What Has Nature Ever Done for Us?: How Money Really Does Grow on Trees
An excellent discussion of ecology and ecological services. Essentially the author is putting the case for measuring the value associated with various elements of nature and their interactions, as a way to make more compelling arguments for conservation and environmental protection. This is an approach I agree with very strongly: while the emotional arguments are of course very strong, backing them up with numbers and prices can only be helpful.
The author doesn't make the mistake of so many books of this kind, of painting a picture of ecological damage that's irredeemable in any realistic sense. One can argue whether or not this is actually the case, but it's certainly true that encouraging a state of learned helplessness amongst the citizens of the developed world isn't going to be helpful.
The book covers a huge range, and everyone will find a new perspective on some familiar aspect of nature, from the evolution of pollinators to the demise of the oyster beds off the New England coast and their possible effects on the behaviours of hurricanes.
In terms of economics, the author makes a couple of points, one familiar and one less so. The point of including the "externalities" of natural services into prices and company accounts is still strong despite its familiarity: the problem remains coming up with good pricing structures. The less familiar point, though, is that companies treat the services they receive from nature as dividends that are renewed rather than as capital being spent, although many ecosystems have now passed the point of un-managed self-recovery, and so their degradation should be costed in. Having long-term investors think like this would, it is argued, have a significant effect on company behaviour in encouraging them to behave more sustainably. While a lot of the degradation is coming from the other end of the economic spectrum -- subsistence farmers trying to make a living in competition with more efficient large-scale actors -- there's still a lot to be said for this approach.
4/5. Finished 17 March 2014.
(Originally published on Goodreads.)