What is nature worth to humans?

This is a useful question the answer of which could alter the way we manage the environment. The following report by Balakrishna Pisupati, Coordinator, Biodiversity, UNEPDELC (27th July 2016) provides some hints as to the answer.

If there is one thing that everyone from politicians to the common man understands it is this: the planet’s natural resources are worth more dead than alive.

This unfortunate truth is played out every day all over the world in places where natural resources worth billions of dollars are being rapidly diminished to bring in millions of dollars to fuel national development year after year.

In recent years, there has been a renewed push to promote the concept of a ‘green economy’, an idea that is gradually gaining momentum thanks to a series of studies and assessments that looked at the value of biodiversity and ecosystems to economic development. These scientific studies, supported many times by ground level assessments, indicate that the variety of life around us is more important and valuable than we once thought.

For example, one hectare of wetlands in Sri Lanka is worth an average of US$7,532,297 every year if left in good, living condition, a figure far higher than these vital forests could ever be worth if they were destroyed to make way for fishing grounds or homes.

Another example is the illegal trade in wildlife, which is worth an annual US$8 billion, while tourism and the related benefits of keeping the wildlife alive are worth US$35 billion annually.

If this is so, then why are we seeing politics and actions that aim to undermine biodiversity for the short-term gain of unplanned development, and why are we seeing limited national investments in serious conservation action?

The answer is that there is a lack of understanding about the potential of this valuable resource in terms of its contribution to long-term gains – not just in economic terms, but in terms of development as well.

Bioentrepreneurship is coming along in a big way. Be it biotechnology, nano-technology, synthetic biology, biomimicry, or biodiversity banking, all of these technologies are redefining the future. The World Economic Forum released a report on 23rd June 2016 that cites 10 technologies that will change the world. Three are dependent on the rich biodiversity around us.

Research into one of the most endangered species of plants on the planet, Kokia cookei, has resulted in the development of dye-sensitized solar cells, revolutionizing the solar cell industry.
Termites are providing solutions for ventilation in modern buildings.
Inspired by the way a giraffe pumps blood through its neck and how the dromedary camel circulates water within its hump, students at the German University of Cairo designed the “Egy-Osmo” system as a way to improve the water harvesting systems in the Fayoum region in Egypt.

If we are to secure the future of the Planet, we need to ensure that biodiversity survives in nature and not just on paper and in policies.

If bio-economy is the future, then we need to change our actions so that we stop destroying biodiversity and degrading ecosystems in exchange for a quick buck, for a few million dollars of short term gain at the expense of thousands of millions of dollars that could be used to safeguard our future and the Planet’s.

It is clear that biodiversity is worth fare more alive than dead.

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