Friday, 8 November 2013

More out than in - outside physics, is it possible?

Yesterday in the Guardian, Tim Smedley reports on the forthcoming forum on Natural Capital Accounting. Link to the article here

It's an interesting feature, not least for the comments which follow it, which are clearly considered and sophisticated (so far!). Included among which is the response from the group setting up a 'counter forum, in the same city, Edinburgh, at the same time; 'Nature is not for sale'.

Lord Aaron's comment in the feed at the bottom of the article brings up one of the more significant problems in the area of Natural Capital Accounting: that it is placing a financial price on Natural Capital (the article cites the groundbreaking work done by Puma since 2010), and thereby making Nature marketable (in other words, natural assets can be traded, and 'environmental offsets' can become tradeable capital resources. If this were the direction that NCA goes into, it's easy to see that the Environment is likely to lose out again to vested interested/creative accounting, where it substitutes for accountability.

But it seems also that NCA can have a role to play. As the article shows, it becomes possible to place a relative price and cost against a return from exploitation. This in turn allows us to see where resources are being exploited rather than used Resourcefully- in other words, more is lost in the transition from the prime resource to the tradeable commodity, or product, than is gained in the short term. You can see where this could be of benefit, not just to the Corporates who now appear to be recognising that unsustainable exploitation means precisely that they cannot sustain, even in the mid-term, the end product which is the basis of their capital wealth and added value. And losing their core supply, even shifting the balance of Demand/supply, will hurt their businesses moving forward.

For a long time now, Many Environmentalists have been deeply suspicious of moves to subsume the World's natural resources into a discussion of Economy, of 'putting a price on Nature'. What the argument has often boiled down to is that the Value of a Natural Resource lies in more than the dollar signs against it - the price. And this in turn is driven by a division in the ways in which people view Nature and the World: whether it is something for us humans to use (you could call this the 'Genesis' perception), or is something to which we belong and for which we, as the species which can damage it, or unbalance it, have a duty of care (the 'Stewardship perception).

All of which relates to the principle of Resourcefulness. In particular, it serves to demonstrate why Resourcefulness must be about more than resources. It is good that someone is working hard to challenge the implicit presumptions or potential hazards embedded within Natural Capital Accounting, but sadly, for the organisation involved, the brute reality is that, whilst it can be argued that Nature should not be for sale, in fact, as a basis of the means of production, it is.

There is a temporal perspective to be considered here in relation to these matters - for climate debaters, the principle of 'trash now, pay later' is one of the monsters being strongly fought, consistently. Scientists try to tell politicians and the public what they are letting themselves in for, and then get berated for 'alarmism', because narrow focussed eyes don't look far enough down the line to account for the consequences of choosing net present profit over projected loss.

There is also a philosophical/existential principle, but this is a little harder to summarise briefly, so will have to wait for another post. It is about what it means to be human, in the World, with Others, and also about the concept of 'home' and its significance to us.

A parting thought. A while back, someone might have realised that Dodo represented a potentially valuable commodity as a foodstuff, like turkeys, for example, but to make it so, the supply chain would have needed preserving. Hungry sailors didn't tend to think that way.