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The High Price of Biodiversity Loss

| Friday August 6th, 2010 | 0 Comments

On a recent trip to Costa Rica, I had the chance to speak with a veteran fisherman and environmentalist who took us out for some sport fishing and snorkeling. I was encouraged to hear about recent studies conducted in Costa Rica regarding commercial fishing that demonstrate the economic value of species left in situ, as opposed to commercially fished, exported and potentially exploited.

Our captain and other fisherman involved in the tourism industry have seen the oceans surrounding Costa Rica become altered through damaging and unregulated commercial fishing practices. The decrease in their popular billfish species, particularly sailfish, has been of great concern to those that make a living off the flora and fauna of this environmentally rich country. He told us about the results of a recent report which concluded that a living sail fish is worth $13,000 (left alive) in terms of dollars related to tourism. As a result of this report, new rules were put in place to substantially limit commercial fishing of the species and to ensure that sail fish are considered “catch and release” only for sport fishing.

This study is one small, but important example of the needed re-valuation of our priceless environmental attributes. Today’s market prices still don’t fully account for the costs to our environment from things like deforestation, water and air pollution and over-fishing. We continue to regard natural assets as more valuable when consumed as products and not their value kept in a natural state, as part of the Earth’s vital ecosystems. Whether changes are driven by the economics of tourism, environmental reasons or a combination of both, the important thing is that we begin to understand “value” based on a different set of factors than has traditionally been done.
This on-going disparity is discussed in a report from the UN-supported The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, reported on in an article by Matthew McDermott of TreeHugger. This report brings some concrete numbers to the ecosystem services that many take for granted. Examples of ecosystem services include pollination by bees (whose numbers have diminished), plant extracts found in rainforests used to make pharmaceuticals, nutrient cycling and carbon sequestration. Today, public awareness about the impacts of such biodiversity loss is growing and people are becoming increasingly concerned.

In late 2006, North Americans began hearing the term “colony collapse“, which is a phenomenon where worker bees from a beehive abruptly disappear. Although the cause of the syndrome is not yet fully understood, some proposed causes include environmental change-related stresses. Colony collapse is economically significant because many crops are pollinated by bees. According to the UN’s report, in fact, pollinating insects are worth an estimated $189 billion a year. But beyond the monetary value, it should be recognized that these ecosystems services can only be provided by nature.

It is imperative that corporations reduce and reverse their destructive ways and that citizens demand change, forcing business to check their ethics. The greed that has fueled corporate behavior is finally beginning to change and the hope is that it will be replaced, at least in part, with social and environmental responsibility. In the words of the late environmentalist David Brower, “There is no business to be done on a dead planet.”


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