Rosalie for AUClimate
I hear the wind whistling in my ears while the first rays of the morning sun fall upon my skin. The tiny water droplets left by the night slowly fading away. While the sun rises over the mountains I feel my senses come alive.
We are giving it all up.
Ever since the first human being walked this earth, humans have used non-human nature as a resource. At first, our behaviour was much like that of other animals. Eating and using whatever materials the environment provided with an eye on survival. Now that our species have existed for around 200.000 years, most have started treating non-human nature as if it were our property. Human property to use, to exploit, and to mistreat. In David Attenborough’s documentary, a life on our planet, he explains that humans have changed our ecosystems to such an extent that we currently make up one third of the total weight of mammals on earth. Among the other mammals, around 60% are raised to feed humans and “the rest – from mice to whales – make up just 4%”. We have truly conquered the world. Yet, an important thing to note is that we are not all equally responsible for this domination of nature. Research by Oxfam (figure 1) has shown that when analysing carbon emissions from 1990 to 2015, the world’s richest 10% are responsible for 52% of the total carbon emissions. This is in stark contrast with the poorest 50% that are responsible for just 7% of the emitted carbon. Rather than saying that all humans are the cause of environmental destruction, we can safely say that – as a result of their consumption pattern – the rich are to blame. An important issue in this consumption pattern is the misvaluation of nature.
A tree has no value until it is cut, a chicken has no value until it is doomed, a shell has no value until it is decomposed. Nature has no value. In our society, nature is considered valuable only once it has been transformed into a resource for human use. Global wealth is calculated on the basis of our gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced within a country. This value does not reflect the impact of production on the environment. As a result, a country’s wealth will only grow by increasingly damaging the web of life of which humans are part. Last month, António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, urged that “we need to transform how we view and value nature. We must reflect nature’s true value in all our policies, plans and economic systems.”. He stated this while presenting a newly approved approach to calculate the wealth of a country. This new method, the System of Environment Economic Accounting (SEEA), will help include the value of ecosystems when they are thriving rather than when they are exploited. The ecosystem services, the human benefits of keeping the ecosystem intact, will thus be included when using the SEEA to measure a country’s wealth.
The misty morning rain tapping on the window. Now that the lightning and thunder of the night moved away. The animals that attempted to stay warm, huddled together in their shelters, are emerging into the light. As I see a squirrel leave the hollow tree behind the house, I feel my senses come alive.
We are giving it all up.
Moving from the use of GDP to the use of the SEEA is a step in the right direction. Yet, nature has even more to offer than ecosystem services. In light of this I would like you to ask yourself whether you have ever experienced the joy of being in pristine nature? Not a city park, not a protected nature reserve, but actual pristine nature. Unfortunately, I can answer that question for you. No. That is, as Rachel Nuwer writes, if you were to define pristine nature as truly untouched by any human influence. Our human species has truly conquered the planet. When considering the value of nature for humans, the lack of pristine nature is not such a big problem. As Richard Hobbs points out, non-pristine places are often more accessible, giving them a higher value. Yet, this is if you were to value of nature only in light of human benefit. Most other organisms (i.e. non-human organisms) would much prefer to live in pristine nature than to live in an ever shrinking forest or a fenced park. Apart from that, we should realise that the earth will exist long after our species has gone extinct. Valuing the environment is not just in the interest of non-human nature. It is key if we would like to preserve our place on this planet. Our mistreatment of nature is posing a threat to the enjoyment of our self-created human rights. The human rights to life and health are at risk as toxic waste pollution makes for a lack of potable water, as people are being killed by landslides resulting from soil degradation, and as harvests fail as a result of the desertification. Apart from the direct effects environmental problems have on our human existence, they will also affect our mental and physical wellbeing. Being in nature nourishes our bodies by reducing stress. The feeling nature is able to give is of much higher value than just the instrumental, resource value. Nature has an intrinsic value, independent of human needs, which cannot be monetised.
Waves crashing on the shore, washing over the sand and rocks. Seabirds squeal, making the sounds of the ocean feel like a whisper from afar. Sand brushes against my cheek and I feel my senses come alive.
We are giving it all up.
Nature has the ability to make your senses come alive. It will never be possible to put a price on this sensation. Neither will it be possible to put a price on nature, including the human species, in its own right. In a wealthy country, nature would thrive. Thus, a wealthy country would have ecosystems that provide services not just to humans, but to all that is part of the earth system. For a country to become wealthy, they would put a stop to environmentally degrading consumption. I call for wealth to be measured by the health of a country’s web of life, as nature really does not have to be exploited to be valued.
Beaches looking like landfill sites. Children growing up in smog filled cities without ever having seen a bright, blue sky. Oceans and lakes turning into dead zones. A disbalanced food chain in the Amazon Rainforest as jaguars lose their life or their home.
Every fibre in me wants to put a stop to this.
We should be giving it all up.