Develop Methods for Assessing the Economic Value of Biodiversity

As we have discussed above, the value of biodiversity and ecological processes and the costs of their loss are generally excluded from commercial markets. Although we know that biodiversity and the services it provides to society are crucial to human welfare, actually calculating a dollar value for processes such as nutrient cycling or pollination, to name a few, remains an elusive prospect. Yet in order to

A girl and her mother plant marsh grass to protect the bank of the Duwamish River (Washington State) from erosion, Earth Day 1995. Moving toward rapidly protecting tracts of the world's wildlands is essential to long-term protection of biodiversity. (Jay Syverson/Corbis)

capture the value of biodiversity in pricing systems, assess damages when the environment is degraded, and evaluate the worth of natural capital, we must develop techniques for appraising the economic "worth" of biodiversity. Although we are at the early stages of this effort, the results have been astonishing. Costanza et al. (1997), in a landmark paper, estimated that the global value of seventeen ecosystem services such as the provision of raw materials, climate regulation, and soil formation was in the neighborhood of U.S.$33 trillion per year. This estimate dwarfs the global gross national product total of U.S.$18 trillion per year—in effect signaling that we cannot afford to lose the subsidy that Nature provides each year (even if it were for sale). Studies like that of Costanza et al. are just the beginning, and we must continue to refine resource economics if we are to reform the way in which we value the natural world.

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