Wednesday, September 23, 2015
#266 / What Is Nature Worth To You?
There has been a concerted effort, on the part of some environmental organizations, to try to put a price on "ecosystem services," with the idea being that if we make it sufficiently costly to damage the natural environment the "market" will see to it that the environment is not damaged, or is damaged less. The Environmental Defense Fund is one organization that has promoted this concept.
Using the "market" to protect the environment is not my favorite approach. I believe that we should legislate (not seek to buy) environmental protection. If an activity damages the environment, we should prohibit it, or regulate the activity to eliminate the damage. Saying, "you can damage the environment," but only if you pay X amount," doesn't put the right emphasis on protecting the environment, to my way of thinking. It makes money primary, which is just absolutely the wrong way to think about our relationship to the World of Nature.
Since every aspect of our human world (including our money economy) is ultimately dependent on the natural environment, protecting the natural environment must be our primary commitment. Once humans are aware that something we are doing is damaging the natural environment, the only proper response is to cut it out!
The image that heads this posting is from The New York Times, which ran an opinion piece, about a month ago, called, "What Is Nature Worth To You?" Based on the title, I assumed that the article would focus on some aspect of how market strategies might be used to protect natural resources. As it turned out, though, this was not the main focus of The Times article.
What The Times ran was a popular synopsis of a much more technical article that appeared in the scientific journal PLOS One. One of the authors, Paul Glimcher, is a professor at the Center for Neural Science at New York University. Michael A. Livermore, who coauthored the article, is an associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. Their technical article was titled, "The Measurement of Subjective Value and Its Relation to Contingent Valuation and Environmental Public Goods." What the authors actually ended up talking about was brain function, since their researches used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) technology as their exploratory tool.
Glimcher and Livermore were somewhat surprised, it seems, to find that their MRI studies demonstrated that that human beings do not "value" the natural world in the same way they "value" human produced goods. Completely different portions of the brain are used when valuation questions are posed about nature than when valuation questions are posed about human-produced commodities.
To me, these results are suggestive. What they suggest, at least to me, is that human beings have an organic recognition that the human world and the natural world are fundamentally different, and that they have to be valued, and treated, differently.
They do! And the World of Nature is most important!