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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Environmentalists are often stereotyped as unrealistic idealists who make impossible demands on society, especially when financial issues are involved. But there is a group of environmentalists at the forefront of an innovative approach that uses capitalism as a tool for conservation. This "new economy of nature" integrates the ecosystem services -- carbon storage, water purification, genetic diversity, and many others that have been considered "free" -- into the world of business.
When the quality of New York City's water supply was threatened some years back, two choices presented themselves: building an expensive new water treatment plant or protecting the watershed. Cost analysis actually showed watershed protection to be the more financially attractive alternative. In this case the city compensated the communities of upstate New York for taking the necessary measures, such as building new storm sewers, that would allow the watershed to continue providing healthful drinking water for downstate city dwellers.
Other entrepreneurs want to go straight to the heart of the beast by selling carbon credits on the stock market. Although the success of this particular venture depends on governmental legislation to guarantee the value of the credits, carbon credits would give a real-time dollar value to living forests -- which store carbon in their trunks -- to counter their value as timber. Companies that burn carbon would buy credits as an offset to governmental caps. One danger would be the growing of monoculture tree farms as carbon sinks. To offset this, biodiversity credits are being developed alongside the carbon credits to give additional value to native habitat.
The authors, a scientist and a journalist, bring a sense of realistic optimism to these early efforts. Despite some setbacks, the new economy of nature holds a promise for the future -- one where all the intangible reasons for saving nature blend with the tangible -- so that nature will not have to rely on charity. (Laura Wood)
Laura Wood is the Barnes & Noble.com Science & Nature editor.