22 March 2010

Can we really price nature: or what is the other version of the crisis we have today?

This post was written by Lina Kliucininkaite @ http://www.brainforum.org

Can we really price nature: or what is the other version of the crisis we have today?

This article does not want to give the answer to the question, but rather wants to discuss the issue with the World Business Dialogue participants. The right answers are under development and many question raised in this article are the challenge for our generation to find the clue-solutions. At the World Business Dialogue, this challenge can be met by professionals and students. 

Who can answer what our Earth is worth in money? What is the value of the air we breathe? It’s the same as to ask how much your life is worth. Seems like a very extreme comparison, but nowadays, when the modern world faces the financial crisis, it is becoming a more and more essential question.
Why? This question refers to sustainability or new fresh trends of economic development. Somebody can say that we already priced water. Yes, we did, but is the price right? Is it fair in every region? Won’t global warming correct these prices?

In my opinion, this crisis was like a pointer which shows that talking about sustainable growth is not enough anymore. If real measures won’t be applied, consequences are going to be severe. The consequences I talk about can already be seen. Global warming, degradation of rain forests, first climatic refugees, high rate of water contamination are just a small part of the consequences we face today and which affect human being and thus economy. So can we have sustainable growth without misbalancing our environment?

As we already can see, the core poles of sustainability are environment, economy and society. Disharmonize one of them, and the other two will be disharmonized as well. Interactions are so close and tight. So naturally, the following question evolves: Can the roots of the crisis be found within overconsumption and overgrowth of both social and economical sectors? Or maybe a question mark should be posed after the term “environment”, as it might be one of the main crisis catalysts today.

We all heard about real estate bubbles, warnings about their explosion, overheated economies. We all know about goods and services we use for making our lives better, about flows of labor, flows of money etc. But has anybody of us really been thinking about ecosystem services?  It is a pretty new approach and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) team has done a great job supplementing and developing it. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment is a research program which focuses on ecosystem services and its changes. It is supported by United Nations and was launched in 2001. Since then the MA had released synthesis reports about the current state of ecosystem services. The ecosystems services approach is a contribution for sustainable development by initiating awareness of the ecosystems’ importance for human well-being. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment points that attention to ecosystem services is needed in order to achieve global development goals.

Ecosystem services are very fundamental and play an essential role to life especially for the creation of human well-being. These kinds of services are so large in scale that it is hard to imagine that human activities could destroy them. But reality is different. Ecosystem services derived from nature are severely threatened through increasing growth in population, consumption, urban sprawls, demands of energy, productions of goods, as well as a mismatch between short-term needs and long-term societal welfare. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment revealed that approximately 60 percent of the ecosystem services that support life on Earth are being degraded or used unsustainably. Moreover, scientists warn that the harmful consequences of this degradation could grow significantly worse in the next 50 years.
So if we again look at the sustainability core poles, I come up with a pressing question: Will degradation in ecosystem services lead us to a new crisis?

Note: This post was written by Lina Kliucininkaite, one of the participants of 13th World Business Dialogue. She has a degree in Energy Structural Engineering from the Vilnius Gediminas Technical University and now is a Master student in international Environmental Management program at the Ecology centre in Kiel.