The Economic Cost of Destroying Bio-Diversity

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The environment: An unknowable economic resource (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you haven’t read E.O Wilson, you really should. The eminent biologist is a brilliant thinker and wonderful writer who draws from many different disciplines and manages to make complicated subjects extremely easy to understand. I dug up a fascinating interview with him on the future of life with earthwatch.org, and was struck by this extraordinary statement on our continued destruction of the world’s eco systems:

We will see diminishment in ecosystem services, which have been estimated to be equivalent to the world gross domestic product, roughly $30 trillion. We get these services scot-free. We’ll see a reduction over time, so that we’ll have to invest more and more of our gross domestic product into replacing those services. The classic example is a choice that was made by New York City between a billion-dollar-level filtration plant to keep water it was getting from the Catskills pure, versus a much smaller amount of money put into preserving the Catskills watershed. They wisely chose the latter. So we will see a lot of that going on. Choices made, and bad choices taken, that will diminish what we are already getting scot-free.

There will also be opportunity costs: so many species we can learn from, new products derived, wisdom obtained through scientific study, will be lost forever. That’s a huge opportunity cost that’s beyond measure.

It’s amazing that economists can go through an entire education without learning a thing about the environment, as if consumption and production had no effects on the world’s resources. Traditional economics is based on the principle that resources are infinite, whereas every scientist knows they are not.

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