Editor’s note: From “climate adaptation” to “blue carbon,” from “landscape approach” to “ecosystem services,” environmental jargon is everywhere these days. Conservation International’s Human Nature blog looks to make sense of it in an occasional explainer series we’re calling “What on Earth?”
In this installment, we break down “natural capital,” a concept that could revolutionize the way nature is protected.
What is “natural capital”?
It’s the stock of renewable and non-renewable natural resources (e.g., plants, animals, air, water, soils, minerals) that combine to provide benefits to people.
What kind of benefits are we talking about?
The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the wildlife that maintain healthy ecosystems, the forests that absorb carbon from the atmosphere and regulate climate — all of that comes from nature.
So natural capital is simply “stuff that nature does”? That seems rather broad.
Here’s another way to think of it: Imagine that nature is a trust fund, and humans are the beneficiaries. Humans live off the “interest” that the fund provides — the air, water, raw materials, carbon storage and its ability to regulate climate and mitigate floods, and so on. If humans keep dipping into the capital — by clearing too much forest, for example — we’re going to see diminishing returns from those dividends, to say nothing of their ability to continue to provide benefits over time.