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From a cost perspective p. What the global economy would look like with nature on the balance sheet What is the world worth? Despite these free benefits, it has long been recognized that we tend to ignore or underestimate the value of those services. So much so that economic measures such as GDP often ignores environmental costs. The economic benefits of protecting the environment are well-understood, even if seemingly rarely practiced: Numerous studies also show that investments in protected areas generate a cost-benefit ratio of one to 25 and even one to in some cases, [Pavan Sukhdev, from TEEB] said. Planting and protecting nearly 12, hectares of mangroves in Vietnam costs just over a million dollars but saved annual expenditures on dyke maintenance of well over seven million dollars. Save At Least Half the Planet, or Lose It All , Inter Press Service, November 17, It has perhaps taken about a decade or so — and a severe enough global financial crisis that has hit the heart of this way of thinking — to change this mentality in which time, more greenhouse gases have been emitted — inefficiently. Economists talk of the price signal that is fundamental to capitalism; the ability for prices to indicate when a resource is becoming scarcer. At such a time, markets mobilize automatically to address this by looking for ways to bring down costs. As a result, resources are supposedly infinite. Running out of resources should therefore be averted. The price signal also implies the poorest often pay the heaviest costs. For example, commercially over-fishing a region may mean fish from that area becomes harder to catch and more expensive, possibly allowing that ecosystem time to recover though that is not guaranteed, either. This then has an impact on various local social, political and economic issues. In addition to that, other related measurements, such as GNP are therefore flawed, and even reward unproductive or inefficient behavior e. Efficiently producing unhealthy food — and the unhealthy consumer culture to go with it — may profit the food industry and a private health sector that has to deal with it, all of which require more use of resources. Our continued inefficient pumping of greenhouse gases into the environment without factoring the enormous cost as the climate already begins to change is perhaps an example where price signals may come too late, or at a time when there is already significant impact to many people. Resources that could be available more indefinitely, become finite because of our inability or unwillingness to change. Markets fail to capture most ecosystem service values. Existing price signals only reflect - at best - the share of total value that relates to provisioning services like food, fuel or water and their prices may be distorted. Even these services often bypass markets where carried out as part of community management of shared resources. The values of other ecosystem services are generally not reflected in markets apart from a few exceptions such as tourism. In addition, their benefits are felt differently by people in different places and over different timescales. Private and public decisions affecting biodiversity rarely consider benefits beyond the immediate geographical area…. They can also overlook local public benefits … in favor of private benefits …, even when local livelihoods are at stake, or focus on short-term gains to the detriment of the sustained supply of benefits over time…. Benefits that are felt with a long-term horizon e. Values that are not overtly part of a financial equation are too often ignored. In effect, as TEEB , and many others before have argued, a key challenge will be adapting our economic systems to integrate sustainability and human well-being as well as other environmental factors to give us truer costs after all, market systems are supposed to work when there is full availability of information. Think of some of the effects this could have: A reduction in meat production could protect forests or help reduce clearance of forests for cattle ranches, which would have a knock-on benefit for climate change concerns. Appropriate investment in renewable energy could threaten the fossil fuel industry though they are trying to adapt to that perhaps slowly, and after initial resistance. But at the same time, governments that are able to use renewable sources are less likely to find themselves spending so many resources in geopolitical areas e. Cradle to cradle type of design — where products are designed to be produced and recycled or disposed of more sustainably — could considerably reduce costs for producers and consumers alike, and possibly reduce stress on associated ecosystems. Land that is used to produce unhealthy or marginally nutritious items e. For example, while factoring in environmental costs could make healthy produce more expensive too, expanding production of healthier foods could help contain costs rises to some extent. How much would such accounting save? It is hard to know, but there is a lot of waste in the existing system. In the mids, the Institute for Economic Democracy calculated that as much as half the American economy constituted of wasted labor, wealth and resources book: Naturally, those who benefit from the current system may be hostile to such changes, especially if it may mean they might lose out. This is a clear case of inter-related issues:
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