World First – China’s Bird Airport

Birds. Airports. Those two words rarely if ever sit happily together. The Airbus forced in 2009 to make a dramatic emergency landing on the Hudson River after Canada geese were sucked into both engines, triggered an unstoppable wave of bird slaughter at airports round the world. The unfortunate animals just happening to be in the ‘wrong’ place were gassed, shot and poisoned in an attempt to prevent bird ‘strikes’ on aircraft. Still are. Airports in China included. At China’s east coast Lishe Airport, for instance, the grassland where migrating egrets stop to feed is being sprayed with rat poison.

“Where biodiversity is most in trouble, it’s in trouble because of direct conflict with human activity.” 

Gretchen Daily

So, the world’s first ever custom-built airport for birds? Mudflats, reed beds, lakes and shallow rapids – something for every feathered frequent flyer. Not a plane in sight – and in China?
BirdAirport-McGregorCoxall.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart
Lingang Bird Sanctuary is an ‘airport’ designed with the safety and well-being of migratory waterbirds in mind. (Rendering: McGregor Coxall)

China’s conservation record has not been so hot in the past, to put it politely, so it’s a big surprise, but an incredibly welcome one. In actual fact, the super-power is now ahead of the game in the management of flourishing ecosystems and has declared its vision of becoming the ecological civilization of the 21st century¹

“It’s just such a historic moment in China, with the highest level of government pushing for a level of investment in nature that’s completely unprecedented.” Yale University ecologist Gretchen Daily, 

The Chinese government partnered with Yale and with Gretchen, co-director of the Natural Capital Project, for research on the state of their network of national parks and nature reserves. And now the ecologist is helping the Chinese ‘reimagine’ these spaces to reverse the decline in biodiversity, and at the same time provide ecosystem services such as sandstorm protection and flood control.

“We’re recommending a great expansion of nature reserves to encompass all of the major groups of biodiversity that we studied, which includes plants and the four vertebra groups — mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. That involves many new reserves being established”

And the Lingang Bird Sanctuary in Tianjin is such a one. It has been “specifically designed to accommodate thousands of daily takeoffs and landings by the 50 million birds traveling along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway.” This flyway, one of 9 major bird migration flyways across the globe, stretches over 22 countries – the list includes China, Japan, New Zealand, Russia and the United States, taking in Indonesia and Thailand on the way.

The new ‘airport’ at Lingang is all good news:

  • It’s where it’s most needed, sitting in the most threatened of all 9 global flyways, and in a country where 70% of intertidal habitat has been lost in the last 10 years
  • It’s expected to provide the perfect refuelling stop for those millions of migrating waterbirds – more than 50 species
  • The design² includes an education and research centre – another plus for bird conservation
  • It will provide green lungs for the city of Tianjin, frequently blanketed with smog so thick it  shuts down its real airports
  • It will also act as a ‘sponge city’³ (more below)
  • It transforms a former ugly, dirty, smelly landfill site into a fabulous green eco park
  • It will provide a much-needed green space where humans too can enjoy the outdoors, breath fresh clean air, wander along miles of walking and cycling trails, watch the wonder of migrating birds and hopefully learn the value of making space in our overcrowded world for other living creatures
BirdAirport-McGregorCoxall-2.jpg.838x0_q80
A birder’s paradise, Tianjin’s new wetland sanctuary will also help to scrub the city’s notoriously polluted air and prevent major urban flooding events. (Rendering: McGregor Coxall)
Let’s hope Lingang, due to be completed in 2018 ready for its visitors, human, avian and hopefully a bounty of other wildlife, will provide a template for such projects in the future.

¹The [Chinese] Congress clearly stated that China must incorporate the idea of ecological civilization into all aspects of economic, political, cultural, and social progress. Actions and activities relating to China’s geographical space, industrial structures, modes of production and people’s living should all be conducive to conserving resources and protecting the environment so as to create a sound working and living environment for the Chinese people and make contributions to global ecological safety.” UN Environment Our Planet

Wow – way to go China! Other countries take note. Ms Daily though sounds a note of caution:

“Aligning the activities of over a billion people around conservation might prove to be a challenge, even with the best of leadership we can hope for.”


²Australian landscape architecture firm McGregor Coxall (“We Value Cities Ecologies & Communities”)  partnered with Avifauna Research in this ambitious project.


³Sponge Cities
Lingang bird airport is one of 16 pilot projects in the new Sponge City initiative. In the most populated country in the world, where half of its 527 rapidly-growing cities suffer water shortages classed by the UN as ‘severe’, and another half have woefully inadequate flood protection, there’s a pressing need for storm water to be ‘reimagined’. Last year for instance, the floods in north and central China killed at least 150 people with many more missing, destroyed 53,000 houses and saw hundreds of thousands forced from their homes.
But all that water can be turned from a disaster into an opportunity. ‘Reimagine’ the city as a giant, super-absorbant sponge. Catch the water with rooftop gardens, and at road-level plant-filled ditches (called bioswales) instead of concrete, and lo, you have water for gardens and urban farms, for flushing toilets, and even replenishing drinking water supplies. And zero flooding.

 

Sources

China to debut world’s first bird ‘airport‘ – MNN

Airports’ global bird slaughter – 100,000s gassed, shot and poisoned – The Ecologist

China Floods – BBC News

Helping China Rethink its Approach to Conservation – Yale Environment

Related posts

Futurology Promises More Hopes Than Fears for the Animals & the Planet

There is Always Hope for the Animals & the Planet

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The Rights of Nature

“Just as human beings have human rights, all other beings also have rights which are specific to their species or kind and appropriate for their role and function within the communities within which they exist.”

The Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth

Nature has Rights! And not just in our wishful pipe dreams. Two countries hit the headlines recently with court rulings acknowledging the legal personhood of three rivers. In New Zealand the Wanganui River, and the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India now have rights. On 31st March India granted Himalayan glaciers the same status. They are legal persons.

A similar judgment has been made in Costa Rican law courts for the planet’s second largest reef which happens to lie in their waters.

Costa Rica’s not too distant neighbour Ecuador was already well ahead of the game – in 2008, the first country in the world to embed in the nation’s constitution itself, the Rights of Nature. The constitution was then put to a referendum of the people, and they voted yes. Ground-breakers indeed.

Not to be left behind, Bolivia was next to achieve a milestone for Nature’s Rights. Half a century after the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma, drove forward the initiative to present the United Nations with a draft of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Since that time:

  • Nearly 40 municipalities in the US have adopted Nature’s Rights
  • The dignity of all beings is recognised in Switzerland’s constitution
  • Spain recognises the rights of apes
  • And Romania is in the process of doing the same for dolphins

The EU is lagging behind! But there is hope, as we will see. First, how law for Nature operates in most countries of the world now.

The law with reference to Nature at present stumbles along under one of three paradigms. All outdated, none holistic. Take your pick:
  • mechanistic – viewing the world as made up of separate unconnected objects interacting in a predicable way
  • anthropocentric – viewing the world as existing solely for the use of human beings – our own ‘natural resources’ or ‘natural capital’. Nature is judged only by its economic value to Man rather than on its own intrinsic value
  • adversarial – where one party wins at the expense of another. Guess who nearly always wins? It’s not Nature.
But we already have laws to protect wildlife and the environment – like our own UK Wildlife and Countryside Act. So why does Nature need legal Rights?

Generally speaking – though as we have seen there are exceptions – the law as it stands recognises only two kinds of ‘holders of rights’: humans and human-created entities such as corporations. Everything else – animals domesticated, farmed and wild, land and water, Nature itself – is ‘property’. Nature our thinking goes, belongs to us, is our possession. So laws of protection that come, can just as easily go, depending on the prevailing governmental winds.

The classic example is the USA’s iconic gray wolf, already extinct over most of its historic range. The wolf was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1974, delisted in 2012, relisted in 2014, and now once again loses  protection in Alaska, in national wildlife refuges fgs, under Trump. The man is hell bent on sweeping aside just about every protection U.S. wildlife and wild places – so hard striven for over decades – now enjoy. If ever there was someone out of tune with Nature….

Rights on the other hand give the highest level of legal protection.

Rather than treating nature as property under the law, Rights for Nature… acknowledge that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.  And we – the people –  have the legal authority to enforce these rights on behalf of ecosystems. The ecosystem itself can be named as the defendant [and in courts of law we can be its advocate].

And so we come to the ECI – A European Citizens’ Initiative for the Rights of Nature

vII8ChdUxsdMEueu8GoGHUsKT6xziUJ5k45bQMJKNm07IeMjECZMyq0pleanp1K3ViJy7gVg9qoqwzJo0jtlRpmUrAvHLW_lnSsI7h0k0O34H1o5KH6D9wTTRj5NsMGkHrS_3IUQ.pngThe European Citizens Initiative scheme was established five years ago with the aim of increasing direct democracy by enabling “EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies”. Now, a group of lawyers, environmentalists, academics and others from 13 EU countries have come together in a project to present the Rights of Nature to the EU Commission and get those rights enshrined in EU law.

Their Project Vision

Humanity flourishing in harmony with Nature.

Project Mission

To establish nature’s rights – legal personality and rights for ecosystems and other species – in law throughout Europe.

Project Aim

To launch a European Citizens’ Initiative to propose nature’s rights to the legislative agenda of the EU – see our Draft Directive.

Why This Initiative?

Ecosystems and other species are alive. Yet the law treats them as objects separate to us. This has wide reaching social and economic consequences that drive the environmental crisis. Rights of nature is a game changing solution that brings fundamental and systemic transformation to our legal and economic system by re-characterising nature – ecosystems and species – as a subject of the law with legal personality and tangible rights that can be defended in court by people. This ensures that economic activity operates to enhance rather than undermine the resilience of ecosystems so that humanity can thrive in harmony with nature. It forms a powerful counterbalance to corporate rights and a viable alternative to the financialisation of nature.  To find out more see this article – Rights of Nature – Why Do We Need It? and this TEDx Talk.

Nature needs us to create new legal systems that promote

  • respect for the profound inter-existence of all life
  • respect for the intrinsic value of all life
  • healthy relationships with all life
  • harmony with the universal laws that govern all life

Sadly, since the European Citizens’ Initiative first came into effect, only three ECIs have managed to collect the 1 million signatures required for a response from the EU Commission. And of those three, only one was approved for a follow-up proposal. (One of those rejected by the Commission was a proposal for the European Anthem to be sung in Esperanto!)

But with our support the chances for the ECI – Rights of Nature are hopeful. And here are ways you can help

If you have skills in the following areas and would like to be involved in co-creating this exciting history-making initiative, please get in touch with Mumta Ito, as representative of the organising committee, at mumtaito@gmail.com. The specific areas additional assistance is needed are:

  • Administration/administrative support; fundraising; accounting; research; IT/websites/social media; branding; education; advocacy; lobbying; project management.
  • Additional members to join the existing 13 country teams (UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Hungary, Croatia, Romania, Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Latvia)
  • People who would like to lead the initiative in the EU countries where we still don’t have people (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Malta, Lithuania, Estonia, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Austria, Estonia, Bulgaria and Greece)
  • We also have places for self-funding internships in Findhorn and Andalucía.

Offers of skills support could be in a purely ‘advisory’ capacity or more hands-on – (no offer of assistance is too small). To be kept in the loop subscribe at the Being Nature Project.

We look forward to hearing from you and to creating together the legal frameworks needed to form a more resilient, thriving world for all of our future generations.

Of course here in the UK we have Brexit looming. But until the two years after the triggering of Article 50 is over, we can still have our say and make our contribution.

Follow European Citizens’ Inititative on Facebook here

Sign the Global Alliance’s Letter of Commitment to the Rights of Nature here

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It’s true UNESCO already has its own Earth Charter, approved at a meeting of the Earth Charter Commission in Paris in 2000. It lists four Principles. The problem for me lies in Principle Two :

a. Accept that with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and protect the rights of people.

That strikes me as reinforcing the status quo, the rights of Man to treat Nature as property – more a denial of the Rights of Nature than part of a charter to protect them. I would like to see UNESCO replace the Earth Charter with the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth which places Man not bestriding the Earth, above Nature with the right to own it and use it, but as just one thread in the complex web of life, each part of which is every bit as entitled to rights as are we humans.

Read the full Universal Declaration here

And sign the petition to the UN for the Rights of Mother Earth here


Postscript

Two hugely important questions arise for me from discussion about the Rights of Nature.

The first, for those of us who are dedicated to Animal Rights: if we achieve legal Rights for Nature, what does that mean for nonhuman animals? Does it mean that animal advocates like the Nonhuman Rights Project should cease the legal battle to win personhood for individual chimpanzees like Tommy, and throw its weight instead behind the fight for Rights of Nature?

Does it also mean that if nonhuman animals have the right to live at liberty in their own natural environment without interference and exploitation from humans, that the farming of animals would cease?

That we would get the vegan world of which we dream? A sentence in the Declaration seems to say so:

‘Every being has the right to wellbeing and to live free from torture or cruel treatment by human beings”

Secondly, as the capitalist system is based on extracting Nature’s ‘commodities’ and exploiting animals, human and nonhuman in the pursuit of profit and ‘growth’, don’t we need a new paradigm not just for law, but for world economics too?

Maybe I can explore these questions further at a later date, but now I would greatly value your ideas and comments on this immense subject.

Related posts

Human Rights Are Animal Rights!

A Promising Way Forward for Animal Rights?

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Through Artist’s Eyes- The Wondrous Web of Life & Death

Sources

Being Nature – Extending Civil Rights to the Natural World – The Ecologist

Rights of Mother Earth

Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

European Citizens Initiative – Wiki

ECI for the Rights of Nature – International Centre for Wholistic Law

ECI Project Summary – A European Citizens Initiative for the Rights of Nature

Revising the ECI: How to make it ‘fit for purpose’ – Euractiv

 

The Brexit Effect- What next for Nature?

“We’re calling on UK Governments to turn leaving the European Union into an opportunity to create a countryside richer in nature.”

Martin Harper for the RSPB

Earlier this year science proved, as it so often does, something we already instinctively knew: spending time in nature is good for our health, and for our happiness.

forest-907742__340The ’30 days of random wildness’ study conducted by Derby Uni and the Wildlife Trusts invited 18,500 people to get hiking, biking or whatever they had a yen for, out in the countryside, imagination the limit.
The results? Measurably significant improvements for them in “life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and [lowered] anxiety.”

Taking the kids out into Nature is even better. If we get them climbing trees, bug hunting, or just sploshing through muddy puddles, it helps raise their self-esteem and gives their creativity free rein. Fresh air, exercise and rosy cheeks are to be had in the park too. Even green spaces in cities do the business for us it seems, whatever age we’re at.

Our Nature, the ecosystems and the wildlife in them, are something we absolutely need to cherish, even if we’re only thinking of their benefits to ourselves.

But, and it’s a big but, barely a month ago the State of Nature 2016 report delivered its damning indictment – the UK is now one of the most nature-impoverished countries in the world. One in seven of our British species face extinction, and more than half are in decline.

And it doesn’t stop there. We “worryingly face losing much more if we don’t take action today and step up our efforts in the years ahead.”  Martin Harper

Right now, the future fate of our wildlife and environment all rests on two moves we are awaiting from Prime Minister May which will be truly pivotal for them. These are the post-Brexit Great Repeal Act, and the 25 Year Plan for the Environment. At this moment, we are standing on the threshold of history in the making.

swan-1412233__340But before you yawn and mumble that history is not your bag, just pause a minute to cast a quick eye over what this means for us, for our animals, and for our iconic British countryside. It matters. Those two enactments could be the making or breaking, environmentally speaking, of the UK as we know it.

First, a quick look at the Great Repeal Act

The Great Repeal Act will revoke the act that took us into Europe in the first place, the European Communities Act 1972. At the same time, the GRA will incorporate into British law all the laws passed since 1972 by the European Parliament.

When the European Communities Act was passed, all subsequent legislation from Brussels, obviously, became binding on us here in the UK too. (The press at the time was full of hysteria about Brussels bureaucracy – the EU will force straight cucumbers and bananas on us, and other such nonsense.)

From that entire 44 years of EU law, the Environmental Chapter which concerns us here, contains more than 200 provisions. It’s almost entirely these we have to thank for our cleaner beaches, cleaner air, cleaner countryside and cities, and protection for our wildlife. Before 1972, we could boast here in the UK only 27 beaches not polluted with sewage. Now in 2016 we can swim without fear of encountering something gross at more than 600 beautiful clean beaches around the land – courtesy of EU environmental law.

butterfly-1507031__340Some of those 200 provisions, for instance the EU-wide ban on the use of neonicotinoids, so deadly to our bees and butterflies, were actually opposed in Brussels by the Tories. It’s a fact that under EU law we benefit from some environmental protections our government did not want us to have.

You might be wondering, if all 200 provisions are going to be incorporated into British law anyway after the Great Repeal Bill, why should we be worried about the ‘Brexit Effect’ on Nature here in the UK?

The problem is that there are multiple ways the Tories will be able to simply  ‘lose’ EU provisions they don’t like. :

  • The Awkward Bits  Minister for Energy & Climate Change Andrea Leadsom says that there is between a quarter and a third of EU law it would be ‘impractical’ to move into UK law. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of laws. Considering the Tories’ opposition to some of the EU environmental laws, there’s every chance those will find themselves on the ‘Impractical’ List.
  • Bits to Unpick  The Tory cabinet is keen on deregulation. Minister for Defra George Eustice described the EU Nature Directives as ‘spirit-crushing’, and has already declared, “The birds and habitats directives would go.” There will undoubtedly be other bits they want to unpick, such as planning restrictions in protected areas, to give business more of a free run.
  • Parliamentary Scrutiny  In “the largest scale legislation process ever carried out”, to have Parliament deliberate on every detail would just not be do-able. In consequence many decisions will be left to individual Ministers, bypassing Parliament altogether. Very convenient for the Tories.
  • Updates  Things change fast. The government may just not bother keeping pace with post-Brexit updates from Brussels to existing environmental law.
  • Money  Funding for environmental protections gets a high priority in the EU budget. Who knows what our government will do with the money it no longer contributes to Europe. If its track record is anything to go by, environmental and animal issues may soon be taking a back seat.
That’s the bad news. Let’s shine the light of hope into the picture and take a look at the 25 Year Plan for the Environment – “a chance to imagine a wildlife-rich natural world in the future.”

Catherine Weller for ClientEarth.

We don’t actually know yet what is going to be in the Plan. After Mrs May’s election to PM in July, publication of the Plan was put back until the end of the year. But we hope it will reference the Red List of Ecosystems, and the Green List of Protected Areas drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Closer to home, the UK’s biggest Nature organisations – the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust and WWF-UK – have been working together to lobby the government with their ideas for a post-Brexit environment, farming and wildlife plan.

They think it should look something like this:

  • Replacing the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy with codes that give high priority to environmental standards in land management
  • Setting up an Independent Policy Commission for the environment that would encourage open debate and public input
  • Joined-up working for farming and environment in the government, with all future proposals measured against the 25 Year Plan
  • Keeping existing EU schemes that reward farmers for environmental work on their land

What we need at this turning point for our country, is the government to take a good hard look beyond its blinkers. To change its mindset. Protecting wildlife, the countryside and the environment is not an expensive nuisance, a luxury to be trimmed off the budget, or unpicked to free industry of ‘unnecessary’ constraints.

It’s tragic if money really is the only thing this government understands. Let’s at least hope they pick up on that health and happiness study, and that when drawing up the 25 Year Plan, the study results remind them to factor in Nature’s huge savings to the NHS.

No-one puts the value of Nature better than David Attenborough.

quote-it-seems-to-me-that-the-natural-world-is-the-greatest-source-of-excitement-the-greatest-david-attenborough-1-23-18

But true as that is, and wonderful as Sir David is, he is still presenting there the human-centred view of Nature – its benefits to us.

Even more than making our lives worth living, and in fact providing for our lives, Nature is something that does not belong to us. It exists for its own sake, and we have a duty to honour that, and protect its rights. My hope would be that our government might see beyond money, beyond even the UK population’s health and well-being, beyond what Nature gives to us. To see  “that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights.”

We could not do better than emulate Ecuador: “By recognizing rights of nature in its constitution, Ecuador – and a growing number of communities in the United States – are basing their environmental protection systems on the premise that nature has inalienable rights, just as humans do.” Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

It’s time to stop regarding Nature as human property. Time to redress the balance –  a balance which has placed far too much weight on human interests, especially monetary ones, and nothing like enough on the best interests of other species and the land we share, habitats, ecosystems, the Nature we hold in common.

Petition the government:

Protect UK Environment & Wildlife – adopt EU legislation here

Keep the EU’s environmental protection laws for the UK here

Keep the EU laws that protect our environment here

As EU law is still binding on the UK until Article 50 is triggered, tell the EU to prevent a ‘Silent Spring’ here

Petition the UN:

Sign The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth here

Update

5th December 2016 New petition to Sir Julian King, UK Commissioner attending meeting of the European Commissioners on Wednesday 7th December. Save our nature laws. Click here

4th January 2017 Brexit legal changes ‘could put countryside and wildlife at risk’ – itv NEWS

Sources

Environmental law endangered – Wildlife and Countryside Link

How nature is good for our health and happiness – BBC Earth

Brexit would free UK from ‘spirit-crushing’ green directives, says minister – The Guardian

Our nature needs proper policies – RSPB

*The UK’s 25-year plan for nature – all eyes on wildlife – ClientEarthBlog, Catherine Weller

The Rights of Nature – Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature

Related posts

UK one of “least natural countries in the world”

Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

Busting the Myths of Human Superiority

Brexit: The Animals’ View

Mountains of Cheese, Lakes of Milk, & What We Can Do About It

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Hope for the Animals & the Planet?

In the week WWF’s Living Planet Report disclosed the terrifying rate we’re losing life on Earth – animal and plant – we really could use some hope.

Well, hope might just be at hand in the form of ‘Natural Capital’, ‘Ecosystem Services’, the ‘Economic Capital of Nature’. But what does the jargon mean? And how can it help us save the planet?
What it means is bringing two enemies to the negotiating table. Two enemies who’ve been engaged in outright battle for decades: The Economy and Ecology.

One one side the ruthless aggressor, in the form of mega corporations like Dow, Monsanto, Walmart, Unilever, Nestle, Bayer, Exxon Mobil, for whom Nature exists only as the supplier of resources, “or worse still an economically costly distraction that gets in the way of economic growth”. They despoil the Earth in the pursuit of profit. I imagine them in black and red, the colours of blood and death.

In the defending army, naturally in green, the eco-warriors, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, The Wildlife Alliance, The World Conservation Trust, The Rainforest Alliance, WWF, and so on. Not forgetting the foot soldiers, we who care.

forest fire red black destruction reflection lake
Clearing forest for palm oil

The Greens fight valiantly, but limited resources mean limited success. The Black and Reds wield the immense power afforded them by almost unlimited cash – and the shameful abetment of national governments they seem able to mould to their will. So they continue to gain ground, leaving a wasteland in their wake.

Up against such odds, it’s time for the army in green to change tack. They must move the conflict off the battlefield and into peace talks. The problem is how to talk when the two sides just don’t speak the same language. In the words of environmentalist George Monbiot, the Greens talk ‘values’, and the Black and Reds, only ‘value’. There is only one language the latter understand, and it looks like this $$$$$$$$$$$.

“One source of hope comes from the growing realisation that nature is essential for economic development. That could soon lead to a new era of policy-making. One in which ecology and economics go hand in hand, but only if we have the tools to build bridges between these worlds that are so alien to each other. And that is where the economic valuation of nature can come in.” Tony Jupiter in The Guardian

It may go totally against the grain for the Greens to see “a tropical forest as a collection of ecosystems services for humans to use, rather than to see it as a priceless heritage.” But the truth is Capitalism understands nothing else. Jupiter again, “Making the moral case in the face of such [capitalist] beliefs won’t work. If, on the other hand, such scepticism can be met with economically compelling logic, then we might get a bit further.”

Natural Capital is that ‘economically compelling logic’. It means putting a price on Nature. So yes, it is the ‘commodification’ of Nature. But the potential prize is so great – saving the planet and its treasure trove of life no less – doesn’t the end justify the means? Shouldn’t we grab at this way forward with both hands?

The Green camp is split. Some like George Monbiot see it as the ultimate sell-out: “Rarely will the money to be made by protecting nature match the money to be made by destroying it. Nature offers low rates of return by comparison to other investments. If we allow the discussion to shift from values to value – from love to greed – we cede the natural world to the forces wrecking it.”

He has a point. It’s a sad world where a price tag has to be put on animals, people even, and Nature itself. But how else to appeal to Earth’s exploiters than by showing them what’s in Natural Capital for them?

Anyway, regarding Nature’s economic value Monbiot may be unduly pessimistic. Massimiliano Morelli in Voices for Biodiversity writes:

“One way to estimate the value of a tropical forest is to calculate the cost to replace what ecosystems do if humans had to perform the services. When ecosystem services are estimated in this manner, such services provide approximately twice the world gross national product. If we lose these natural ecosystem services, we are losing that much of the global economy.

Each time we harm ecosystems, we also harm our global economies. In addition, there are non-use values for nature and biodiversity. Mental health is maintained by a close relationship to nature. The cost to society of nature deficit disorder in children is now very high.

 

deer yellowstone national park snow wildlife natureNatural landscapes, national parks, zoological and botanical gardens, and recreational activities (e.g. bird watching, diving, eco-tourism, hiking, fishing, photography, etc), keep people not only mentally healthy, but also physically fit, and represent a significant and growing income for businesses and governments.”

So in truth we need the warring parties to see the light. Urgently. Stop fighting. Work together. Because like it or not the causes you fight for – Ecology and Economy – are inextricably entwined.

Now enter one of the ‘special envoys’ for those peace talks, The Natural Capital Project. The NCP is a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, WWF, and the universities of Stanford and Minnesota, founded specifically for the complex task of quantifying nature’s benefits before we lose them all.

And good things are happening! These are a few of the Natural Capital Project’s success stories to date:

A five-year collaboration with Dow to help identify the true value of fresh water, clean air and other “green infrastructure” to the corporate bottom line – a perfect example of the two ‘armies’ laying down arms and working together for the benefit of all

More than a dozen water funds in South America where the water producers contribute to conservation, and 40 million people get fresh clean drinking water

Establishing scores of marine protected areas in the Caribbean and Pacific to safeguard coral reefs and other ocean life

Working with farmers in the BirdReturns Project, rotating crops with wetlands to improve habitats

Sustainable Rivers Project striking the right balance between using and protecting rivers

Working Woodlands managing forests for high quality ecological and economic values

Restoring oyster reefs, one of most endangered habitats on Earth, which protect coasts from storms, filter pollutants and create habitat for marine life

river washington state USA american shallows beauty spot waterThe NCP is not the only collaborative project implementing the idea of Natural Capital. Take Part cites the Elwha River Project in the USA, a joint venture between the National Park Service and the Lower Elwha S’Klallam Tribe to quantify the economic capital value of restoring the river by removing two hydroelectric dams.

Environmental economics expert John Loomis calculated taking out the dams would generate $3.5 billion in non-economic benefits. “Once we incorporate those, we see that doing agriculture the cheapest way possible, or producing goods in the most profitable way, doesn’t incorporate these environmental costs. We need to shift our production and consumption to account for these costs [and] not squander that natural capital by treating it as having zero value.”

But what about here in the UK? Well, you may not have heard about it, but we have the SEA and the NEA. The first is the EU’s Strategic Environmental Assessment. The second our own National Ecosystem Assessment 2011, the most comprehensive assessment of the UK’s natural environment and resources ever undertaken. Its key finding was “that the benefits we derive from the natural world and its constituent ecosystems are critically important to human well-being and economic prosperity, but are consistently undervalued in economic analysis and decision-making.”

But where does this leave us as individuals who want to do our bit for the planet?

My first post on the Living Planet Report shows how each of us has the power to help the planet simply by cutting down on, or cutting out altogether, the meat and dairy on our plates. Or better still, cutting out animal products in every area of our lives. It’s not hard.

The Nature Capital approach to saving our Earth operates at corporate or even governmental level. So is there any way we can get behind this as individuals to make a difference? Well yes, there is. Here in the UK, we can support the Wildlife Trusts. You can be sure they will do all in their power to keep our government in line with the NEA. You can also join the Ecosystems Knowledge Network. They greatly value individuals’ input.

In the USA, there is the truly wonderful Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club. Both would welcome your support.

All of us also have votes. Natural Capital – a positive way to reverse the decline of life on precious Planet Earth. What do our electoral candidates have to say about that? It’s just about the most important question they need to answer. Shall we ask them?

Sources

Mass Consumption Is Causing Mass Extinction. Can We Stop Ourselves? – TakePart

The Economic Value of Nature – Voices for Biodiversity

Ecosystem Services – Science in Action

National Ecosystem Assessment – The Wildlife Trusts

Related posts

The Living Planet Report – Our Dinner Plates Are Destroying Life on Earth

Don’t Care About Animals? Meat & Dairy Are Poisoning Your Land, Air & Water

UK – One of the Least Natural Countries in the World