valuation matters

Though we’ve touched upon the concept of valuation in class, I’ve never been able to understand it fully. What formulas would one use to calculate the value of, say, the Salt Marsh in Marine Park? According to NYC Parks and Rec, “Salt marshes play a critical role in the support of human life, acting as natural filtration systems by trapping pollutants that would otherwise contaminate our bays and oceans. Salt marshes have the ability to absorb fertilizers, improve water quality, and reduce erosion. They are also among the richest wildlife habitats.”* They also protect the coast against destructive weather. Salt marshes are important, yes, but how would one even begin to quantify that?

Thankfully, I’ve got 8 pages of scholarly reading to help me process it all. Indeed, Costanza¬†goes into great detail about the methods used to calculate the monetary value of ecological goods and services.

Costanza begins by presenting the term “natural capital,” which refers to the many benefits humans reap from nature. He points out that the costs of creating artificial substitutes for all this natural capital would be through the roof.

Costanza then asserts that valuation is a necessary and valid exercise. Simply put, it draws attention to the issue at hand and makes people reconsider their actions. Valuation ensures accountability.

Though I figured that the money generated or saved by protecting ecosystem services would go into the economy, Costanza states that this is not necessarily true. There’s no guarantee that we will prosper or that our economy will flourish. This may be why ecologically-friendly policies are so far and few in between. If the financial prospects are grim, why would the government invest in such a project?

Technically speaking, we literally cannot live without some of these ecosystem services. If biomes across the world continue to sustain anthropogenic damage, then we may not be able to reverse or even remedy the effects.

The numbers on Table 2 are worrisome in and of themselves. According to Costanza’s section about errors and limitations, we’re supposed to assume that the given numbers are much lower than the actual values. Meaning, if we were to destroy the South Shore Estuary in Long Island in favor of building shorefront condominiums, we would lose more than $22,832 per hectare per year. (Or, at least, that would have been the value in 1994. This study’s a little old, but the point still stands.) Said estuary plays a major role in New York’s fishing industry. It also has aesthetic and historic value, making it a hotspot for tourists. Lastly, countless specifies of wildlife are dependent on this estuary as a safe breeding grounds.~

But essentially, what it boils down to is this: valuation helps those who are more numbers-oriented to see ecosystem services in a new light.

*http://www.nycgovparks.org/parks/marinepark/highlights/11226

~http://water.epa.gov/type/oceb/nep/about.cfm

Note: I think I read Table 2 correctly but if anybody sees an issue with my interpretation please feel free to correct me! I’m so bad at numbers.

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