A natural debt

By This photo was taken by Eusebius (Guillaume Piolle). Feel free to reuse it, but always credit me as the author as specified below. (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By This photo was taken by Eusebius (Guillaume Piolle). Feel free to reuse it, but always credit me as the author as specified below. (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
The first report of the Natural Capital Committee was published a while ago – it didn’t receive much attention in the media (here, here, here).

Natural capital is the natural world.  It is all that stuff that we inherited that we could pass on to future generations: fish in the sea, carbon in forests, reedbeds that clean water supplies, bird song that makes me smile, pollinators, genetic variation.  Just unimportant stuff like that.

The point is that we treat this stuff – otherwise known as life on earth – as fairly unimportant because it comes free and we don’t individually get a bill for our use of it.  Some think that building a more proper economic valuation of nature into our lives would help to protect nature.  This is worth a try – and that’s what the Natural Capital Committee is trying to do.

I hope the Committee, chaired by acerbic (some say) economist Professor Dieter Helm, make some progress.  I’d be surprised if George Osborne is going to give their findings a moment of his time but he should think about the key messages of their first report:

  1. Natural capital assets are in decline and these trends should be measured.
  2. Changes in natural capital should be properly included in national and corporate accounts.
  3. Changes in natural capital should be properly valued and those values more effectively included in decision– making processes.
  4. Stewardship of natural capital is good for growth



More information on the Natural Capital Committee.


12 Replies to “A natural debt”

  1. I think Government took quite an interest in it, after it had been digested, misunderstood and thrown onto their desks by way of think tanks and others. Is this not the basis of the awful “weak sustainability” Biodiversity Offsetting (BO), nonsense? Something the RSPB & Woodland Trust are ‘interested’ in.

  2. It’s a concept that makes me feel slightly uneasy in a way. Once you put a cash value on something it becomes a thing to be bought and sold, and the next thing you know there will be Natural Capital Trading, Natural Capital Futures, or lack of, and Monsanto will be claiming it as their intellectual property. It will all be run for the benefit of the one per cent as before, and all the rest of us will be told to go hang.

    Is there now to be a barcode on a sunset? Or are even Truth and Beauty up for auction next?

    1. Peter – great comment. Barcode on a sunset – did you think that up? I wish I had! Great phrase.

  3. Listen to a skylark first thing in the morning………….

    Now put a “value” on that!

    1. Mark W – yes it’s priceless isn’t it? Well, to you and me anyway. But the snag is, and I’m not comfortable with this, if you don’t put a price on it then it tends to be treated as though its value is zero.

  4. No doubt wind farms were the biggest problem degrading the countryside. Every site creates an industrial environment with its roads and construction not to mention new power cables to take the so called electricity to an urban area. WE are just starting a £30 million cable exchange just to bring power from Scotland all the way to Lancaster. Fortunately the Germans now think ‘global cooling’ is now a bigger threat than ‘Global warming’ and are burning more coal to help!

  5. If this government can,t be bothered to protect our Environment because there is no monetary profit in this, then the sooner the next general election comes, the better for all.

    1. I agree but I’m hardly convinced labour will be any better right now…. Hard to fathom though that is.

  6. I don’t have a problem with the idea of pointing out the economic benefits that accrue to human society from wildlife as just one of a number of reasons why we should conserve it. The problem is that, whilst we can quite easily recognise the financial contribution of bees, say, of forests protecting a watershed, or even of eagles and avocets attracting nature enthusiasts to spend their money visiting wildlife hotspots, there are plenty of humble little critters out there for whom it would be difficult to make any such argument. Excessive reliance on the economic argument could consign many of these ‘little hitters’ to extinction if they are not lucky enough to catch a ride on the coat tails of a more lucrative species or habitat.

  7. Mmmm there is a risk attached to the put a price on nature. But, as a starter it will get people thinking differently -not George O of course, he prides himself on indifference, but saving the Earth is a long term project unlike a term of government and that is both a problem and an opportunity. There are plenty of people that want to change this the trouble is ( as with charities) no one has the time…. To those that haven’t read E O Wilson I recommend his opinions on this very subject

  8. I’m getting a bit fed up with the current idea that until an economist has valued something it doesn’t exist – it looks like yet another sectoral takeover and I find it quite galling watching ‘experts’ trying to pick apart things I did 10 or even 20 years ago, that are out there & real & (if the response over forest privatisation is anything to go by) valued by real people.

    It gets more frightening: economists seem to struggle terribly with sums made up of several different products falling into several different classes so there is an enormous pressure towards the simple – simple, easy to measure intensive farming, with no silly frills like birds, clean drinking water, places for people to unwind and exercise.

    Some of the sums strike me as being pretty simple – clean water is the most obvious. How is it that the water that falls on the farm or forest belongs to everyone but as some point a water company catches it and suddenly we all have to pay ? (including the farmer wanting to irrigate his crops !) This has real and dead simple consequences: because its of no value – in fact we pay to achieve the opposite – farmers aren’t rewarded – or able to be concerned – about the pollution their fertiliser puts into the water – which then has to be cleaned out at great cost.

    Another neat example was forestry and fish: all the value in the fishing was in the lower reaches – the spawning grounds in the headwaters got nothing which is why early commercial forestry ignored fish completely and ploughed & drained right across the spawning grounds.

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