How much do you enjoy clean water? What would you be willing to pay to look at the reflection of a mountain in a glacial lake? What would someone have to give you in return for your agreement never to set foot in a wooded area again? And how much will clean air cost your children and grandchildren?
The concept of “ecosystem services” is beginning to be used to assess the monetary value of the functions of natural environments. While in America we are already used to paying for natural resources, this new way of pricing goes beyond the cost of timber to include the potential of a forest to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or the ability of its soil to filter impurities from rainwater.
Although assigning dollar amounts to shared common commodities like clean air may encourage some countries to protect their resources, I fear that by viewing the environment only in terms of its use to humanity limits our ability to respect nature for what it is. If something is not deemed useful for humanity, does it give us the right to exploit and destroy it? As we move forward with the concept of ecosystem services I would caution everyone to remember that there are millions of other species on the planet who depend on natural resources just as much as we do… and they don’t have bank accounts.