A study by the University of Vermont, the University of Cambridge, and several other institutions compared the value of protecting nature at particular locations with that of exploiting it. The study concluded that the economic benefits of conserving or restoring natural sites outweigh the profit potential of converting them for intensive human use.
The study analyzed dozens of sites across the globe – from Kenya to Fiji and China to the UK across six continents. It was published in the journal Nature Sustainability.
The analysis utilized a methodology devised ten years ago called TESSA (the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based Assessment) which enables users to measure, and in many cases, assign monetary values to services provided by sites – clean water, nature-based recreation, crop pollination, and so on. This is then compared with the economic benefits that can be derived by converting the site for farming, logging, or other human uses.
A major economic benefit of natural sites comes from their ability to sequester carbon and thereby help regulate the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. If one assigns a value to global society of $31 a ton of carbon removed, over 70% of the sites surveyed had a greater value to society when kept natural rather than being converted. Many scientists actually consider this carbon price to be conservative. Nevertheless, if carbon is assigned the paltry cost of $5 a ton, 60% of the sites are still more valuable in their natural state.
Beyond these economic calculations, there is the pressing issue that current rates of habitat conversion are driving a species extinction crisis unprecedented in human history. But even if one is only interested in dollars and cents, conserving and restoring nature is now very often the best bet for human prosperity.
Photo, posted June 7, 2017, courtesy of Mouli Choudari via Flickr.