For specific questions related to visuals, please contact Todd Reubold. Have you ever paid more to buy something labeled “organic” because you thought it was the right thing to do for nature?
Looked for a “recycled” or Forest Stewardship Council label on a paper product? If so, you know what it’s like to express your appreciation and support for nature in monetary terms.
Some worry about valuing nature in monetary terms because any estimate is necessarily an underestimate.
However, thinking of decision-makers as automatons looking blindly at balance sheets and maximizing monetary returns is misguided, at best.
By revealing and communicating the specifics of what nature is doing for us, we hope to make it easier for nature to become a primary consideration in all decisions. Natural capital assessments occasionally involve monetary valuation.
In some cases, valuing benefits from nature in monetary terms can help us connect to people outside the conservation choir, but natural capital assessments are more typically about showing relative values and unveiling hidden trade-offs. Many people still think of them as swamplands that should be drained for development.A case in point: At the IUCN congress, Ulalia Woodside, executive director of the The Nature Conservancy’s Hawai’i chapter, relayed how an assessment of natural capital helped transform the land management plan for a large tract of land on Oahu to explicitly account for the health and well-being of the lands, communities, and cultures in their management decisions.At the time of the assessment, Woodside worked for Kamehameha Schools, the state’s single largest private landowner.Nor does it suggest that benefits to humans are the only benefits that matter.It simply makes it possible to bring them into conversations from which they too often are absent.Imagine going into a meeting with a national minister of finance to convince her to support protection for local mangroves.You would be more likely to get her attention if, in addition to talking about saving mangroves just for the sake of mangroves, you could also talk about how the mangroves benefit local fisheries and protect lives and properties by lessening the force of wind and waves during storms.It’s a beautiful idea, but it’s also vague — and intuition is wobbly ground on which to base business and public land-use decisions.Using science and data, in addition to personal values, to justify decisions is part of a fair, transparent democratic process.If you could also back up those claims with numbers — pounds of fish, say, or higher incomes, you’d be much more likely to win her over.And your facts might also help developers, fishing communities, tourism operators and all citizens find common ground.