Report from the bottom line: the UK National Ecosystem Assessment

Posted in: New Publications

I woke up today to discover that this significant publication has emerged.   As the Independent puts it:

A view of green space from your bedroom window?  That's worth £300 to you each year.  The total value of British woodland to the national economy in sucking in carbon every year: £680m.  The country's bees and other pollinating insects are, meanwhile, worth £430m.  That is the verdict of the first report to place a monetary value on the economic, health and social benefits of the UK's environment – a report commisioned by the Government and sponsored by the Department for the Environment's chief scientist, Professor Bob Watson.  The National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) aims to put a price on the hidden value of Britain's natural heritage, from marine fisheries and species diversity to the pleasure experienced when walking along a sandy beach.

And here's today's Guardian (and Wordsworth by proxy):

In praise of… the unquantifiable.

It says something about our culture if the only way to make the nightingale's song heard is to contort it into national income.  Nature hates calculators," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, but that won't stop the number-crunchers. Inspired by a worthy desire to ensure public policy respects the natural world, the National Ecosystem Assessment yesterday delivered a 2,000-page report totting up the economic contribution of woodlands, coasts and open spaces. There are of course gaping holes in GDP as a gauge of the good life, but it says more about our rotten culture than it does about economics if the only way to make the nightingale's song heard in Whitehall is to contort it into national income. Is it really more helpful to put a £1.5bn price tag on inland waterways than to read Walt Whitman musing that "a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars"? What is the more persuasive argument to run against sprawling development: the NEA's £430m valuation of pollinating insects, or Wordsworth's tribute to "These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines / Of sportive wood run wild"? Shakespeare found "tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones", while Einstein promised understanding would come from looking deep into nature. These authorities, not export earnings, convey the real worth of our fields and woods. As for our duties as stewards for our children, Wordsworth makes the point – "pleasing thoughts / That in this moment there is life and food / for future years" – without recourse to discount rates. It is high time to draw a distinction between what can be counted, and what truly counts.

I think I shall delve into this one before I think about what UNECE has to say about competences.  In particular, I wonder what value it will put on domestic gardens as biodiversity resources.

Posted in: New Publications


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