Saving the Planet Is Cheaper Than These 4 Things

Named for its three main rivers — the Yopno, Uruwa and Som of the Huon Peninsula — the YUS Conservation Area covers 76,000 hectares (187,800 acres) of tropical forest from Papua New Guinea’s northern coast to its interior mountains. © Trond Larsen

On an average day, my Twitter feed is full of stories of unpredictable weather, food shortages, rising fuel prices and disappearing forests — all signs of a widespread environmental crisis that is impacting lives across the globe. Yet when it comes to funding ecosystem protection, green technology development and other actions that could help reduce these costly and stressful events, many political and community leaders cite the need to deal with the global economic crisis first.

Of course, unemployment, volatile food prices, soaring energy costs and growing deficits are all vital, urgent priorities for a society in challenging times. But underlying these concerns is an essential foundation that often goes unrecognized: nature. Since our planet’s health is so inextricably linked with all of these stressors and ultimately our own health, livelihoods and well-being, we must also prioritize its responsible use and protection.

At the U.N.’s Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) meeting currently underway in Hyderabad, India, CI is asking for the world’s nations to commit to increase their funding for conservation efforts. The funding currently dedicated to this cause has not been enough to stop the extinction crisis; it’s estimated that one species goes extinct every 20 minutes.

Simplifying the numbers a bit, the amount we are challenging countries to invest comes to about US$ 60.2 billion per year between now and 2020. This funding will go toward specific actions such as cutting the rate of loss of all natural habitats in half, reducing pollution and expanding protected areas to cover 17% of land and 10% of ocean by 2020 — targets that the global community already agreed to at the last major CBD meeting in 2010.

This target may sound like a lot — and it is — but if we don’t invest in saving biodiversity today, our children and their children will likely have to pay this amount many times over in the years to come to try to replace the lost services that nature provides us (if that’s even possible). They would inherit an overwhelming natural deficit.

When you consider what our nations spend on other priorities, the amount we’re proposing to safeguard the biological diversity of life on Earth — the very foundation of our existence — really isn’t so high. For some perspective, here are four things that cost more in one year:

  1. Military spending in the United States: US$ 711 billion in 2011. (Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)
  2. International spending on fossil fuel subsidies: an estimated US$ 775 billion in 2012 (Source: Washington Post)
  3. Healthcare spending in Canada: US$ 145.7 billion in 2009 (Source: CIA World Factbook)
  4. Education spending in South Korea: US$ 61.6 billion (Source: USC Rossier)

Supporting social services like healthcare and education seems like a given to ensure the well-being of people everywhere — so why should supporting the ecosystems we depend on be any different?

Like anything, national spending is a matter of public priorities and needs. We would argue that investing today to prevent much more expensive environmental crises tomorrow should be toward the top of the priority list.

Fortunately, the concept of “natural capital” — the benefits and services that nature provides to people — is beginning to enter the public consciousness. Ecosystem services like freshwater provision, pollination, medicinal resources and biomimicry, which have long been regarded as “free” by many, have actually been estimated to be worth US$ 14 trillion per year — an amount larger than the GDP of every country on Earth except the United States.

Molly Bergen

Molly Bergen

Think about it: For less than each expense on the list above, we could take crucial steps to safeguard the world’s species that serve as the building blocks of the ecosystems that bring us these services. But we have to act fast.

The CBD meeting in Hyderabad ends tomorrow. Time is running out for countries to make financial commitments to support biodiversity at the scale the world needs to secure our future.

Will you join us this month in taking our pledge to Protect the Planet that Provides, and sharing some of your thoughts about the essential gifts and services that nature gives you and your family? It starts with increased awareness — from there, we can shift national priorities. With priorities in place to value Earth’s natural support systems, we will find the funds. Join us.

Molly Bergen is the managing editor on CI’s news and publicity team.

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