taken more seriously. This does require research on modelling ecosystem services, so there will be plenty of argument over the methods and details of valuing.

There is also a question of whether this is the right way to value the environment. To what extent is a protection of nature a moral argument, and to what extent is economics a suitable method for determining what is moral? However, as long as there are people who believe the two subjects are the same, Natural Capital could be an effective way of expanding the argument of what the cost of actions are.

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Natural Capital Infographic from the World Forum on Natural Capital.

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