There is a dangerous misconception that we have a choice between ecology and economic development. It comes from the White House, from No.10, from business – that nature and regulations to protect nature are a drag on business. But 100% of our services comes originally from nature – soil, biodiversity, water, resources.
“What has nature ever done for us?” Soil: food, carbon sinks and processing of pollution. Oceans: free food and jobs, powered by algae, carbon sinks, plankton helping to generate rain clouds. Overfishing and acidification are affecting the ecosystems. Upland peak bogs filter water for 10 million people in Bogota. The Catskills filter water for New York, saving £billions off water bills. Cloud forest ecosystems harvest moisture from clouds into the sub-soil sponge and into rivers that still supply Dar Es Salaam during the dry season. Ecosystems protect us from flooding. Remove forests and peat bogs, and flooding events become exponentially more serious, costing us £billions. Compare Hurricanes Katrina (killed 1,600) and Rita (killed 7 people a few weeks later about 400km down the coast). Katrina went ashore in an area where the natural coastal protection systems were degraded and destroyed.
One example… Vultures are becoming extinct in India due to chemicals injected into cows. 40 million vultures used to eat millions of tons of putrefying meat in the coutryside. But they have died and have been replaced by feral dogs, which are by no means fluffy pets. Higher incidence of rabies among this dog population leads to 50,000 extra deaths and a loss of $34 billion each year. [Hoping I’m reporting the right numbers – don’t quote me!]
Another example… Great tits eat caterpillars in Dutch apple orchards. 50% of the apple crop was found to be down to the activities of these birds. A lot cheaper and less damaging than chemicals.
We are developing all sorts of technologies based on what we have learnt from birds, animals and soils. Pollination is worth £billions. But it also highlights how nature is so interconnected. We should not just think in terms of protecting nature, although it has intrinsic value and does need protecting for its own sake. But we need to embed nature and its connections in all economic activities and systems, and in education and learning.