What value does the environment have?

Ray Côté
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Burnside Eco-Efficiency

There have been some interesting discussions of late about...

There have been some interesting discussions of late about the environment in Nova Scotia. I won't cover all of them because they have been too numerous, but I can think of the debate in Kings' County about large wind turbine farms, the expansion of aquaculture in southern and southwestern Nova Scotia, the concern over the sale of Bowater lands and the discussion of an urban forest in Halifax.

In a local paper recently, Peter Duinker of Dalhousie University's School for Resource and Environmental Studies spoke about the ecological, economic and social values of trees to the population living in a city.

When you think about any of the issues that have been raised recently across Nova Scotia, it seems we aren't taking the time to properly and comprehensively value the resources we may be compromising or losing when a particular decision is taken. In most instances there are both short term and long term values that must be considered.

There are also local and provincial values that must be considered. There's no question that times are tough for many Nova Scotians, but if we only take short term and local considerations into account, we will be compromising the future for our children and grandchildren. This isn't an argument for saying NO! to any development that comes along. It's a call for open and responsible consideration of decisions.

There are now some major international efforts underway to find better ways to value the environment and its ecological services. We can't compromise those services because they will negatively affect our economic, social and environmental well being in the future.

One project is titled "Valuing the Arc". Among other things, it's attempting to understand the services that watersheds provide in several parts of the world and determine what equitable payments might be for those services. But it is taking a comprehensive approach by considering water, carbon, biodiversity, timber and non-timber forest products and agriculture in these watersheds.

Another project is the "Natural Capital Project" of Stanford University, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). It's also working on valuing ecosystem services in water catchment areas.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, among other organizations, has also been looking into identifying and valuing ecosystem services as something the corporate world should be addressing if it's truly concerned about sustainability. As we move forward, we definitely need a better understanding of what we're gaining and what we're losing when resource or planning decisions are made. The ecological services on which we all depend – whether as homeowners, business people or simply taxpayers – require that we don't discount the value of resources and services in the future.

Ray Côté is a Senior Research Fellow with the Eco-Efficiency Centre, and Professor Emeritus with the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University.


Organizations: Dalhousie University, Bowater, School for Resource Stanford University World Wide Fund for Nature WWF World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Halifax

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