I spent Thursday evening and Friday and Saturday at the New Networks for Nature meeting – it was great in an inspiring, relaxing, challenging and humorous mixture.
But the best bit, the very best bit, the very very best bit, was on Friday morning when George Monbiot and Tony Juniper debated, in a very friendly, comradely and polite way, whether we should go down the ‘valuing nature and using those monetary values to influence people’ route. It’s a question touched on in this blog now and again, and one that I wrestle with. It’s something of a relief that these two intellectual leaders of the environment movement did not come to a convincing conclusion either.
Monbiot took the line that to get engaged in the valuing nature business is to move onto the territory of the people who are causing the problems (the politicians, the corporations etc) where we will never win the argument (and he used a fantastic example about a trade-off of lives and minutes of rich people’s time in the discussions about a third runway at Heathrow) and risks framing future decisions in terms of monetary value when we all know that is too much of a simplification.
Juniper said that there are good people who work in the world of money who will be influenced by the monetary value of nature, but only if we stick it under their noses and work with them.
Monbiot said we need to stick to our beliefs and principles, because we are right (!), and mobilise, mobilise, mobilise to win the day.
I believe that the debate is likely to be available to view in future and I recommend it – I will certainly watch it again. It was a privilege to be there and both men were at the top of their game.
You might want to know who won? I think neither really did. It looked a bit as though Tony Juniper did, but he pinched a bit of George’s argument right at the end when struggling to convince us that there could be a monetary value to bird song. So he had to say something along the lines of ‘Well, they should take beauty and wonder into account even if we can’t value it well’.
George looked a bit as though he had lost because it sounded as though we might have to overthrow the whole of capitalism for his route to win – appealing in some ways but quite a big job for the nature conservation and environment movement.
But the audience was a crowd of winners because the two men, aided by a bit of nudging by the chair Jeremy Mynott, took us deep into the issues being discussed. No-one could emerge from it thinking it was easy. Some might believe that perhaps there are horses for courses, or perhaps more accurately, we can sometimes ride both horses at once (although Monbiot would caution against that approach).
I can give you an example of that from the debate on driven grouse shooting. We have argued, for a long time, that driven grouse shooting gives rise to so much illegal behaviour (deliberately and necessarily, not accidentally or incidentally) that it should not be allowed to persist. It’s not a question of money (although the grouse shooters sometimes take the argument there), it’s a question of right and wrong, and some other stuff too. This might be characterised as the Monbiot approach just for the purposes of this example. It’s to do with the beauty of nature and how we shouldn’t harm it, not a cost-benefit analysis of monetary value.
But the Juniper approach might be that here is an example where the economic value of grouse shooting, once calculated properly, is so tiny, that when you do the sums properly, and include the costs of increased water bills, increased home insurance, lower fish stocks (probably) and increased greenhouse gas emissions, then grouse shooting will look like an utter waste of the public money we pour into it, and although it delivers economic benefits to a few, it delivers , in aggregate, much larger economic costs spread across the many. Therefore, it doesn’t add up and we should stop it.
Both of these positions are set out in Inglorious, and there I tend towards the Juniper position as the one most likely eventually to influence decision-makers strongly. But I also suggest that a string of high-profile raptor deaths, pinned to high-profile grouse moors through satellite-tagging, is another route that might work through public disgust and fury at the scale of illegal killing of protected wildlife.
I don’t mind which ‘wins’ the race to end driven grouse shooting and perhaps that will happen soonest if the two arguments cross the line together. We’ll see.