On Thursday 6 November 2014, around 50 people from the worlds of local Government, planning, conservation, community interest groups, business and academia came together to talk about the importance of the nature for informed decision making. They were joined by members of the public.
Professor Ian Bateman OBE gave a talk on the importance of an economic perspective when talking about the natural environment.
Professor Bateman began his talk by dispelling some common misconceptions about what economists are and are not (i.e. not accountants) and why the distinction between price and value matters. Professor Bateman is not putting a price on nature – he is trying to make sure that its true value is recognised.
Using an example of riverside walks, Professor Bateman explained that
- The revenue which private companies would receive from providing riverside walks is zero. PRICE = £0
- The benefits to society of taking a walk, VALUE, is greater than zero.
Professor Bateman presented the audience with two inescapable facts: 1) human demands exceed what nature can supply; 2) humans cannot satisfy all wants, and therefore must choose a course of action – we implicitly place values on these options. He then elaborated by describing some of the benefits that we receive from nature, termed ‘ecosystem services’. Natural processes, such as solar radiation, nutrient cycling and water cycling enable crops, trees and wildlife to survive and thrive. We, as society, receive benefits including food, biodiversity, recreation and flood control. These benefits have many natural units (or none at all). Professor Bateman asked how the audience would make decisions. He suggested that money is a convenient unit of value for making decisions across multiple sectors (i.e. not just for the environment, but for the health service, education and employment also). Professor Bateman provided some examples from his recent research, including the UK National Ecosystem Assessment.
Professor Bateman finished by asking whether the current mode of decision making, i.e. not explicitly valuing nature, is working.
There was no shortage of questions and comments from the audience following the talk. Some of the highlights are listed below:
- There is a danger in valuing nature. We may not find the answers that we are looking for.
- It is difficult to value species. Key species can underpin ecosystem function, but we have an incomplete understanding of ecosystems. Species are difficult to value but ultimately invaluable. Two key arguments for not placing a monetary value on wild species: 1) public opinion – a philosophical argument; 2) we do not have sufficient tools to provide a robust value.
- Current methods for valuation focus on surveys and measurements that capture a moment in time. We need to look at projections of future values.
- Investment in advertising is needed to change public opinion and raise awareness of the issues.
- Not everyone cares about the natural environment.
- There was some disagreement about how we describe rational behaviour. Overcrowding of a National Park, for example, will degrade the natural asset due to numbers and therefore influence its value. That is not rational. People, however, are doing what is right for themselves and as the quality of the environment suffers, visitor rates will decline.
- It is difficult to explain and define sustainability. The notion is philosophical and does not fit with the concept of valuation.
Lively discussion continued over coffee but we were not able to hear the views of all guests. A survey has subsequently been set up to get a snapshot of thoughts and experiences of valuing nature and to find out about ways of engaging people in our research. For a short time you can access the survey here. Please also add comments below or email me.
This event was funded by the ESRC Festival of Social Science. The Festival celebrates some of the country’s leading social science research, giving an exciting opportunity to showcase the valuable work of the UK’s social scientists and demonstrate how their work has an impact on all our lives.
What? Public talk and discussion on the topic of valuing nature
When? Thursday 6 November 2014
Where? Curve Auditorium @ The Forum, Millennium Plain, Norwich NR2 1TF
Programme (download pdf)
17:30 Places please!
17:40 – 18:00 KEYNOTE SPEAKER: Professor Ian Bateman, University of East Anglia
“Values and the environment: Bringing the natural world into economic decision making”
18:00 – 18:20 DISCUSSION insights from invited representatives of organisations with a nature conservation role
18:20 – 18:45 QUESTIONS from the audience
18:45 onwards MEET THE RESEARCHERS (tea and coffee served)