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Ocean Degradation’s $2 Trillion Price Tag - Sierra Daily
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Sierra Daily

Apr 09, 2012

Ocean Degradation’s $2 Trillion Price Tag

Valuing the oceanAttaching a numerical value to nature can seem, well, unnatural. But a group of marine experts recently released a report entitled “Valuing the Ocean,” which does just that. And the price tag these experts assign to ocean degradation is a hefty one. By their estimates, damage to the world’s oceans could cost us $2 trillion per year by 2100 if we do not take immediate action.
 
“Valuing the Ocean,” sponsored by The Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI), focuses on six threats to our oceans and by extension, our global economy. The report claims that ocean acidification, hypoxic "dead zones," sea-level rise, ocean warming, marine pollution, and overuse of marine resources comprise the "multiple stressors" that are acting in awful synergy to harm the ocean services that hold an essential if unrecognized place in our economic future. If we fail to take these stressors seriously and allow the global temperature to rise by four degrees Celsius, we risk a future of depleted fisheries, disrupted tourism, bleached coral reefs, terrifying floods, and tropical cyclones, all of which bear heavy financial and environmental costs.

The authors of “Valuing the Ocean" are not the first in recent memory to place a price on natural services. Last year, former banker Pavan Sukhdev gave a TED talk arguing the importance of addressing the “economic invisibility of nature.” As that argument went, failing to account for nature in our economic thinking ensures that the necessary environmental policy will lag behind.
 
Similarly, it is the invisibility of oceans that this report seeks to address with its cost estimates. “The ocean has always been thought of as the epitome of unconquerable, inexhaustible vastness and variety,” the authors write in the report’s executive summary. Frank Ackerman, an American economist and contributor to the report referenced the “invisibility of the oceans in most of our lives” as a factor limiting our understanding. “We live on land, we work on land,” he said. “And the idea that there can be abrupt changes that we don’t see coming is very important.”
 
Unfortunately, $2 trillion may not begin to cover the wealth of ocean services we stand to lose through abrupt change. “The price is only part of the true value of the ocean,” the authors hastened to note in their press briefing. “It quite deliberately does not even attempt to include the worth beyond measure of the actual species which inhabit it; or priceless critical processes such as nutrient cycling and ecosystem functioning; or the irredeemable losses to the dignity and identity of the communities that are expected to be heavily impacted by global environmental change.”
 
And what can we do about these simultaneous threats? “Valuing the Ocean” stresses the importance of both holistic shifts in policy and widespread local action. The authors call for a wide range of measures, from appointing a United Nations High Commissioner for Oceans, to reducing local pollution and carbon emissions. They also urge us to act now, and to stop waiting for "perfect knowledge" or "perfect political circumstances."

“Climate change is the best understood scientific problem in the history of the human race,” Ackerman told me. “To say we don’t know enough about it yet is to say that we won’t ever know enough about anything.”

--Jenny Slattery

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