Regeneration The Art of Sustainable Living

Meetings with fascinating ecological Regenerators. Grounded sustainable thinking and commentary from a Permaculture perspective.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Valuing Life-Support Systems


Valuing our Life-Support Systems.
... illusory gains in income and permanent losses of wealth
By : Claude William Genest

Could you survive for the next two years on 5 million U.S. per year ? Surely that would buy you all the essentials, right ?

Before answering, consider the plight of the 20 “Biospherians” and their 200 million dollar Biosphere II greenhouse in the Arizona desert - the team of top flight scientists were to spend two years in a glass enclosed reproduction of earth’s varied ecosystems. You likely recall the fanfare of them entering, but probably didn’t hear about them exiting. The team had to leave early because they radically underestimated the role played by soil microorganisms in creating and maintaining the atmosphere. As a result, the fragile eco-systems were in chaos and the team members, literally suffering from altitude sickness, had to be evacuated.

The somewhat embarrassing lessons learned by our best and brightest was how much we don’t know about eco-system services, and that these services are literally invaluable in that no amount of money can recreate them.

The environment is not merely a nice patch of woods to be preserved, it is literally our life support systems.

Good Business Sense

No business can sustain liquidating capital and while calling it current income. The manner in which we are using up our natural capital is akin to burning furniture to heat the house. It is, to coin a phrase, unsustainable.

We, business savvy culture that we are, desperately need to recognize what is capital and what is interest: Forests, waterways, and soil are capital; lumber, fish and food are the interest. Our M.B.A.-run polity is pursuing economic policies that would bankrupt any company and so, contrary to what we are continually told, what we are actually experiencing are illusory gains in income and permanent losses of wealth.

The economy is a subset of the ecology to which it is inextricably bound. It is a sad commentary on our times that this seemingly obvious truism even needs to be stated.
Sadder still are the politicians promoting 19th-Century supply side solutions to 21st-Century resource problems.

It seems clear, does it not, that the ongoing depletion of our natural capital, the source of our wealth, can only lead to, in the not-so-distant future, lower standards of living, higher costs and more social anxiety ?

The limits to productivity today are no longer a lack of boats, fishing nets, chainsaws and tractors, but literally declining stocks of fish, lumber and viable soils.

But even this is only half the story, for by narrowly viewing ecosystems as mere providers of natural resources, we neglect their far more valuable services as air purifiers, flood controllers, waste disposers, rain makers and climate regulators.

Just how much are these services worth, especially given that they work year after year? - According to our best economic minds and political leaders the answer to that question is.....ZERO !

Perhaps we’d do well to consult the Biospherians.....

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