Tony Juniper, a British environmentalist and former Director of Friends of The Earth, has traveled the globe to research his book on the relationship between the economy and nature. What Has Nature Ever Done For Us: How money Really Does Grow On Trees is his report on the link between current environmental issues and the economic costs of not addressing their connection.
Juniper basic thesis is that recognizing the relationship between nature and the economy can provide humankind with the tools to address climate change, use of resources, pollution and the rest of the ills of our planet earth. First he details the estimated cost of environmental destruction and loss of species, and then shows that proper accounting for the real costs, the externalities, will begin to slow the dangerous trends of our present accounting methods which treat nature as a “free” resource.
In reading the book one gets overwhelmed with the bad news of environmental destruction and pollution and only at the end does Juniper talk about “green accounting” which provides a way to put a real dollar figure on the cost of goods and services and gives some cause for hope!
Juniper starts each chapter with a set of statistics, the kind of numbers we find hard to comprehend because they are so large and are the type of number that makes us wonder about how they are derived. Nevertheless, they are the best estimates of the present condition of the earth. For example:”70 billion Euros-annual cost of nitrogen pollution in Europe” or “$6.6 billion-Annual Global Environmental Damage Caused by Human Activities”. What does one do with these numbers?
According to Juniper and progressive economists using “short term” analyses in accounting are the culprits especially with reference to nature as a source of capital which is being liquidated for free by most industries. Green Accounting includes the real costs of doing business.
Juniper concludes that we need a transition to a “bioeconomy”, a fusion between human economic development and nature. Fortunately there are more and more companies which understand that the choice between economic development and sustaining natural capital is a false one. Good business can do both simultaneously.
How to arrive at a common acceptance of these ideas is the question. And, surprisingly, Juniper looks to religion and advertising as the source of inspiration and education to find a solution to earth’s ills. No matter what one’s relationship with nature and the economy happens to be at present, reading this book should cause questions about how we can get out of the mess in which we presently find ourselves.