WWF Blog: What Has Nature Ever Done For Us?

Tony Juniper, well-known British environmentalist, campaigner and writer, has a new book out – the ironically titled What has nature ever done for us? Go buy it.

In this guest blog Tony emphasises that the world’s current economic crisis makes it even more important that we value what we get from nature. And he explains how WWF and other conservation groups are “blazing new trails” to show the vital connections between natural ecosystems and international economies…

“For more than a century conservationists have deployed a wide range of arguments to support their cause. The 19th century campaign to ban certain bird plumes in the fashion trade aimed to limit cruelty. Moves to protect disappearing species from hunting and persecution were driven by naturalists’ love of wildlife, and because disappearing species were beautiful and irreplaceable.

Then it became clear that without sufficient habitat many animals and plants would disappear anyway, even if they were individually protected. Thus began the global campaign to protect special places, reaching to the point today where some 14 per cent of the land is under some form or other of legal protection.

Along the way there have been important efforts to protect wildlife from different kinds of pollution, including industrial chemicals and acid rain. More recently, climate change has for very good reason become a global campaigning priority.

All the while, and stretching back to the beginning, conservationists have faced the same counter argument that whatever they wanted to achieve would be an impediment to economic activity, growth and job creation. That argument remains potent today, and indeed in the wake of recent recession has gained renewed momentum, to the point now where in some countries it has put conservation into reverse gear. That is certainly the case in the UK.

That is why I wrote What has nature ever done for us?, because conservationists must urgently win this argument – once and for all, by showing how looking after nature is not an alternative to economic development, but a prerequisite for it.

Through dozens of accessible stories I describe how nature is among other things the world’s largest water utility, a vital ally in the control of pests and diseases, the main means to capture solar energy, a massive recycling system, an endless innovator, the provider of all our food, a vast carbon capture and storage system and the only means we have to replenish oxygen. How can all that be an alternative to ‘growth’, especially when added together its annual contribution to our wellbeing is estimated as worth about double global GDP?

Making this simple reality visible to more people, companies and countries is a vital job at hand. Fortunately, some conservation groups are blazing new trails to do exactly this. In my new book I write about WWF’s efforts in this field, including in Belize, where research by the WRI demonstrated how the country’s barrier reef and coastal mangroves support at least a quarter of that nation’s GDP. Through the contribution they make to tourism, fishing and protecting coastal property from storms, these ecosystems have been shown to be not only beautiful and the home of many species, but also vital economic assets.

If conservationists can make this kind of reality more visible, then perhaps there is yet the opportunity to conserve nature in ways that will not only hand on intact to coming generations the wonders of wildlife, but also to help secure tolerable conditions for people into the distant future.

Making the economic value of nature more apparent is not an alternative to ending cruelty, saving species and conserving habitats. It is, however, an essential additional job. I hope that What has nature ever done for us? will make a small contribution in helping that happen.”

Find out more about WWF’s work in Belize – in partnership with the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Natural Capital Project – to help change thinking and embed the value of nature in coastal zone management.

First published in Green & Sustainable Living on 29th January 2013