What we talk about when we talk about ‘ecosystem services’

I have to post this excellent synopsis of what ecosystem services are, and how we affect their functioning – including the definition of “externalities”. The article is from the Vancouver Sun, but applies to anyone.

Next time a flood occurs, think of the cost of prevention as an investment, the disaster costs as a penalty for using our natural capital unwisely…. Not unlike that of the recent bank failures.

Here’s a snippet:
People often talk about “nature’s bounty,” especially during this harvest month. But how much is it really worth?

Well, humanity’s failure to figure out and charge a fair price for Earth’s natural assets costs trillions in the long run, according to a new UN report released today. And Canada’s share of that loss is substantial.

It’s much more than just the obvious forest products, fish catches and that sort of thing. In addition to these — the report calls them provisioning services — it identifies:

– Regulating services such as filtration of pollutants by wetlands, climate regulation through carbon storage, water cycling, pollination and protection from disasters.

– Cultural services such as recreation areas and spiritual and esthetic retreats.

– Supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling.

A number of factors make it difficult to put a value on these things, let along to collect an appropriate payment from those who use up such resources or who monopolize the benefits. But the numbers at stake are huge.

The report estimates, for example, that 3,000 large companies in the world are responsible for “externalities” — that is, net costs foisted onto the public — of $2 trillion.

These companies got this astounding benefit — seven per cent of their combined revenues, or as much as a third of their profits — by not paying for greenhouse-gas emissions, overuse or pollution of water, air emissions, waste and unsustainable use of fish or timber.

How do they get away with it, year after year and in jurisdiction after jurisdiction?  more…

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