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Shared Planet: does nature have an economic value?

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Can we put a price on nature? Or indeed, should we? These are the questions posed on BBC Radio 4’s Shared Planet programme last week.

Presenter Monty Don explored the world of environmental economics and ecosystem services.

He introduces the debate by asking if a rational valuation on the natural world might be the most practical way of working out how to protect it, and if assigning ecosystems a monetary value can ensure that they are better conserved.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report defines ecosystem services simply as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”.

The topical example used in the Radio 4 programme refers to the plight of Britain’s bees. If bees disappeared, Don reasons, then replacing their role and pollenating fruit trees by hand would cost “a huge amount”. Therefore the bees are in a sense providing a very valuable service.

To inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values, often calculated by working out the cost of replacing the services with non-natural alternatives.

Supporters of this approach say that including such services in business calculations can prove that nature is worth conserving in cold, financial terms.

A report follows the work of the Coastal Biodiversity Ecosystem Service Sustainability initiative at the Eden estuary in north-east Scotland, where a team is trying to assess the value of the area.

The report reveals that such work can be even more complicated that you might think. The scientists must consider the contributions of even the smallest organisms in the local ecosystem. Even tiny polychaete worms and mud shrimps, we are told, are essential to the biodiversity of the area.

All that biodiversity makes up a complex food chain that is commercially important. But the area provides much more than just that. The mud flats provide a natural buffer that moderates the force of the winds and the waves, protecting our inland environment. Less tangible benefits, such as the enjoyment visitors take from the estuary, also must be considered. Tourists, dog walkers and kayakers all bring money into the local economy.

Don’s guests on the programme cautiously conclude that putting a price on natural services is worth it. Jonathan Aylen, a senior lecturer from Manchester Business School, says that it forces the business community to recognise nature is a scarce resource.

Environmental writer Tony Juniper argues that we have been losing nature precisely because we have not been valuing it. Bill Adams, professor of conservation and development at Cambridge University, says that at least the use of an ecosystem services approach places any value on nature.

Adams questions, however, what happens when we hand nature over to the commodity trader. He is concerned whether using ecosystem services is unpacking a “Pandora’s box”.

Indeed, some are made uneasy by the idea of nature as a service provider. It is argued that economic motivations for conservation must not replace scientific or ethical factors.

Richard Conniff, writer and journalist, says, “It may be, as some argue, that we have no better way to save the world. But the danger in the process is that we may lose our souls.”

Don concludes that it does seem to be worth putting a price on nature, if only to make people think about its value.

Further reading:

Consequences of ecosystem changes missing from economic forecasts

Government unveils strategy to end UK bee decline

State of Nature report reveals alarming UK wildlife loss

Loss of £200bn pollinating services will be harmful, scientists warn

Why we can’t afford to lose ecosystem services

Environment

Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family

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Greenest Vehicle
Licensed Image by Shutterstock - By Mascha Tace -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/maschatace

When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?

What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?

As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.

Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.

5 Good Options

As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:

1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country

Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.

2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica

If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.

3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.

4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.

5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel

If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?

Putting it All Together

You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.

You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.

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Environment

How Climate Change Altered this Engineer’s Life

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how climate change affect our lives
Shutterstock Licensed Photo - By Rawpixel.com -- https://www.shutterstock.com/g/rawpixel

Living the life of an engineer likely sounds pretty glamorous: you are educated and highly regarded, typically have high paying gigs, and with the breadth of knowledge and array of fields of specialty, your possibility for jobs is usually immense.  But what if there was something else that needed your attention? Something bigger than just being an engineer, going to work every day and doing the same technical tasks typically associated with the profession?

For Kevin McCroary, that is exactly how it played out.  A successful engineer, gainfully employed in a prosperous job, a simple trip to the Philippines made him see that there was a bigger issue at hand than using his engineer training in a traditional profession.  This bigger issue was that of climate change.  And working as a volunteer for underprivileged children in the Philippines, he saw first-hand the extensive pollution and poverty that existed here and that impacted the livelihood of these kids and their families.

Upon returning home, from his trip to the Philippines he had a new perspective of the impact we as individuals and as humanity have on the earth, and more than that Kevin wanted to know more.  He started to do some research and study these human-environmental interactions, and shortly thereafter ended up in Greenland.  There, he spoke to a man who had lost his home in a tsunami, and, who, through consistent weather tracking could indeed confirm that the current weather trends were “strange:” there was undeniably a general warming tendency happening in the arctic, causing an array of negative effects.

The combination of these observations, as well as his own research, led Kevin to conclude that something had to be done.  With that in mind, he launched his project Legend Bracelet.  The mission is simple: create a reminder of the legacy we are leaving behind.  As individuals and as humanity, we are leaving behind an imprint on the earth, and the magnitude of it is something that needs to be brought to the forefront of public awareness.  The idea is to have a bracelet that can serve as a daily reminder of the impact on the earth that each of us can have every day, regardless of how big or small.  The bracelet has two capsules: the first is filled with sand or earth, and the second is empty.  As the owner, you are to fill the empty one with your own earth, carrying it with you as a reminder and symbol of your connection and commitment to helping look after our environment.

We are all impacted by climate change, and we all have a responsibility to help.  And it can start with something as simple as putting on a bracelet.  Support Kevin on his Kickstarter campaign for Legend Bracelet, tell others about it, or take action in your own way and play your part in slowing down the effects of climate change.  You may think “but I’m just one person!” You are indeed.  But so is he.  Every change starts with one.

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