Cost and benefit curves rise and dip like steep, mountainous slopes. The housing market fluctuates in an unfriendly sea. Taxes steal crisp bills from pockets like magpies. The natural world looks different to an economist.
Environmental economics seems like an oxymoron. Economics is seen as sterile — a callous realm of computations and profits. But in truth, economics is the science of decision-making. It is a tool for evaluating everything from the meat we eat to the carbon we release into the atmosphere.
This winter, The Planet decided to acknowledge that money rules the world, but the consumer economy depends on the goods and services extracted from our environment. Natural capital has inherent worth. A forest, for example, is both a marketplace for timber and a home for remarkable fungi that preserve the resilience of the ecosystem. Economics balances our production needs with our needs for the intangible: fresh air, biodiversity and forests full of wonder. Without an environmental ethic, we may live in a world with fewer trees. Without an economic ethic, we would not have the paper this magazine is printed on, nor the modern conveniences we are accustomed to.
According to federal estimates, the United States spent more than $1 billion on natural disaster recovery efforts in 2012 alone. As climate change continues to intensify weather patterns, costs will continue to rise. We cannot ignore environmental issues anymore — we cannot afford it. We need to reinvest. A simple bike ride reduces our dependency on oil and drives the search for alternative energy. A cup of fair trade coffee is $3.29 for reforestation.
As you read this issue, consider the environments you depend on. Who will pay to clean up the Duwamish River where seafood is toxic? Who is accountable for the sky as carbon billows out from the industries manufacturing our products? If we want to enjoy the riches of the landscape, we have to pay the bills. Maybe we should put our money where our boots hike, our cattle graze and our drinking water flows.
Value the finite,
Mikey Jane MoranEditor-in-Chief