Does Nature have a price? If so, perhaps it’s better to not know it.

A few weeks ago, I attended a public presentation by an Ecological Economist. Ecological economists are rare and priceless. They recognise that the environment is not an externality in the world of economic transitions. They endeavour to bring it into the equation.

In good faith, some ecological economists have attempted to help society measure the benefits of Nature in monetary terms with the purpose of putting a high value on it. The idea is that by identifying the economic value of what Nature gives us, more people will put a high value on Nature itself and not destroy it. Nature is renamed and repurposed as Ecosystem Services. For example, bees provide pollination services, wetlands provide water cleaning services and forests serve to offset carbon emissions. The calculations are not easy to make, but a economic value can be placed on every job that Nature does that means we don’t need to do the job ourselves (if we can).

Most people who value nature, value it for its intrinsic qualities like beauty, feeling of connection, and that general wholesome feeling we get when we are in nature.

So what happens when we reframe Nature according to its economic values? Many studies show that strengthening extrinsically rewarding values like Money and Status inhibit intrinsically rewarding values like Protection of the Environment, and Living in Harmony with Nature. In short, putting a price on Nature may instead make us care less about it. Find out more in the Common Cause Handbook

Extrinsic rewards do work fast and they are a great option in the short term for specific goals. People will replace their energy bulbs to save money, or bring back bottles to get a few cents. But is this all we need? The environmental problems we face are almost endless and in good part caused by putting our own needs before Nature’s needs.

I prefer the slower and transformative approach. Yes we all care about money, but most of us also share the values of Environmental Care. Our goal, I think, is to create more opportunities to talk deeply about what really matters to us, and the world we want our children to live in.

We know it’s priceless.