By Dr Tony Whitbread
President of Sussex Wildlife Trust
If we win the war against nature, we will have crushed the very life support systems on which we depend. This will be our ultimate “Pyrrhic victory”.
So what is driving us towards our own self destruction?
“There is no wealth but life” is the second in the Sussex Wildlife Trust’s series “Ending the war on nature”. In this we will be looking at our value systems, our idea of wealth and the problem of infinite material gain in a finite world.
Our current concept of economic growth requires a continual and increasing consumption of materials, emission of waste products and conversion of land. All of this is finite, yet our society is built on the premise of exponential expansion. This cannot end well! And our current race towards climate breakdown is perhaps its worst symptom.
Flaws in our valuing systems confer value on useless things, like plastic trinkets, but confers very little value at all on essential things like nature. Even worse, our current measure – Gross Domestic Product – counts all economic activity as positive (whether producing things, using things, creating pollution or clearing up the mess afterwards). Yet nature is always counted as a “cost” against the economy. The dice could not be more heavily loaded!
At the very least the huge flaws in our economic system must be rectified. Nature provides us with huge, almost infinite, benefits and these must be considered in our economics and decision making. Economic activity, on the other hand, has huge devastating costs (often ignored as externalities) that must also be fully recognised in any measure of our “wealth”.
We must not, however, make nature subordinate to the economy. This is a reversal of logic and is what got us into the problem in the first place! It is the other way around – the economy must be recognised as a subset of (not superior to) the environment. We should not “monetise” nature - on the contrary we should “naturalise” the economy.