Though I haven't read the entire Sept issue of the Scientific American, here is a graphic and some quotes I would like to share with you that is relevant to my earlier post and Sunil's post. In the introductory article of the special issue, The Climax of Humanity, an eight point plan is presented for the 21st century. George Musser goes on to say:
A recurring theme of this plan is that business is not necessarily the enemy of nature, or vice versa. Traditionally the economy and the environment have not been described in lik eterms. The most watched economic statistics, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP), do not measure resource depletion; they are essentially measures of cash flow rather than balance sheets of assets and liabilities. If you clear-cut a forest, GDP jumps even though you have wipes out an asset that could have bought in a steady stream of income.
More broadly, the prices we pay for goods and services seldom include the associated environmental costs. Someone else picks up the tab - and that someone is usually us in another guise. By one estimate, the average American taxpayer forks out $2,000 a year to subsidize farming, driving, mining and other activities with a heavy environmental footprint. The distorted markets gives consumers and producers litte incentive to clean up. Environmentalists inadvertently reinforce this tendency when they focus on the priceless attractions of nature, which are deeply meaningful but difficult to weigh against more pressing concerns. The Endangered Species Act has provided iconic examples of advocates talking past one another. Greens blamed th3 plight of spotted owls on loggers; the loggers blamed unemployment on self-indulgent orinthology. In fact, both were victims of unsustainable forestry.
In recent years, economists and evironmental scientists have come together to hang a price tag on nature's benefits. Far from demeaning nature, this exercise reveals how much we depend on it. The Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, published earlier this year, identified services - from pollination to water filteration - that humans would have to provide for themselves, at great cost, if nature did not. Of the 24 broad categories of services, the team found that 15 are being used faster than they regenerate.
When the environment is accounted for, what is good for nature is often what is good for the economy and even for individual business sectors. Fishers, for example, maximize their profits when they harvest fisheries at a sustainable level; beyond that point, both yeilds and profits decline as more people chase ever fewer fish. To be sure, life is always not so convenient. Society must sometimes make real trade-offs. But it is only beginning to explore teh win-win options.
I have yet to read the details of the action plan (which forms the entire content of the special issue) - but it promises to be a good read.