In the winter of the Northern hemisphere or the summer of the Southern hemisphere, if you open your window together with your senses for five minutes, there is something obvious. Flowers are blossoming in the winter, and there is less of a constant buzzing noise in the summer. Yet, 75% of global food crops are reliant on pollination. No buzzing insects to hear, no crops to grow and no food to taste: the impact of climate change is real and yet invisible to the eye blind to the value of nature. So what’s the value of natural resources then?
The way we perceive the value of resources has changed over time. In her internationally acclaimed book, Mariana Mazzucato shows how markets have changed our perception of how we value everything. Over the past 40 years, “price has become the indicator of value: as long as a good is bought and sold in the market, it must have value. So rather than a theory of value determining price, it is the theory of price that determines value”(p.271).
And with such rational mindset, so it goes for natural resources. The value of the natural world has no market value if it cannot be priced. And it cannot be priced because public goods cannot be packaged individually. If it’s priced, for example thinking of green bonds, the act of paying a price give a fake sense of legitimacy to the use of natural resources.
Fortunately, the brain works both rationally, how we make sense of life experiences, and emotionally, how we experience life circumstances. As suggested by McGilchrist, the making of the Western world is based on a greater weighting of the left hemisphere of the brain. The left side allows us to inhibit immediate experiences of life, and to narrowly focus on details, often for manipulative purposes. An unequal balance of the brain at the expense of the right hemisphere, home of the open, broad, sustained and relational human being, has led to rising level of inequality but also rising levels of mental illnesses and narcissism in Western societies, as shown by Wilkinson and Pickett’s Inner level.
In a Western society, making economic decisions based on a bias towards the left hemisphere detach ourselves from the emotional relation to nature by inhibiting our actual experience of the immediate environment, thus channelling emotions towards the narrow focus of what we price, buy and therefore value. I get angry if someone pinch my new car, but I remain detached enough not to care for the broader picture, i.e. the pollution it generates and its global impact.
Time to Care … as rightly put forward by the 2020 Oxfam report on global inequality. The report shows how economic inequality needs to be rebalanced by valuing traditional caring experiences such as “tending to others, cooking, cleaning, fetching water and firewood [which] are essential daily tasks for the wellbeing of societies, communities and the functioning of the economy”. In other words, a rebalancing of the brain towards its relational, immediate and to a certain extent “non-Western” nature might actually bring more ecological choices without the risk of manipulation for green washing purposes. Such rebalancing is possible by developing cognitive empathy that links the emotional and rational, but it requires an urgent eye opening to our immediate experiences, to our senses.