economic activity destroys the capability of ecosystems to sustain life
support systems, our future generations will pay a very heavy cost.
Some ecosystem services have an almost infinite
value. Those that maintain the oxygen in the air we breathe, the quality
of the water we drink and the fertility of the soil that produces our
food are so basic to supporting life itself that these cannot even be
Some ecosystem services are quite obvious and even
visible. These are relatively easy to appreciate: fish, game, fruits and
nuts from the wild. Many crops are pollinated by bees, butterflies, bats
and other natural processes without which much of our food would be too
expensive to produce. Maintaining the local micro-climate, controlling
the spread of crop pests and diseases and binding the soil to prevent
erosion are other services that ecosystems provide.
Less well known are the invisible services such as
those that regulate the flow of nutrients through the ecosystem –
nitrogen, carbon, phosphorus, sulphur and the rest. Without these, life
itself let alone crops, forests, grasslands, mangroves, corals would not
Ecosystem services are responsible for regulating,
recharging and purifying our water bodies and help in mitigating floods,
droughts and natural disasters. They are also required for producing
timber, fuel, fodder and providing fibre for our industries.
Ecosystems are well-known for other services that are
greatly valued by people: as habitats for biodiversity and migratory
species; as enablers of ecotourism and many sports and recreational
activities; and as sources of cultural values in the form of aesthetic
beauty and intellectual stimulation.
Our economic systems do not fully acknowledge the
value of such ecosystem services. Both as stocks (equivalent to primary
wealth) and as flows (equivalent to the returns from that wealth treated
as an investment), they are almost entirely neglected in our
calculations of economic activity, GNP, stock market indices or other
such parameters. Since they do not appear in any economic models, they
are neglected by economists and therefore by policy makers.
The current crisis of climate change, oil, water
scarcity, food price fluctuations, financial systems and many others
amply demonstrate the dangers inherent in such a neglect. Designing
strategies for sustainable development requires a much better
understanding of nature’s services on the part of every concerned
‘Nature-tech’ technologies inspired by nature are
among the most tantalising prospects for realising a low carbon,
resource-efficient Green Economy in the 21