Saturday Cartoon from Ralph Underhill – priceless




I saw blue whales this summer in Monterey Bay, California – they were amazing and I will never forget them.

I have seen more butterflies in my garden this year than for years and years  – and I sent the details to Butterfly conservation for the Big Butterfly Count (you have today and tomorrow to do the same).

I am writing a book about the passenger pigeon which has been extinct for nearly a century – I wish it still darkened the skies of North America.

I think there have been more swifts above my head in my street this summer than for several recent years.  I keep a look out for them every evening  – will this evening be the last time I spot one until next spring?

I would find it hard to put a monetary value on the beauty of wildlife and the pleasure it brings me.

Bobby Kennedy said it well:

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. 

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. 

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. 

Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. 

It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Website Pin Facebook Twitter Myspace Friendfeed Technorati Digg Google StumbleUpon Premium Responsive

Get email notifications of new blog posts

Registration confirmation will be emailed to you.

13 Replies to “Saturday Cartoon from Ralph Underhill – priceless”

  1. The view from my house is priceless. But I am often denied the full view of species like Hen Harrier and Goshawk due to the birds being removed for the name of Red Grouse shooting. In our local paper the article heading claims that this shooting is worth £15 million to the local economy but when you read the article most shoots are only braking even due to the cost of management! Watson and all claim that 67% of shoots are not even viable so why do the press love to put this extream £millions as the headline. As for money filtering down into the local economy both shoots here have their own accommodation so little going out there. The Cumbria wealth for wildlife watching has been estimated at £20 million but still the tourist board are not interested! May be because they all getting drunk on a Red Grouse moor come the 'Glorious 12th'!!

  2. Not viable merely means that someone is subsidizing it - presumably the landowner - and maybe for his own pleasure. The contribution to the local economy still stands as does the contribution (good or bad) to the ecosystem.

  3. I must say that I largely agree with John huge notional values are put on shooting and doubtless large sums are made somewhere but where in those calculations are the costs in ecological damage. That is the cost we all pay fpr grouse shooting? Gripped moors means coloured water run off, expensive for the water companies to clean, an often oxidising peat surface thus lots of carbon dioxide given off rather than sequestration in a living peat system and the indefinable cost that denies me, John and countless others the pleasure of seeing Harriers, Short Eared Owls, Peregrines and Goshawks where they are notably absent due to the selfish pleasures of the few ( men in tweed again!).
    Putting monetary value on parts of ecosystems may save some, consign others to the valueless but to me at least it all seems that to do so denies the wonder in nature that Mark speaks of at the start. I couldn't even start to value what I get out of it, and try to put back but I know life would be valueless without it.

    1. Paul - well put. The trouble is, that if you don't put a monetary value of some sort on nature, then philistines (I am thinking of George Osborne here) regard that value as being zero, and nature loses out. But if you put any value on it, it risks being traded. Is the 'value' of shooting revenue more or less than the spiritual value of seeing a hen harrier fly across the uplands? And how, to be fair, do you add in the 'enjoyment' gained by shooting lots of grouse as well as the money spent on it?

      If we had some stronger and agreed values about the natural world (which might take us back to Simon Marsh's Guest Blog this week) then we wouldn't think that shooting revenue trumped them.

      Seeing a hen harrier, or butterflies, or a blue whale, or swifts, is to me priceless - but to me 'priceless' means very large whereas to George Osborne my 'priceless' means very small.

      1. "if you put any value on it, it risks being traded"

        That's the idea. "• ensuring that the value of ecosystem services is fully reflected in decision-making" - a quote from "Securing a healthy natural environment: An action plan for embedding an ecosystems approach" (DEFRA 2007, p5).

        Under whose administration was that?

        1. filbert - that'll be under a Labour administration - those were the days! Labour has a slightly too high opinion of rational argument (even for me, rational old me) whereas no-one could accuse this lot of taking any notice of the science at all. The trouble with the more rational people in the world (including myself) is that we tend to think that people will do things properly and respect the limitations of the approach that they are using. If you get a bunch of idiots running the show, any show, then that won't happen. There is nothing wrong with valuing nature provided you have perfect information and take a very long perspective - or are very cautious. And it helps if lots of people have a say, rather than some bloke in tweed in the heather taking the law into their own hands. I wonder whether we should ask the public what they think of grouse shooting - I've been thinking that more and more as time has gone on. How much would they value it? hmmmm?

          1. "If you get a bunch of idiots running the show, any show, then that won’t happen"

            That's the worry - the bunch of idiots waiting in the wings. Especially if they then form another coalition of idiots with them other idiots who can't form a gubmint and we are ruled for years by clueless metro-idiots who make us ashamed to be British while spending our money on their ideological vanity projects. The prospect of Three Eds makes me nauseous.

            The major flaw in valuing ecosystem services is the notion that aspects of the human spiritual condition can be treated as externalities - then they can be given any value, including negative, by the drones doing the exercise. Whereas in Cobb's World the spiritual value of peeking round the front door to watch a Goldfinch perched on and drinking from a dripping tap under the kitchen window is infinite.

  4. Where I live near Helmsley in North Yorkshire the shooting industry undeniably props up a significant part of the local economy. Fancy restaurants, hotels, tweed shops all benefit from the Range Rover brigade. And I like having good restaurants near me, and nice villages with shops (although I'll pass on the tweed thanks), so I recognise the benefits shooting can bring.


    The North York moors (maintained for the perverse pastime of blazing away at driven birds) are as a direct result devoid of so much of what should be there. They are depressing in the extreme for anyone unfortunate enough to understand ecology (the shootists, city types dressed up as victorian gentry, are spared this enlightenment in my experience, despite their inexplicable but much cherished belief that killing things in large numbers bestows some unique insight into the natural world).

    Yet none of this is news and as the hen harrier slips away for the second time, I wonder why nobody is taking action. The wildlife NGOs protest in the media but nothing changes. I have written numerous times to my MP but am ignored. Petitions are started, signed and forgotten. It cannot continue, but it will.

    Economic benefits are no defence against spiritual and cultural impoverishment, but that is what the shooting industry is guilty of when it robs our countryside of its natural heritage. So until grouse shooting can demonstrate that it can coexist with the full diversity of native wildlife I will be implacably opposed to it. And no, diversionary feeding doesn't cut it. Annual licensing awarded only for those moors with fledged hen harrier chicks that year would though. That would change the gamekeeper's priorities!

  5. Well said. I must say I have converged on similar thoughts when faced with some local environmental issues here in Catalonia. I wouldn't say "putting a value" on nature, as the value is already there, but rather something like "counting the true value" or "recognising the true value".
    A local example is pollution of the River Ebro by a chemicals factory since the 1960's. The level of pollution of the sediment came to light less than 10 years ago and now there is a scheme underway to try and remove much of the polluted sediment without it being swept downriver to the Ebro Delta.
    Is the factory paying for this? No, the taxpayer is. That is my first objection. When you talk to the local people about the environment they all say that what matters most is jobs. But who is paying for their jobs? Why should the general taxpayer subsidize their employment if he can have no say about the quality of the water that he drinks and bathes in, like the people at Flix, where his fish are caught, with which his food is irrigated? ANd what about the air that is polluted too? Don't we all breathe that?
    Briefly: the real costs should be calculated and the benefactors of polluting the environment, if we allow it to happen (if we are given a say), should be the ones to pay in proportion to the benefit they obtain. Something along these lines would also be relevant for calculating the "benefits" of having rivers still capable of absorbing pollutants, still capable of providing fish or food-rich sediment for fisheries, etc.
    I could go on for too long...

    1. In the UK authorised discharge of effluents into surface- or groundwater is dealt with under Environmental Permitting. The consent holder is charged for this, but the charges are administrative rather than reflecting any kind of cost offsetting for compensation for the damage to public goods (afaik).

      I would be surprised if Spain did not have a equivalent legislation - given that it also is an EU member


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.