The Cost of Preservation

Subject: The Cost of Preservation
From: "John Harris" <>
Date: Mon, 12 Aug 2002 14:31:49 +1000
Dear B-A's

A little off our primary focus, but related all the same.  An article from the Guardian, see below

Subject:                    [greenleap] New calculations of ecosystem services

From: reprinted from the Guardian

Amassing wealth comes naturally
By Tim Radford
August 10 2002

Preservation of the world's remaining wilderness could be the ultimate
bargain. A group of scientists and economists calculate that forests,
wetlands and other natural ecosystems are worth far more to human
economies than the farm or building land that could replace them.

They reported yesterday in the US journal Science that the wilderness
converted to human use each year actually costs economies $US250
billion ($A468 billion) a year, every year. Put another way, it would cost
the world $US45 billion to extend and effectively protect threatened
areas of temperate and tropical forest, mangrove swamps, coral reefs
and so on. But in return, these global reserves would supply humans
with at least $US4400 billion in "goods and services".

This is a benefit-cost ratio of around 100-1. And that, they say, is a low
estimate of the likely benefits of better and more sustained

"The economics are absolutely stark. We thought the numbers would
favour conservation, but not by that much," said Andrew Balmford of
the University of Cambridge in England.

David Constanza of the University of Vermont in the US said: "We've
been cooking the books for a long time by leaving out the worth of
nature. Economics has traditionally focused on the market. But we
have been finding that a lot of what is valuable to humans takes place
outside of the market."

Ultimately, natural ecosystems provide humans with food, water, air,
shelter, fuel, clothing and medicines. In 1997 economists tried to put a
price on the things nature supplies, and arrived at a total of $US50
trillion a year. This year, with backing from the Royal Society for the
Protection of Birds and the Department for the Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs, British and US scientists did their sums again.

They surveyed 300 case studies of what happened when the natural
environment was converted to human use, and chose five for closer
analysis. These included the intensive logging of a Malaysian forest, a
Cameroon forest converted to small-scale agriculture and commercial
plantations, a mangrove swamp in Thailand turned over to shrimp
farming and a Canadian marsh drained for farming.

In each case the value of the natural ecosystem outweighed the returns
from human use. The Malaysian forest would have been 14 per cent
more valuable left standing. The Canadian marsh would have returned
60 per cent more if left alone for hunting, trapping and fishing.

The research is published as world leaders prepare for the
Johannesburg summit on sustainable development.

Among other things, it will review the fact that about a fifth of the
world's topsoil has been lost in the past 50 years.

- Guardian

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