Thoughts on “How Much is Clean Water Worth?”

“How Much is Clean Water Worth?” is a fascinating feature article written by Jim Morrison for the Feb./Mar. 2005 issue of National Wildlife, the magazine of the National Wildlife Federation.  There are some staggering, almost unfathomable, numbers in the form of dollar amounts calculated when it comes to the value of our global ecosystem – something that really should need no dollar value as it is invaluable to all of us using this planet.

However, how does a controversial 1997 Nature report estimating the annual dollar value of the global ecosystem to be $33 trillion grab you?  That’s ($33,000,000,000,000.00) 14 zeroes in dollars and cents if you’re counting – and I was.  Apparently it grabbed some the wrong way:

One report by researchers at the University of Maryland, Bowden College and Duke University called the estimate “absurd,” noting that if taken literally, the figure suggests that a family earning $30,000 annually would pay $40,000 annually for ecosystem protection.

But, if not taken literally, how can we begin to make exponentially important decisions about the future of our society as a species, and the managing species, on this planet.  If we continue to ignore stewardship of our natural resources as a society by not assigning an economic value to something that is invaluable, when will the price tag to correct our mismanagement exceed our natural capital?  Or have we already reached a point where we are writing checks our collective butts can’t cash?

The article is packed full of amazing examples of stewardship and recognition of our natural capital in the form of monetary valuation that gives me some new hope in our society.  Examples of restoring what nature had intended all along; restoring for not only natural instrumental benefits, but the intrinsic social, economical, and ecological benefits as well.

If the planet is still offering us the chance to fix our mistakes in stewardship, and if the best way to recognize the benefits of fixing those mistakes is by assigning a dollar figure to enhance the understandability of the big picture, then, I say, give me a price gun and I’ll help price tag the place.

What did it cost you to read this rant?  Time.  What did it cost the earth in natural capital to provide you the opportunity to read this rant?  Time.  If, as the old saying goes, time is money – which is more valuable to me?  And do you really want to know my answer?

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