Why 'nature' is beyond price... and could cost the earth

By Pascale Palmer
June 4, 2011

So nature’s services to Britain are worth billions of pounds. In a new report by 500 ecology, economics and social science experts, the free work done by the natural world has been evaluated, commodified and priced up.

I have learned recently that insects such as bees and beetles which pollinate the crops farmers sow are worth a staggering £430m-a-year, inland wetlands improve the water supply to the tune of £1.5bn and the health benefits of green spaces are worth £300 to every single person in the UK every year.

Now, I do understand why, in this money-led world, we have to prove to governments and big business that the green stuff around us is worth keeping, instead of tearing it down and concreting it over to throw up yet another six-storey, Juliet-balconied, partially-wood-clad-cos-it’s-the-fashion block of flats, or some such. But when I say I understand, what I mean is: I see that this is only the logical progression along an insane path of economic greed that knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Last year there was a health report that indicated an improvement in life expectancy when a man gets married. So how long will it be before we know the monetary worth of an average British wife? Perhaps it could include a breakdown of pricing for love and kisses and tickles and pet names? And what about platonic friendship? Will we soon be able to work out which mates offer us less value for money and filter them out accordingly?

But I digress – let’s get back to nature. Some pretty impressive minds tackled, tweaked and teased out the philosophical concept of the sublime – a sense of greatness beyond all measurement. Schopenhauer tried to pin down a sublimity spectrum ranging from a weak feeling of the sublime in the presence of an endless desert with no movement, to the fullest extreme when observing the immensity of the universe. Schopenhauer added in parenthesis after this strongest sense of the sublime that it is the ‘pleasure gained from the knowledge of the observer’s nothingness and oneness with nature’.

The sublime was further taken to the bosom of the Romantic poets, some of whom looked out at the turmoil and vastness and astonishing aesthetic power of nature and saw this as a momentary glimpse of God. Victor Hugo, Wordsworth, William Blake and Coleridge, amongst many others, played with the idea that the magnificence of nature could raise an individual to a higher spiritual level.

As Wordsworth says in Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey: ‘Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,/ In which the burden of the mystery/ In which the heavy and weary weight/ Of all this unintelligible world, / Is lightened’

Now put a price on that.


(c) Pascale Palmer is Senior Policy Media Officer for CAFOD. www.cafod.org.uk

Keywords:nature | Environment | cafod
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