Lionel Dupond

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Will putting a value on nature help preserve the biodiversity?

In the last few years a considerable amount of research have been done to try to understand how much (in terms of money) do the nature offer to us through various products of ecosystems that we use in a daily basis like timbers, water, air, pollination...
The idea behind putting a value to the nature services is that it will help people at all level (politic, buisness, society) to understand concretly how much we depend on the good-functionning of ecosystems. Research in ecosystem function have shown that biodiversity was a key factor in the ecosystem functionning so in order to maintain what we are getting from the nature we need to protect biodiversity at all level (ecosystems, species and genes).
The good side of these effort is that it talks in a way every one can understand even the most stubborn politician, it talks with money. And so the great hope is that all these research will lead to ambitious policies from government but as well from buisnesses to protect the biodiversity.
The bad side is that this approach is purely human-based we give a price to something that is worthwhile solely to our species. This can lead to a wrong direction when we think about biodiversity, every actor will only think in terms of money and incomes and so if a species is critically endagered and if actual research do not give this species a value then nothing will be done to protect it.

So the question: should we put a value on nature? will it help protect biodiversity or will it lead to a wrong approach to ecosystems servies?
Waiting for your opinions.

  • Dec 29 2011: Not only does pricing every element of nature appear purely human-based, it assumes that this generation alone knows what the future will hold for our descendants 2,000 years from today. This kind of paradigm exists whenever we believe that one group of people has the implicit knowledge – without equivocation – as to what is best for literally every future human on this planet.

    Humans organize into communities. Our survival over tens of thousands of years resulted in local communities for mutual protection and to interact with other communities. We’ve done this successfully throughout our stay on earth and the proof of success is that we’re still alive, growing, reproducing and adapting.

    Pricing nature seeks to halt that progress by thinking only for those alive today and, at best the next generation or two. We tend to think too small and assume all that we know today is the apex of our knowledge.

    Instead of creating more reasons for war through resource envy why not continue to grow by being good stewards of the abundance we have; using our skills to improve our stewardship and expand what is available. The best way to do this is to allow each community to decide what works best for them and then share those ideas among other communities. Monolithic and oppressive power by a few (heaven forbid, a one-world government) will only hasten our demise.

    It behooves us to use what we need as efficiently as possible and strive to find additional resources to continue our growth. We have many tools in our toolbox. Let’s realize that we exist to propagate and that means using resources available to us. We often forget the cost of saving certain aspects of nature and that mankind is also part of the natural process.

    Each human on earth is nature's banker - we don't need just one!
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      Dec 29 2011: Very interesting comment. I agree that since our knowledge is constantly evolving, especially in the field of ecosystem services which is not yet fully understood, it is very difficult to put a price on nature services. I do believe that the pricing of nature must be a very careful process involving all stakeholder (state, scientific, private corporation, public) and this pricing should be flexible over time. There is an urgent need to protect effectively not only pandas and dolphins because they are beautiful but whole ecosystems.
      Your proposition of leaving each community to decide for its own good can work for certain cases but nowadays every community is interlinked by globalization and actions taken in what part of the globe can affect ecosystems in other part of the world. In certain case there is a need for dialogue and solution agreed by every stakeholder affected by these issues. However I join you on the point that the best solution to preserve biodiversity will be taken at the local level in each community. Citizen implication in this process is needed.
  • Dec 21 2011: Putting a price on things never makes people more aware, on the contrary it drives people away, furthering the neglect and feeling of responsability. We need to bring nature and Man together, force people to perform activities, have them experience moments that will connect them to nature, that is the only true way to get people to care. Most enviromentally friendly people are those who grew up with nature, who lived with it, experienced it and therefore they understand its importance.
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      Dec 23 2011: The distance that our way of living have created between humans and environment as contributed in the late raise of public awareness concerning the value of the biospehere. I do share your view every individual should feel responsable for its actions affecting our environment. Yet putting a value on ecosystems services will allow a better communication towards buisnesses who play a major role in affecting the biosphere. And so relevant and efficient policies will be developped earlier than without this process. In parallel to this new form of communication education toward the public must be further developped yet I am optimistic in the last few years the interest towards nature and biodiversity have increased.
  • Dec 29 2011: Let's be clear; my community may need water from our local river. To the extent that impacts other communities along the river I agree that they need to be involved. However, communities half way around the world saying that diversion of river water in my community will affect the overall global ecosystem is a argument not worth discussing. That is why global "symposium rule", seeking to control every aspect of life in every corner on the planet is not a sustainable proposition. Life will always proceed forward and to limit resources to one group to the benefit of others will not endure for long.
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    Dec 28 2011: This is a complex issue. Al Gore speaks of Global warming and yet flies a plane that pollutes at large rates, has two homes that eat vast amounts of electricity and are not in any form green, his interest in this situation is greed. He is a name for the cause without any dedication to the cause. In Arizona the lumber industry was halted by the Mexican spotted owl. Its habitate is from Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and all of Mexico yet it was considered endangered in Arizona. It is not native to this state and is in abundance else where. I state these examples to make the point that we have become confused as to what the real facts are and why we are being persuaded to believe as others desire. If the Snail Darter can only live in a two mile span of the river in California how can it survive in the zoo tanks. The Snail Darter shut down a major growing area in California. I now have doubts about things that matter. I can no longer trust the opinions of others and do my own analysis of the arguments. Money is the reason for and against all arguments. It is seldom for the common good. We need management of the ecosystem. However, the managers will all have an agenda either at the federal, state, of local levels.
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    Dec 24 2011: If human beings need to place monetary value on nature and biodiversity in order to respect its importance, we may have a bigger problem at hand than we think. What we as a country (and as a species) need to do is take a looooonnnggggg look in the mirror in order to set our priorities straight.
  • Dec 24 2011: Many points to be made here. We need to stop acting like there is an ecosystem out there and realize we are as a species a very large part of it. Bees live in hives made from regurgitated substrates found only in the form it is because of bees and yet nobody prosecutes them for ruining the environment. Everything humans have done IN the ecosystem not TO it are not irreversible or even perversions of nature. We are nature and all the materials we use to create our societies have come from nature. We are apex predators that through ensuring our own well being have put many other competitor species at risk or killed off outright. %99.99 of species that ever lived are now extinct according to our fossil record and humans aren't responsible for it all. Many animals have made other species extinct in the course of natural selection and nobody calls those animals immoral or unethical. Change drives evolution and we need to be comfortable with that. We are simply afraid that the ecosystem will become unlivable to US if we change it to much which is the checks and balances system that nature is sure to implement. When resources get low, people will die out. Then resources replenish, and population increases. The problem fixes itself.

    Attaching a hyper-inflating fiat currency with no intrinsic value to a complex system with self regulating emergent qualities is a good way to make guilt ridden tax payers further enslaved to a fascist government all in the name of buying back the environment to save non-adaptive species.
  • Dec 20 2011: Nice question. Not until we ALL learn to become aware and responsible for our own actions. As " free will " individuals nothing has a value till it affects us personally.
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    Dec 20 2011: Lionel & Fellow TEDster

    Many of the modern ocnsituons being darfted affirm te nations stewardship for naure now and for future generations.

    Here is Artoicle 23 Icelands crowdsourced Constitution written by 25 ordinary citizens in full transparency with nationwide dail particpation.

    Article 33.
    Nature and environment of Iceland
    Iceland’s nature constitutes the basis for life in the country. All shall respect and protect it.
    All shall by law be accorded the right to a healthy environment, fresh water, unpolluted air and unspoiled nature. This means that the diversity of life and land must be maintained and nature’s objects of value, uninhabited areas, vegetation and soil shall enjoy protection. Earlier damages shall be repaired as possible.
    The use of natural resources shall be such that their depletion will be minimised in the long term and that the right of nature and coming generations be respected.
    The right of the public to travel in the country for lawful purposes with respect for nature and the environment shall be ensured by law.

    Th preamble I belive references both diversity of culture and of bio diversity as universal national commitments.

    It takes this kind of binding affirmation I think to insure a framework of enterprise and law and technology that must be accountable to bio diversity and natural resources.
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      Dec 21 2011: Admirable points, perhaps more easily managed in a country like Iceland, with a population somewhat smaller than Santa Ana, California. This is still a draft Constitution. It remains to be seen how it looks after the politicians get their hands on it.

      Most countries (perhaps including Iceland) do not have the tradition of applying the constitution directly as law, as we often do in the U.S. Rather, the constitution is seen as a framework for law to be written. This tends to permit a freer and more general expression in the constitution, without much fear that lawyers will try to twist each word into its n'th hypothetical meaning.
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        Dec 21 2011: Hi Paul,

        I am not sure size matters....

        They had 25 we would have that many more but I love the process, its transparaency and the inviattion for everyone toparticpate online.

        Beautiful new Constituons that are "conviviocracies", democraies with stewardship built in are law in Brussles, in name two that I admire. Both address nature and th eownership/stewardship for natural resources.

        Would love to have you come and explore this further at the current TED conversation:

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    Dec 19 2011: Hi lIonel,

    I hadn't noticed you had started this conversation and it is an excellent question.

    First as we are discussing at my conversation on updating our constitutions achieving a long lasting and sustainable relationship with nature and biodiversity isn't possible unless it is expressed in a permamnet and enduring way that will be handed down generation to generation as is the intent with national constiutions. Ecudaprs poetic new consitution does this beauaifully.

    The earth we are learning is a much more complex system that we have understood..We don't really understan how what we do on the shores of my siland here, in my esruary here on my property affect waters and speciesfar from here, for wha part of the earths total population of a given species a parrtaicular area is the wolrd's nursery. We don't underdtand how vast wet areas like ours in northern Maine or tose in the amazon afffect weather appterns and in turn habit for us and the earths many creatures. We don;t even understand and are just beginning to glimpos the dramatic and unforseen abundance of previously iukonwn species that have been sharing earth with us modern humans and have been here billions of years

    It seems clear we cant wait ntil we have mastered the entire eco system to make aglobal commitment to stewardship for bio diversity perhaps in something as simple as ackowledging that and committing to not take any action which acceleraes depeltion of any species.

    Secondly and I hope something that will be developed in depth here..we are learning that there is no iherent conflict between prserving nature and bio diversity and havng food security, technology, a thrievable balanced economy. What is wrong is we have chosen to live as if technology and development automatically took precednce over considerations of nature and bio diversity. .
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    Dec 18 2011: Thank you for joining the discussion;
    The idea of having a same price everywhere taking into account the natural value is quite challenging. The implementation of such a project will be quite a longtime issue. I believe that the idea of a same fair price decided not by market speculation but by true value and by a non-profit worldwide organisation is good. Yet I don't think that biodiversity and ecosystem services can wait that long enduring increasing pressure through unsustainable use and global change.
    One of the main advantage of this 'nature market" is that it could yield significant result on a short time frame. On the other hand I fear that if we start thinking in biodiversity as a market product very bad stuff will happen on the long-term. We need to find a balance between the urgence of the situation and the possible effect of such a philosophy.
  • Dec 18 2011: In my opinion is a good way, to be practical.In a society where is demonstrated daily thats nature is secondary(being first money),:We need to knows, society needs to know what the value of nature.The paradoxe is that, probably the value will be different depending in where u are, same as a coca-cola( 1 euro in Madrid, 20 cents in Jakarta).I think it should be a worldwide org, who decides a Universal price for the resources...Well men this is very interesting!!I dont have an anwers,and i will have something to think about tonigh!jeje;)