February 01, 2008

Hiding the value of ecosystem services

Edward B. Barbier and coauthors calculate how much mangrove in any given locality one should preserve and how much one should convert to shrimp farm ponds in order to maximize the profits from farming, given that the presence of some intact mangrove has a positive effect on the shrimp crop.

Ivan Valiela and Sophia E. Fox criticize Barbier et al.'s "premise that an ecological function can be converted into a currency directly equivalent to money" because
by putting a price on a natural environment, we put it up for sale--and the monetary value of natural services will seldom reach the value accrued by conversion to industrial or commercial use. For instance, some years ago there was a proposal to build an industrial plant on a wetland parcel in the Hackensack Meadowlands of New Jersey. As a counterpoint to the proposal for construction, decision-makers asked for a valuation of the wetland, which came to about $9000 per acre, per year, in perpetuity. The builders offered $200,000 per acre and showed that the added jobs, taxes, etc., would by far exceed wetland "proceeds" in the short and long term. Today a refinery stands on the site.
They are effectively arguing that we must not calculate the possible values of a parcel and wish that "decision-makers" will opt for its less valuable use.

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