The Price of Ecosystem Services and Well Being in The United States

Julie Beal
Activist Post

After years of woolly talk about sustainability, things are about to get very specific. Instead of just aiming for vague ‘eco-friendliness’, all the goods, and all the bads, related to the environment, and society, are to be quantified, and given a price. These prices are to be part of each country’s overall GDP value, and each company’s accounts. Landowners around the world, including the U.S., are now being paid money for such things as the value of a fly, or shade created by trees. Various ‘ecosystem service credits’, and other instruments, such as Green Bonds, are now being traded. This is the marketplace for ecosystem services.

Since most of the readers of my articles appear to live in the U.S., this article will focus on the trade in ecosystem services (ES) that’s being established there. Bear in mind, though, that almost every country in the world is endorsing this scheme – including Iran, Iraq, China, Japan, Russia, and Afghanistan – oh, yeah, and J P Morgan and Goldman Sachs. And all the top corporations. And World Bank, and the U.N. And the WEF, and the CoFR . . . and, well, the list is too long to go on. So it really ought to get your attention. It certainly got mine. And I smell a rat.

The honed definition of ‘sustainability’ is now the balancing of good v. bad. The good is done by the methods you’ve all heard of, such as reducing carbon, and pollution, recycling, etc., but it also includes ‘social good’, the new corporate ethic, achieved through increasing the ‘well-being’ of people. These are all defined as ‘assets’ because they are productive – they add value to the economy, so they are given a price. The same is done to the ‘liabilities’, which are (negative) externalities such as pollution, and other ‘negative impacts’ on people or the earth. They are priced, and accounted for, along with the brand new capital assets.

This new global paradigm goes back at least to the 1970s, as can be seen in the Rockefeller Brothers’ Fund report, ‘The Unfinished Agenda.’ It is being sold by the United Nations under the banner ‘going beyond GDP’, and by corporations who are advocating ‘natural capital accounting’. (Please refer to other articles I have written for more information and links for research.)

Why should you care about all this? Because the ethics defined by the elite will be inflicted on you. You will only get by (earn credits for food, water, energy, etc.) if you conform, and are fit and healthy, so that you can be PRODUCTIVE, and therefore add to society.

How much are you worth?

And how much do you consume?

Can you justify your existence here, or are you just a “useless eater”?

This affects us all, so read on. It takes to time to explain, because it’s such a long story. This article will simply attempt to explain what it all means, and what’s happening in the U.S.

Work had already begun on satellite accounts for natural resources when President Clinton gave a speech for Earth Day in 1993, in which he pledged to give “high priority to the development of  Green GDP measures [that] would incorporate changes in the natural environment into the calculations of national income and wealth.” (Source)

The Office of Environmental Markets (OEM) was established in 2008, and the United States Department of Agriculture states that the OEM,

… supports the Secretary in the development of emerging markets for water quality, carbon sequestration, wetlands, biodiversity, and other ecosystem services. Environmental markets have the potential to become a new economic driver for rural America. 

OEM was established in response to the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, America’s Farm Bill. Section 2709 of the Conservation Title directs the Secretary to facilitate the participation of America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners in environmental markets. (Source)

In 2010, an article at environmental reported the OEM would be part of “the USDA’s Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) mission area”, working closely with the USDA Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, to develop a marketplace for ecosystem services.

Harris Sherman, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment, remarked,

Over the past several years, USDA has seen great advances in ecosystem services research and market potential…. We will build on this innovation and coordinate across USDA and with our partners to develop these promising new markets.(Source)

Measuring and accounting for ecosystem services creates numerous assets from countless aspects of nature and people. Ecotourism is a highly profitable resource (a ‘benefit’), and so the cost of aesthetically pleasing views, and other such considerations, are already being factored into local planning policies, and the cost of houses.

The Hill Country Alliance (HCA) is working to advance a flourishing ES marketplace in the Central Texas Hill Country. They believe,

Regional planning policies must consider placing real value on ecosystem services with policies that encourage and reward private landowners to stay on their land and take care of it in a manner that benefits society . . . Ecosystem services can generally be separated into four categories: provisioning (food, water, energy); regulating (carbon storage, waste decomposition, water purification); supporting (nutrient recycling); and cultural (outdoor recreation). In order to benefit from ecosystem services, the ecosystem itself must be maintained. This can be challenging in places where development, natural resource exploitation and other human activities drastically alter the landscape, uprooting native plants and wildlife, damaging water quality or polluting the air (Source) 

Sander and Haight used data from 5,094 home sales that occurred in Dakota County in 2005 to evaluate how much people were willing to pay for non-material benefits that humans obtain from ecosystems such as increased aesthetic quality, access to outdoor recreation, and neighborhood tree cover. The findings are not surprising – people are willing to pay more for better views of water and lawn, a higher percentage of tree cover, and better access to outdoor recreation areas. 

For example, Dakota County home buyers were willing to pay $200–500 more per 10 percent increase in tree cover in their surrounding neighborhood. That willingness to pay represents an important portion of the economic value of services associated with urban trees: the portion that contributes directly to tax bases. 

Putting a price on people’s value of natural resources is useful in evaluating land-use policy, according to Sander, an Assistant Professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Geography. “Urban planning has to take into account a variety of competing interests,” Sander said. “Our intent was to develop a method for using easily accessible information to better understand homeowners’ willingness to pay for cultural ecosystem services. This could improve the ability of urban planners to consider these competing interests.” (Source)

Ecosystem services include genetic resources, and everything we need for life. A report by the Katoomba Group explains,

It puts a value on endangered species and habitat, turning them into marketable assets. It puts a cost on the fly for those who would harm it, and at the same time it creates a value for those who would conserve it. It is this marvelous alchemy — turning cost into value, liability into asset — that may ultimately allow society to preserve biodiversity…. 

….. Since the mid-1980s, the United States has had a series of functioning biodiversity markets worth more than $3 billion a year. This system is currently the largest and most well-established experiment on Earth on creating biodiversity markets. Although these are markets involving the private sector, it is government that makes these markets possible. 

The system that makes the flower-loving fly worth real cold, hard cash begins with government regulation. Indeed, it has its roots in two very important U.S. laws: the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Endangered Species Act, both passed in the 1970s. 

Although the CWA is basically designed to prevent the dumping of chemicals into the nation’s rivers, it is also in some respects a rather innovative biodiversity law — thanks to section 404, which attempts to prevent the placement of dredged and filling materials into the “waters of the US.” 

Anyone wishing to dredge or fill a wetland considered of national importance in the United States must first obtain a permit through a program administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The benefits of ecosystem services also include ‘increasing human well-being’; in the Boise Foothills, the $ value has been calculated for benefits such as “community cohesion” (social capital), property values, and health benefits. For instance, based on the assumption that the yearly cost of medical care for an active adult are, “on average, $351 less than an inactive adult”, (more for those aged 61 and over), it is claimed the Boise Foothills helped the trail users save a total of $390,312 in 2011. (Source)

USDA Forest Service, and Defenders of Wildlife, gave a presentation on market-based approaches for managing ecosystem services, suggesting that wetland mitigation and species conservation is a market which would be regulated by a number of state agencies, and the EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. The speakers identified the buyers of ES as being “developers, private business, state DOT, public agencies”, while sellers are either owners of land such as forests and farms, or banks. The following quote from the presentation sums it up well – the idea is to:

Shift our thinking from conservation as a burden or endangered species habitat as a liability to restoration and stewardship of ecosystem services as a profit making enterprise. (Source)

The Willamette Partnership is the main player in establishing an Ecosystem Marketplace throughout the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. In a report on the provisioning of ES, they identify the regulators of natural resources as being “the primary players in ecosystem markets”, and go on to note that,

… individual markets are growing rapidly in terms of trade volume and environmental significance. In 2006, $30 billion moved through the global carbon market. Nationally, wetland mitigation banking is worth $235 million. In the Mid-Willamette Valley, there is more than $30 million in unmet wetland credit demand and point sources throughout the Basin are preparing to spend millions to comply with the new Total Maximum Daily Load. This level of investment from multiple buyers and sellers warrants more coordinated and transparent system to generate, verify, register and exchange ecosystem service credits.

Remember, though, this is about much more than ‘wetland mitigation’ – ecosystem services include every single benefit we gain from nature, and that includes food, water, air, and other resources such as oil, gas, and chemicals, as well as the services generated using these resources. Sooooo . . . everything really . . . .

Marketplaces for ES have been established across the U.S., such as Oregon and Texas. Dow Chemical is collaborating with the Nature Conservancy in Texas to measure and price ecosystem services (see ‘A Breakthrough Collaboration: The Economics of Ecosystems’ here), and are urging other businesses to do the same, as a way to boost profits. Dow and the Dow Chemical Company Foundation have contributed $10 million to the scheme. (Source)

According to Dow’s Neil Dawkins,

As a human family and global economy, we must recognise nature’s value in economic terms. …. It is time to create a new global “balance sheet” where nature has a dollar value in the asset column. 

Dow combines the power of science and technology to passionately innovate what is essential to human progress, connecting chemistry and innovation with the principles of sustainability to help address many of the world’s most challenging problems such as the need for clean water, renewable energy generation and conservation, and increasing agricultural productivity. Dow’s diversified portfolio of speciality chemical, advanced materials, agrosciences and plastics businesses delivers a broad range of technology-based to customers in approximately 160 countries in sectors such as electronics, water, energy, coatings and agriculture.” (Source)

A presentation at the ACES (A Community on Ecosystem Services) conference in December, 2012, highlighted the number of federal agencies now involved with research related to ecosystem services, using measurements based on the U.N.’s 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment categories; they include the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of the Interior (DOI), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Transportation (DOT), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). (Source)

www.OffgridOutpost.comAnother conference held this year, hosted by the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (University of Florida) was supported by the USDA Office of Environmental Markets, the EPA, the World Resources Institute, the Dept of Agriculture, the American Forest Foundation, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Moore Foundation, and several other organisations.

Also, the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank hosted a Natural Capital Accounting workshop in Washington DC, supported by the TEEB for Business Coalition, and the Institute of Chartered Accountants England and Wales (ICAEW). Dow gave a talk about their work with the Nature Conservancy, and “… Goldman Sachs and Citigroup highlighted the growing need for natural capital risk management and disclosure” (Source)

A 2009 report by the Moore Foundation gives a succinct and informative overview of the market for ES, and notes,

Primary sector businesses focus on the extraction of raw materials and have the most direct impact on the environment. They also have the most economic dependence on specific ecosystems and services. As such, primary sector business-driven decisions often include the conservation of services, even in the absence of policy. Mondi, BC Hydro, Rio Tinto, and Syngenta all helped develop and pilot the WRI’s “Corporate Ecosystem Services Review” methodology. They have each subsequently changed their business practices based on pilot findings. …… Syngenta, an agribusiness corporation, used the tool to understand the risks its farming customers in southern India faced from degrading land management practices. In response, the company began offering improved pest management services, a change in seed mix to more water-efficient crops, and increased training in best practices. These steps improved their customers’ farming practices, as well as farm production and profitability. (Hanson et al., 2008)

The precise way that governments and corporations keep accounts of ES, and who owns what, was contested by the US government in their comments regarding the draft document released by the U.N. (‘Experimental Ecosystem Accounting’) earlier this year despite the fact that the responses of most governments were favorable. However, there were a number of criticisms from the US government, such as questioning the way ES are measured (“ecosystem accounting units”) and the precise way that governments and corporations keep accounts of ES, and who owns what, i.e. who the beneficiaries are.

It is also well worth noting that the U.S. Senate has failed to ratify its signature of the Convention on Biological Diversity, adopted in Rio in 1992, even though 192 nations are now parties. Nor has the U.S. signed the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, which “seeks to protect biological diversity from the potential risks posed by living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology”. (Source)

Nonetheless, the U.S. is playing to the tune of the U.N., as are most countries around the world. Earlier this year, the U.N. Report of the Committee of Experts on Environmental Economic Accounting included Dennis Fixler, from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, as a member of the Editorial Board. There is also strong support for ecosystem accounting from ICLEI, and the supra-national GLOBE International organisation, which includes legislators from the U.S.

Meanwhile, the whole ‘natural capital assets’ idea is allowing the rich to buy up the assets now, to get their foot in the door of the new world order, where they will claim to be the Guardians of the Earth, ‘green’ and caring, protecting us all, now and forever.

This article first appeared at Get Mind Smart

Julie Beal is a UK-based independent researcher who has been studying the globalist agenda for more than 20 years. Please visit her website, Get Mind Smart, for a wide range of information about Agenda 21, Communitarianism, Ethics, Bioscience, and much more.

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