Last year, the School of Global Studies (through the Centre for Global Political Economy), in conjunction with the ESRC STEPS Centre, held a conference on the Financialisation of Nature. The conference produced some exciting and thought-provoking dialogue on this important issue.
written by Lavinia Ioana Udrea
When thinking about an answer to the title question, a good place to start would be to define our common understanding of the word: nature.
nature – [mass noun] The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations. (Oxford English dictionary)
With this definition for nature, you might agree that it is quite hard to quantify the whole ‘physical world’ and objectively evaluate its qualities and characteristics.
However, a good strategy that can allow us to understand these qualities is to divide nature into small parts to make it easier for us (people) to handle it. But then, we will also need to figure out a way to separate ‘plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth’ to help us manage effectively the process of putting a price on nature. Is this practically possible?
Nature has a price tag
It is like trying to find a balance between good and evil, and hope for the best. People nowadays seem to pay so little attention to the surrounding environment and are not aware anymore of how dependent we are on it. Some of us isolate themselves in the houses and prefer lookingat the world through the TV screen than going outside and having direct contact with nature. How many people watched documentaries about climate change and still did nothing to change their own unsustainable behaviour?
As you all know, media is one of biggest promoters of people’s unsustainable behaviour (especially in the Western countries), which threatens the natural environment and our future as whole. In consumerist societies, decision makers find it quite easy to advocate for the financialisation of nature and prove to all of us that money can buy anything nowadays.
Therefore, pressure groups aim to convince people to see the natural world as an accumulation of material objects that can be sold, bought and replaced. It seems that there is not a genuine interest to concentrate on the fact that our surrounding environment also includes ‘living things’ which are notowned by default and cannot be considered trivial belongings.
I personally cannot see the benefits of giving nature a monetary value because I believe the physical world has intrinsic value, which people cannot put a price on. And that’s it. Period.
But how can I go about arguing for the intrinsic value of nature in front of people who see the advantages of selling and buying ecosystems to satisfy the needs and interests of stakeholders?
Mainstream ideas that emphasize the value for money over nature
We can argue against the negative effects that the financialisation of nature has on people’s behaviour. Seeing the environment as a natural capital is changing the rapport that exists between humans and the living world.
Four main stream ideas need to be discussed when putting a price on nature, which are promoted by stakeholders and media, but too uncomfortable to be raised by the wide public.
- Money can buy nature.
At present, we see stakeholders buying entire ecosystems, but why do we still question this fact? We need to advance the discussion and ask: Who set the price of those ecosystems? And how were they evaluated? On what grounds? Using what kind of price scale?
- Money can replace nature.
Can money replace nature? Looking at what it is happening around the globe, the answer is yes. However, ecosystems are not all the same over the world and change as time passes. This means that if we decide to cut down a forest and make a promise to replace it at some particular time in the future, we will not be able to restore the same forest we cut down. Moreover, the significance that a particular forest has for the people who live in it or close to it is difficult to explain to others. Ecosystems have their own life and relationship with the people who come in contact with it. Therefore, how can money replace the emptiness in people hearts and manage to restore everything that has been lost during the deforestation?
- Sometimes nature can be useless, and is not even worth the money.
Here I ask: With what evidence can you argue that there are useless ecosystems? I find it so disturbing to think of nature in terms of its monetary value. Why do we think that an empty land will become valuable if people give a sense to it (e.g. building a parking lot there)? The deserts are an empty land but are we right to say that they’re worthless? Why do think that an agglomerated and polluted city is more valuable than a green grass field?
- All nature is the same.
If we loose a small part of nature (an ecosystem that is being intentionally destroyed), no one will cry over it because we still have lots of nature available. On the other hand, people living on a ‘useless’ piece of land can be moved to a ‘better’ place, where their community will definitely strive.
These assumptions are not all the time true, as some people have a special interdependent relationship with the particular ecosystem and their life experience on that land is priceless.
Hence, what are the effects of putting a price on nature on the individual?
Well, these ideas are just an artificial mechanism to enforce the common belief that human beings and money have the power over all the other living things and the entire world.
Stakeholders feel more confortable to be able to control the nature by setting prices for everything and anything, buying, selling and replacing pieces of theenvironment without looking back on their significance and others’ heritage.
Is this possible to bring us farer away from the interdependent relationship with the natural world? Yes, and putting a price on nature is an effective strategy to achieve the goal of infinite human greed and ignorance.
Why aren’t we talking too much about it? Because it is an uncomfortable subject that needs lots of time and effort to be addressed, and if in fact, nowadays we do not have too much contact with nature anyway.