What’s a Tree Worth?

In recent years some conservationists have started promoting ideas like “ecosystem services” and “natural capital” to get more people to take environmental protection seriously. Natural systems, the argument goes, produce real and measurable benefits to humans – forests suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, marshes and wetlands blunt storms. By putting a price tag on those services, we can create new incentives to protect natural areas. Some environmentalists, however, worry that the idea ends up cheapening nature by commodifying it. Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy, says the idea of natural capital can reinvigorate our respect for the environment. Tom Butler, editorial director at the Foundation for Deep Ecology, says we should conserve nature for nature’s sake.

Money Talks – So Let’s Give Nature a Voice

by Mark Tercek

Mark Tercek, a former partner at the investment firm Goldman Sachs, is president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy.

People have typically valued nature either sentimentally, or else as a bunch of commodities – raw materials – whose value is based on what it costs to extract them and what price they ultimately bring on the market. Now, everyone from farmers and fishermen to bankers and financiers are waking up to two vital facts: We depend on nature in far more complex ways than we knew, and natural capital is not inexhaustible.

Environmentalists generally believe in nature’s inherent value. That idea is the bedrock of the environmental movement. However, environmentalists cannot persuade everyone to think along the same lines. Focusing only on the innate wonders of nature risks alienating potential supporters and limits the environmental community’s ability to reach a broader audience and to mine new sources of ideas. …

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