Friday 19 June 2015

Putting a price tag on 'natural resources' is not a solution; it just creates more problems

I'm so tired of hearing about the importance of 'economic growth' and I despair of humanity if we've reached the stage where wildlife is only conserved for its monetary value.  The same goes for water, air and soil quality. Every time I hear references these days to the natural world and its importance to us (the human race), the commentary is dotted with phrases like 'natural resources', 'ecosystem services', 'pollinator services', 'natural capital' etc etc. Phrases such as these make me wince. I've tried to understand them and to get along with them, but I simply can't.

As far as I can see we've already done plenty of economic 'growing' but I see no evidence whatsoever that it is making us any happier, or healthier….nor is it helping those who are most in need.  It just seems to be stripping us of the last vestiges of the connection we once had with the natural world. How on earth can you have an intimate, loving and interconnected relationship with something you have to put a price tag on?!

Economic growth seems to be about putting price tags on just about everything that moves; whether it has six legs and two pairs of wings, is composed of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen, or lives next door and is willing to look after your small child or your elderly mother whilst you go into hospital for an operation. It's called monetisation and over the last few decades it seems to have insidiously crept its way into every area of our lives.

Surely the clue to how we should function as a species is in how we feel and see things as children? i.e our natural state of being. We are born with an innate connection to Planet Earth, a connection that (if it is nurtured) fills us with love and concern for our fellow creatures, but this connection is systematically drummed out of us when we go to school, if not before, and is mostly replaced with a very human-centric 'what can it do for me' view of the world.

Whatever happened to us caring for something and wanting to conserve it simply for the love of life? What, I wonder, has happened to the human race that we are now so disconnected from the land, from our natural surroundings, from our communities and from our own inner selves…. that we have all but forgotten who we are….?

There are of course many people who still have, or have recently re-discovered, their intimate connection with the natural world; people who hold all life sacred and who do what they can to conserve and preserve life for its own sake rather than for what is is worth in monetary terms. But these people are still few and far between.

I battle with the fact that to inspire (most) businesses, councils etc., and (some) individuals to sit up and take notice of the importance of 'bee decline', it is not sufficient to introduce them to the wonderful, enchanting and enthralling world of these incredible beings, but it is also necessary to focus on the human-centric aspect of halting bee decline. Most people need, at the very least, to understand bees importance as pollinators in the human food chain in order that they will take their decline more seriously.  Surely bee decline, or the decline of any other species impacted upon by the human race for that matter, should be a serious issue in its own right?

When I deliver talks to individuals, groups and societies I always feel extremely touched and encouraged when I witness the sadness and the raw humanity in people as they begin to understand exactly how toxic pesticides like neonicotinoids are to bees… and exactly how much habitat has been lost to modern agricultural practices and urban sprawl… not to mention the undiluted shock they express when they hear how bumblebees are bred in their thousands to 'service' commercial tomato crops, and then frozen, drowned or burned to death after the pollinating is done.

Whether or not any of what I say has a lasting impact on the way people make their choices I don't know.

There are many reasons used to justify the ongoing shift towards putting a monetary value on the natural world, and we are all entitled to think/believe what we wish, but none of them sit well with me…. despite the crazy irony that governments are paying huge attention to bee decline simply because of their so called 'value to the economy'. Lucky bees. Not so lucky if you are an insect with less (known) value to the economy though, for you are ultimately dispensable.

My own belief is that if we are to save what is left of the incredible diversity of species we share this planet with, nothing short of a complete Sea-change in our collective psyche is needed. Putting a price on wildlife, clean water and air, or healthy 'living' soil is not the solution. It just creates more problems and disconnects us further from all that is sacred. 

If only we would all spend a little time each day (or even each week) simply sitting quietly on the grass, beside a stream, on a beach, in a garden, in a park, amongst some rocks, underneath a tree (or even better, in a tree!)…. and just listen, breath, observe, watch, notice, absorb…….. connect. If we were all to do this we might collectively begin to experience once again that unadulterated wonderment, enchantment and love we felt when we were children. And we cannot hurt that which we love.

Brigit x

P.S…..when did a bee last send you an invoice?


  1. Conserving nature for its inherent value is still the driving force behind all conservation efforts, but lets be honest, its not working too well. We could stick with the same old plan. Perhaps we could do it faster, or harder, or more, or in a funny accent? But it would still be the same old plan and it would still produce the same old results.
    But what if we valued nature, and all we get from it, in the same way that we value the human and financial parts of our economy? In other words, what if we treasured Natural Capital in the same way that we husband Social and Financial Capital?
    It turns out that this is a really effective way to measure our success (or lack of it) in managing ecosystems, it helps us make better decisions about where to place our best efforts. Taking this approach does not take anything away from all the things you have written in this blog. Is your concern that if we value nature conservation against nature consumption, the result will be to validate a wasteful and thoughtless use of natural resources? If the valuation is carried out honestly and robustly then we have nothing to fear. We will continue to enjoy bees, flowers, butterflies, forests and streams, but we will know that we can pass them onto the next generation.

  2. I disagree David. What we really need is a deep value change, not nature tacked on to an already faltering system. Deep value change; as in valuing non-human lives as kin, for instance. Reciprocity. Love. Respect. These are not sentimental motivations. These are basic teleological drivers in human evolution. Valuation by the £ is more of the same broken modern Western system, where rich and poor are increasingly divided and abuse of the vulnerable (and without political representation - humans and nature), is rife. Valuing living beings in monetary terms has always, and will always be, deeply problematic. Look at slavery, look at livestock welfare, organ donation. Money is a corruption of true love. You can't buy it! We need to resist the idea of nature as property. Protection is good. Ecoliteracy is good. We all may have opportunity to contribute to an integrated human/nature sustainable future, not just a select few. Thanks Brigit, fellow traveller. x

  3. hi brigit - thanks for continuing to be a reliable and informed source on this vital issue - since you introduced me to bees I now see them personally and respectfully. As for money and putting a price on nature - yes - this is exactly what we need to bring out into public awareness - that the whole neoliberal agenda is a massive and debilitating CON. Not only does it pretend that it has an objective view of life and therefore can put a price on everything, but it actually espouses the view that we are not all Equal - the theory being that wealth trickles down to the poor. This is obviously not the case as the widening income disparity shows and is testament to the pernicious and destructive effect of individualism which pits everyone against each other. Nature is about co-operation and balance - but most importantly it is about proportion and locality - each habitat has its own identity and conforms to a very particular niche in the ecosystem - so the idea that such an equation could be converted to a universal paradigm of rational infallibility is laughable. As Val Plumwood said - western economic man has created a system which both affirms and denies his reliance on the natural world - it is this schism which is at the centre of the demise of our planet and social systems - not to mention the terrible bias of digital culture which pretends that everything can be fitted into a value-neutral mathematical equation.

  4. Excellent post. I was at an event a few months back, where one speaker gave some concrete examples of how putting a monetary value on nature had actually lead to local people giving that aspect of nature less actual value.

    Bees are wonderful, everyone should sit by a flower bed and watch bees for an afternoon a week in the summer. At the weekend i was mesmerised by watching five species of bumblebees and one or two species of solitary bees working in a garden.

  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts - right on. Jack

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  7. Couldn't agree more with the points made in this post Brigit!
    Are you aware the EU’s looking at weakening key laws which protect birds, animals and plants in Europe? The Birds and Habitats Directives are currently undergoing a ‘fitness check’, but we want your help telling the European Commission to safeguard the laws, not undermine them! The directives have stopped the decline of a number of species and have created a huge network of conservation areas.
    We’ve got until Friday night to make our views known on this – can you encourage your followers to put their name to the Nature Alert campaign please, every person helps!