The Price of Everything
Nature has been infiltrated by the language of economics. Terms like “natural capital”, “sustainable growth” and “ecosystem services” have all become part of the vocabulary of conservation. Whilst this continues to be the case, the intrinsic value of nature, the value of nature for nature’s sake, becomes less important to decision makers. So, along with oil, chemicals, gases and litter, the capitalist agenda is now polluting our environment.
To think of the natural world in economic terms is to ignore its real worth. Last year I was fortunate enough to visit Orkney on a work trip. Watching seabirds at Marwick Head and Scapa Bay was one of the most incredible wildlife experiences of my life. The drama of the chase between an Arctic skua and an Arctic tern has all the excitement, twists, turns, glory and defeat of any great sporting event, but there it was unfolding in front of me in this vast and sensational landscape, for free.
Wildlife spectacles aren’t something you necessarily have to travel to see. The beautiful purple flower, buddleia, which grows on waste land and in cracks in buildings, attracts kaleidoscopic species of butterfly. You can see peregrine falcons hunting prey in Glasgow city centre, bats in your local park, thousands of mini-beasts in canals and waterways, deer, badgers, foxes…nature is amazing and it is all around us, you just have to look for it.
As our connection to nature becomes increasingly fractured, for many the concept of being part of the environment is alien, which explains the prominence of the improper, economic justification for nature. In conflicts between developments and the natural world, the monetary value of nature is becoming an ever more frequent factor in how much of our environment we are forced to surrender in the pursuit of growth. There are a number of flaws in this approach, not least that in a planet of finite resources growth is not sustainable.
Economic rhetoric to justify the environment is used by lobby groups on all sides; companies want to show how much more valuable their development is than “barren” land or sea and environmental NGOs use it in reaction to a political landscape obsessed by the economy. This is particularly evident in the marine environment.
In July the Scottish Government designated 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to “protect and enhance” Scotland’s seas. Whilst these MPAs were welcomed by environmentalist and industrialist alike, the management of these areas, which makes them more than just lines on maps, is stirring up controversy.
The purpose of Marine Protected Areas is to protect the amazing wealth of species we have in our seas – flame shells, maerl beds, black guillemots and sandeels – but by failing to implement robust MPA management, the Government is failing to conserve marine wildlife, or it is ‘Taking the P from out Marine Protected Areas’ as a campaign led by a coalition of environmental organisations puts it.
The justification for allowing scallop dredging is economic – the amount of short-term income estimated to be lost by banning dredging is argued to be greater, and more important, than the overall value of the nature it destroys. The same is true for the four huge windfarm developments given planning consent in the Firth of Forth. It is estimated that the developments will kill over a thousand internationally protected seabirds each year.
Political conformity to economic growth is killing our wildlife. Yes we do need renewable developments to combat climate change, and yes we do need fish to eat, but there are ways of providing both without destroying the natural environment. Prosperity, employment and happiness can be achieved by creating a fairer society that is part of a healthy environment, they should not be used as an excuse for destroying it.
One of the most positive outcomes of the independence referendum is that it has made everyone aware that politics is part of their lives and that, together, we are going to make a better, fairer society. The environment is the foundation of this society, and to ensure that it is built on solid ground we need to protect it at all costs.
A campaign to ensure MPAs protect wildlife and habitats has been set up by Scottish Environment LINK – http://www.savescottishseas.org/dont-take-the-p-out-of-mpas/