Eco-Nomics - Why do our Economic Systems Continue to Exploit Ecosystems?

The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
Monday, 22nd October 2012

CIWEN asks whether a monetary system based on economic growth is capable of nurturing our increasingly delicate ecosystems...

CIWEM's latest Policy Position Statement 'Placing a Monetary Value on Ecosystem Services' reviews the use of monetary valuation techniques as part of an Ecosystems Approach, and its appropriateness whilst a number of moral and ethical questions remain unanswered. CIWEM urges extreme caution in proceeding with a policy of putting a price on nature advocating a high profile public debate to address the implications.

Driven by the continuing desire of UK governments for economic growth, an ability to place a monetary value on the services provided by ecosystems has become increasingly recognised by the broader policy and business communities. It is believed that this can help better reflect the importance and finite nature of environmental services and resources which, under current decision making procedures, are often prescribed an economic value of zero.

However, a number of critics have argued that there are a number outstanding ethical questions surrounding the appropriateness of valuing the environment remaining, this has led to a polarised and emotive debate. Much of this opposition stems from a perceived attempt to shoehorn the environment into a flawed economic model. Trying to fit the natural world's system of complex interdependencies and linkages into a linear economic model is not possible. These complexities and how they function are yet to be fully understood and explored in detail and as such, any valuations are based on limited scientific understanding. Whilst proponents note that placing an absolute price on nature is impossible, the motivations surrounding this approach and the ability of it to be exploited are deemed to be potentially very dangerous.

No voice - well balanced ecosystems are at the mercy of economic growth rather than sustainable development

Whilst CIWEM supports an Ecosystems Approach, the institution calls strongly for a public debate surrounding the consequences of adopting monetary valuation specifically. As a relatively new concept to the broad environmental disciplines within the UK, there is a lack of experience and an insufficient evidence base to provide certainty on what this approach offers and what it may lead to. CIWEM also calls for an independent assessment of the moral and ethical implications of placing a monetary value on ecosystem services. Such an assessment should explain how ecosystems will be protected and which organisation will perform the duties of a publically accountable arbiter of their economic value.

CIWEM's Executive Director, Nick Reeves OBE, says:

"Whilst the exercise of placing a monetary valuation on nature is well-intentioned, its flaws need to be addressed in a serious manner. What is being proposed delivers the natural world into the hands of those who would destroy it for financial gain, continuing to mask the business as usual approach that puts the environment at the service of the economy instead of the economy at the service of the environment. Safeguards and procedures are needed to ensure potential loopholes for environmental exploitation are closed." 

For more information on CIWEN, click here

In our next issue Permaculture 74 (Coming out soon) Dr Joanna Boehnert explains why Rio+20's Green Economy program is more of a problem than an ecological solution 

Fantastic resources on the subject include Polly HigginsEcocide Campaign and Gaia Education's 'Gaian Economics' book