Why should we protect the natural world? Because it is beautiful, and because it relaxes us and inspires us. And because it is our duty, and to do so makes us better human beings. There are a great many answers to this question. And the experts have added another: because it is in our own interests. They have proved the fact by listing all the services provided by the planetís ecosystems, entirely gratis, for the benefit of humanity.
The list is laboriously long. Take a forest, for example: it produces wood, stores carbon dioxide, releases oxygen into the atmosphere, purifies water through filtration, prevents erosion by keeping the soil in place, averts flooding by saturating the ground like a sponge, is home to a variety of rare plants and animals, and provides walkers with the benefits of recreation and relaxation. Or take a coral reef, which protects our coastlines (acting like a breakwater), functions as a breeding ground and a nursery (a major factor for fish stocks), and contains various molecules of potential benefit to medicine.
What is all this worth? TheEuropean Commission is financing The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) a major study relating to The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), in an attempt to calculate the significance of these benefits in monetary terms. Preliminary figures for the forested area of the Masoala National Park, in Madagascar, alone show its value as 11,000 billion US dollars. If we consider the destruction of the planetís forest ecosystems, the toll is equivalent to 5% of the worldís annual GDP.
Trapped within our short-term vision, we sometimes forget just how precious the natural world is; this is one of the reasons why we accept its destruction. But it can be extremely profitable to consider the value of the services that ecosystems render us. When, for example, New York City decided to improve its water supply, it chose the option of reforesting the surrounding hills instead of building a water purifying plant. The result was naturally purified water obtained for ten times less than the projected cost of the plant (8 billion US dollars). Can the language of cost-benefit analysis produce a response from us where all else fails?
Eléments d’Ecologie : Ecologie Appliquée, (Dunod, 6th edition, Chapter 9.2, pp.680-695)