In what ways is nature ‘valued’?


Hi I’m Lizzie and I’m your Commodity Consultant for today!

One of the BIG questions that environmentalist struggle with is whether there should be a price on nature. In some ways there IS a rote calculation that can be done to price out environmental health benefits, for example the cost savings that are realised through cleaner air or water.

At the heart of this debate is a philosophical question, how do you put a price on nature? How much is the Amazon River or the Himalayan mountain range worth? One thing is for certain, the value of nature is not being reflected within our current market economy. Even worse, the cost of unsustainable use is not being incorporated into balance sheets and so there is no market incentive to ratchet back the use of natural resources.

The larger question of how to value nature beyond its utilitarian uses remains. Beyond the difficulty of monetizing nature, how do you monetize things like cultural and spiritual resources that have an unquantifiable value? And, if you decide they can’t be monetized, how is it that their value is incorporated into a market based system so that their preservation is seen as a value and their destruction is seen as a cost? (or should they be preserved? What environments do we deem valuable enough to save and why?)

I think answering these questions will require some societal restructuring of the idea of ‘value’ which moves away from a market-based valuation system – although this doesn’t seem that achievable in the near future… a belief that is leading some environmentalists to believe that if we want to preserve nature as valuable we need to work within our market system to ensure that natural resources are recognized, at the very least, for their economic value and worth

Often monetizing nature comes under the name of ‘conservation’, three examples include -

Charging entrance fees to national parks (and national parks themselves!), an individual arriving by foot or bicycle would be charged $15 to enter Yellowstone National Park

The sustainable/ renewable energy industry

and through policy

This idea sits a little uneasily with me. I suppose for me it can’t be the only thing that we do. If we value nature in an ‘irrational’ or ‘more-than-rational’ way e.g. we enjoy it for the sense of peace it gives us, for creative expression, for family times, for quietness, for air, for noise, why respond to this valuation in a rational way e.g. with a monetary value?

I quite like these books ‘Sightlines’ by Kathleen Jamie and Edgelands by Michael Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley, which look at the small ways that we value a more expansive understanding of nature and the role nature plays in our everyday lives. These stories include looking at the role of bacteria in our gut and the uncanny brownland space between cities and the countryside.

I’d also suggest that things are not so hopeless that we should give up on the idea of being able to value nature as more than just a monetary value. Over the last ten years there has been a shift in understandings of health away from just the absence of disease to a more expansive notion of ‘well-being’. This shift has seen a rising body of work surrounding ‘the medical humanities’ and ‘environmental humanities’, which involves science turning to the arts to assess how a more holistic outlook on value can be adopted. One example of this is the use of ‘nature’ in the form of community gardens to help rehabilitate people with alcohol misuse. Social, cultural and personal value of nature is beginning to be recognised.

Maybe we can learn about how to value nature by looking at how different cultures value nature?

A story that always sticks with me is from Japanese mythology, where the Namazu (鯰) or Ōnamazu (大鯰) is a giant catfish who causes earthquakes. He lives in the mud under the islands of Japan, and is guarded by the god Kashima who restrains the catfish with a stone. When Kashima lets his guard fall, Namazu thrashes about, causing violent earthquakes. Perhaps this could teach us to stop trying to control nature and value its unpredictability?

Of course this is my own option and I’m not suggesting you subscribe to it! Perhaps we can use it as a conversation starter in the comments section!? I’d love to know what you think,

Hope this helps!


by LizzieH on August 26th at 4:59pm
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