I’ve long thought that the sensible approach to the global economy is obvious, if complex. We calculate what the Earth can sustainably provide in terms of natural resources, then we set our economic demands at something less including a substantial safety factor. The total demand is then equitably shared by global citizens.
The calculations are challenging but can be done, and indeed are done, however I’m realistic enough to know that humanity won’t jump at anything so sensible. Certainly not when people compete against people, nation competes against nation, to get the biggest piece of the action.
I was intrigued therefor by a report, “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review,” recently released by the British government saying that nature should be at the centre of economic planning. The report frames nature as a financial asset that provides us with food, water, shelter and spiritual fulfillment, and suggests that countries assess their economies by including the natural world as a key element. Nature, it suggests, needs to be more valued as a measure of economic wealth than profits or GDP.
The leader of the study, University of Cambridge economist Sir Partha Dasgupta, called on the world to ensure that demands on nature do not exceed sustainable supplies. Nothing should be more obvious than that.
In a foreword to the report, naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough pointed out how we are overwhelming the planet. He noted that we and our livestock now constitute 96 percent of the mass of all mammals on Earth and 70 percent of all birds on the planet are poultry. We are destroying biodiversity. In the last 50 years, the world has lost two-thirds of its wildlife. A million species are at risk of extinction.
Mother Nature has been immensely generous to us and in return we are raping her. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres puts it, “Humanity is waging war on nature. This is suicidal.”
The report suggests that it’s time to, in effect, start paying Nature back. Nature’s contributions to global productivity should be quantified and, in effect, repaid. We need to “address the imbalance between our demand and nature’s supply, and increase nature’s supply,” which means conserving and restoring ecosystems while shifting our demands to a sustainable ecological footprint.
In May of this year there will be a conference on biodiversity in Kunming, China. The UN Climate Change Conference will take place in November in Glasgow. The Dasgupta report has been nicely timed to offer world leaders a blueprint for setting a course by which we can live with Nature sustainably.
To conclude with words from David Attenborough: “By bringing economics and ecology together, we can help save the natural world at what may be the last minute—and in doing so, save ourselves.”