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The Green Life: Penny for a Thought, Trillions for a Planet

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October 21, 2008

Penny for a Thought, Trillions for a Planet

Giant redwoods, like these in Sequoia National Park, help moderate climate and provide other ecosystem services What's a planet worth? A decade ago, a University of Vermont professor valued nature's services at $33 trillion a year. Some economists called it an overestimate, while others said it was infinitely too low because we'd be goners without them. The ongoing shakeup of financial markets around the world offers an opportunity to update those old estimates--and factor ecosystems into economic calculations along with GDP, according to experts who spoke with Reuters for a piece on how "the worst financial crisis since the 1930s may be a chance to put price tags on nature in a radical economic rethink." We wrote yesterday about cries from a variety of camps for a revamp of international finance. Price tags could be a means to that end.

Of course, the idea of putting a cash value on nature is hardly new. The Natural Capital Project, a partnership of the Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment, launched back in 2006 with the mission of "aligning economic forces with conservation." As Triple Pundit put it this summer, "Economics is a force of nature. But just as importantly, nature is a force of economics. At least it should be."

Do you agree? Who do you think should decide what a marsh, forest, or atmosphere is worth?

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