Problem With Trying to Monetize Ecosystems Essay

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Monetizing Environmental Goods and Services

Monetizing ecosystem services is not essential for ecological sustainability. Thus, all goods and services provided by nature should not be commoditized and given an economic value or price so that they can be traded properly and accounted for in economic decisions to bolster their conservation. Monetization is only effective in the realm of presenting penalties for ecosystem violations, though even then it presents as a flawed system. The monetization of natural resources and ecosystems marks a violation of our integrity and collective human spirit.

Nature and all organic processes already have an inherent value that makes them valuable. It's up to society to realize that value, and to treat these attributes as precious through their time and attention. All attempts to monetize or to ascribe a financial value either artificially or through government support generally manifest as unsustainable. For example, the government often tries to accomplish this through subsidies of climate-friendly technologies (such as ones which rely on natural ecosystems) generally results in revenues raised by taxing. "Given the tight fiscal environment throughout the developed world, it is difficult to justify increasing (or even continuing) the subsidies that would be necessary to change significantly the emissions intensity of economic activity. Furthermore, by lowering the cost of energy, climate-oriented technology subsidies can actually lead to excessive levels of energy supply and consumption. Thus, subsidies can undermine incentives for efficiency and conservation, and impose higher costs per ton abated than cost-effective policy alternatives" (Stavins, 2012). If history is any guide, one can see that subsidies are generally created to be technology specific; designating technology winners, generally allows subsidies to be technology specific and can sometimes create special-interest constituencies which are specified on maintaining subsidies beyond what is generally seen as socially desirable (Stavins, 2012). As Stavins illuminates, virtually every single aspect of economic activity has an impact on the environment, be it individual consumption, business investment and government spending: all of these aspects have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions and the overall global climate (2012). What's really necessary is an effective change in policy regarding the bulk of decisions made towards these activities so that the more efficient generation and use of energy (such as lower carbon-intensity energy) and so that a more carbon-lean economy is generated (Stavins, 2012). Monetization of natural resources and ecosystems is actually not the way to do achieve this. A more effective way would be to decree that businesses and individuals need to adapt their behavior or to monetize only hazardous substances in the environment (Stavins, 2012). For example, Stavins proposes the pricing of the greenhouse gas so that it is externally proportional to the harms caused by the emissions (Stavins, 2012).

Monetizing natural ecosystems has only proven to be effective in the form of penalties and punishments: the use and byproduct of pollutants and other toxins are penalized in a monetary fashion. This strategy not only generates income, but seeks to deter people from the use and propagation of these toxins in general. It's important to recall how, "…by the late 1980s, there had already been a perceptible shift of the political center toward a more favorable view of using markets to solve social problems. The George H.W. Bush administration, which proposed the SO2 allowance trading program and then championed it through an initially resistant Democratic Congress, was (at least in its first two years) 'moderate Republican;' phrases such as 'fiscally responsible environmental protection' and 'harnessing market forces to protect the environment' do have the sound of quintessential moderate Republican issues" (Stavins, 2009). While it's important to acknowledge these trends, it's also important to acknowledge that bolstering support for market-oriented solutions to various social problems has increased across the political spectrum for almost the last 20 years; this has been made clear by the deliberations on the deregulation of airlines, trucking and banking professions (Stavins, 2009). Ultimately, what all these updates, changes and patterns indicate is that there is an aggravated need for a change in policy. Monetization does work with the environment, but as history demonstrates, it really works best as a deterrent, fiscal punishment, penalty or fees. Other attempts to commodify natural resources in this manner generally fail.

However, one does need to acknowledge that when it comes to penalizing the use or emission of pollutants, even that can be difficult to monetize. For example, while three tons of steel can be worth three times as much as one ton of steel, three tons of a single pollutant might do vastly and exponentially more damage than one ton or standard emission of that pollutant (Ackerman & Gallagher, 2011). This is another factor to bear in mind.

While some do make a strong argument for using monetization of the environment as a means for forcing people to take into consideration the environmental costs of their behavior, one should still be careful with these attempts (Turner, 2011). These have recently been supplemented by the use of market like mechanisms -- payment for ES schemes, which allow both governmental and nongovernmental organizations to pay for environmental public goods, such as habitat provision, watershed protection and carbon sequestration (Kinzig et al., 2011). The problems with these types of schemes is that they promise a great deal, when in reality, they can actually make a situation much worse, rather than improve it (Kinzig et al., 2011).

Specific Examples

Monetization is generally a flawed and sticky situation when it comes to the commoditization of natural resources and ecosystems. While some of the attempts to monetize natural resources might seem novel, they really just represent a skewed attempt at control. For example, as one scholar explains, "This fall, a Montana hunter can bid $19 or an out-of-state hunter can bid $350 for one of 75 licenses to kill a wolf and mount it in his den. Lupine lovers are outraged, but the only real scandal is that the license is so -- ridiculously and unnecessarily -- low. Public officials are leaving behind a potential windfall on the table, which it could collect through a fair and democratic open auction of each wolf hunting license. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks already knows how to run such an auction; it does so for bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goat, deer and elk hunting licenses. The difference is that a wolf auction would not be restricted to hunters. Indeed, an out of state 'tree-hugger' or 'animal rights nut' could bid $351 or, hell, $9,351 for that same permit in order to let the formerly marked wolf run free for another year. The extra $1 (or $9,001) raised could help endow a national fund to compensate livestock owners" (Workman, 2011). While this might look like an ideal scenario or one which presents progress or at least movement in the right direction, that is absolutely not the case. As Workman illuminates, such pieces of legislation in place could create a certain amoral bidding war between hunters and howlers: competing groups of individuals could start offering certain substantial amounts of cash to determine whether or not a wolf lives or dies. The result is clearly a slippery slope. Such a situation could indicate that society was on a skewed path towards commodifying the things which it does not own. As Workman points out, this could unleash a crass commercial value on whether we stop or spread the call of the wild; as this scholar pointedly asks the question, "Should amoral transactions determine how much an untamed howl is worth to us as a nation?" (2011). While Workman does believe in this sort of monetization, his imbalanced thinking believes it to be beneficial in the name of generating revenue and for the sake of organizing the commodities of the wild. However, this is simply short-sighted. There are more ethical ways in which to treat natural species and wild animals, and this type of mentality puts lawmakers into the flawed mindset that nearly anything can be bought. There needs to continue to be an element of the wild that remains wild and untamed as this is at the spirit and heart of the American nation: the country was built on the wild frontier, and shaped by the pioneer spirit of the early Americans. Placing a price tag in the name of order, organization and revenue on all the facets of the American wild, creates an imbalanced mindset and a rocky foundation for subsequent actions which are comparable and equally unethical. Furthermore, this proposed plan isn't sustainable: once all the wolves have been "bought up," subsequent elements of the American wild will also have such a proposed price tag attached. By trying to monetize such natural resources and elements, there's the inherent danger of proclaiming that they're for sale when they shouldn't be.

Ackerman and Gallagher are able to articulate the inherent problem with this scenario rather effectively. "On the most fundamental level, there are deep ethical, philosophical, and religious objections to assigning dollar values to human or other life (Anderson, 1993; Kelman, 1981). For…[continue]

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