Author Fran Southgate
What price would you put on the squeals of delight as a butterfly landing on your child’s nose? Or on a rain shower which waters a thirsty garden? How much value do you put on being able to constantly fill your lungs with oxygen from the day you were born until the day you die? These are questions which I doubt many people ask themselves on a day to day basis, as we try and make ends meet during yet another financial crisis. Yet perhaps they are some of the most fundamental to our existence?
If it wasn’t for the abundance of natural systems and the unique events which conspired to put water and life forms on our planet, then none of our ancestors would have even existed. I’m sure that prehistoric man placed immense (non monetary!) value on the animal that provided him and his family with warm clothing, fat, tools and food at the end of a very long, hard winter.
Somewhere along the way, our concept of the difference between things that are ‘buyable’ and things that are ‘valuable’ has gone slightly astray. We often try and put a price on the things which we value, if only to quantify how much we think it is worth, but this often means that we confuse money with intrinsic and irreplaceable beauty, and essential biological and practical functions. Too often the true value of things such as bees pollinating our plants is terribly undervalued, as one estimate is that pollination supports UK food production to the value of over £1bn a year.
We are now starting to recognise the true value of the things that the environment provides to us for free. ‘Ecosystem Services’ is a new buzz word to describe everything from the climate regulating carbon storage that peat bogs provide, to the soils which allow us to grow all our food.
I think that perhaps we have finally started to realise that value often has very little to do with money. I have just spent a breathtaking week in the highlands of Scotland which as far as I am concerned was priceless – there are moments of watching otters play at dawn which will stay with me forever, and a peace and tranquility to the place which was mesmerising. Perhaps if we just took a few more moments to think about the amazing things that our planet provides for us, we might not have such a job to try and persuade people not to destroy it.