POOL New / Reuters
Keeping ecosystems healthy prevents climate disasters, saves money and improves resiliency.
Tetra Images - Daniel Grill via Getty Images
Putting a price tag on nature is challenging. Some people don't believe it can be done. Some people hate the idea of it. Most will have no idea what it means. But there are new and emerging approaches to help us put a price on the services that forests, wetlands and grasslands provide to Canadians.
Across Canada, towns and cities face a one-two punch: aging infrastructure and the extreme weather climate change brings. Unless we do something, many of our roads, railways, transit lines, bridges, stormwater pipes and other built structures could become obsolete.
More than half the planet's people now live in urban areas. The need to supply food, shelter, fresh water and energy to billions of urban residents is resulting in loss of farmland, forests, wetlands and other ecosystems, as well as the critical ecological services they support, like providing food, clean air and drinking water. growing number of jurisdictions have responded by enacting strong land-use policies to protect farmland and green space through sound urban planning
More than 13 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product depends on healthy ecosystems, according to Environment Canada. it seems absurd to try to assign worth to something so vital we can't survive without it. Who needs nature? We do. Without nature, we would not be here. How do we put an economic value on that?
We can't live without birds. Beyond being fascinating and beautiful, they play a crucial role in keeping the world habitable for all life, including people. They disperse seeds, pollinate plants, control insects, provide food and are indicators of the overall health of ecosystems. One in eight -- or 1,313 -- species of Earth's birds is in danger of disappearing.
News of the devastating floods in Alberta hit Canadians hard. While calls are mounting for the need to rebuild and strengthen infrastructure such as dikes, storm-water management systems and stream-channel diversion projects, we've overlooked one of our best climate change-fighting tools: nature.
If we value local food and want to maintain the critical benefits that nature provides, we must put food and water first. That's why we're calling on municipalities and provincial governments to redouble their efforts to protect our remaining farmland and green space from costly, polluting urban sprawl.
Alamy, AP, Getty
Have you ever thought about the grass that grows in sidewalk cracks? To survive these conditions is a testament to the plants' resilience. Within this complex urban ecosystem, species are constantly adapting. Yet, while some of our feathered friends and crevice-loving plants have been adapting, the speed and scale of urbanization in Canada has pushed many native species to the brink of extinction.
According to an article in the New York Times, "emerging diseases have quadrupled in the last half-century." The increase is mainly due to human encroachment into and destruction of wildlife habitat. For example, one study concluded that a four per cent increase in Amazon deforestation led to a 50 per cent increase in malaria because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the cleared areas.
Most people understand the concept of financial capital. We pay for things we find valuable. But how much is our natural capital worth? According to the David Suzuki Foundation's research, the 7,000-square-kilometre Ontario Greenbelt provides at least $2.6 billion in non-market benefits each year. We wouldn't let a bank get away with losing our life savings. We shouldn't let decision-makers off the hook when they allow our natural wealth to be squandered.
Governments set priorities, many of them based on where they allocate money and resources. In Canada, governments have promoted the idea that a strong economy is the most important consideration and that to have prosperity we must put the interests of corporations above those of citizens. This is backwards.
We are sacrificing too much to a system driven by three fallacies: that well-being can only be measured in money, that distribution does not matter, and that the economy can grow forever. And like so many people today, I question whether our economic system is serving the goals that are important to society.