New book shows Humans and Nature are interdependent

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us coverHumans need Nature to survive and thrive. Too often we treat Nature as a commodity, exploiting, polluting and destroying it in our unfailing drive towards “progress”.

The consequences of this are obvious – plastic pollution in our waterways and oceans, massive global bee die-offs, the increasing destructiveness and ferocity of hurricanes and typhoons, too-frequent oil spills. The ramifications of our actions run deep. They impact our economy, our health and our future. What Has Nature Ever Done for Us: How Money Really Does Grow on Trees, a new book by author Tony Juniper, shows that these ramifications can be measured and that there are other, more beneficial options than merely striving towards our outmoded view of progress.

One of the top ten environmental figures of the last thirty years and former executive director of Friends of the Earth,  Juniper is currently the sustainability adviser to the Prince of Wales’ Charities International Sustainability Unit. He was named the first President of the Britain’s Society for the Environment in 2012.

The obsession with economic growth following the financial crisis is only part of what we need to hear about, says Juniper. “People need to hear about how we need to be sustaining,” he said. “There’s a gap between technical people and the knowledge of society.”

His book aims to fill that gap.

There’s a lack of awareness on the part of the public, of politicians and company executives, said Juniper. The information is out there but the ability to grasp it easily is hard to come by.

There’s a power in relating stories rather than data, Juniper says, and his book has plenty of them. They’re mixed in with some technical data in ways people can understand and relate to.

A unique economic partnership with Norway helped save Guyana's rainforests

A unique economic partnership with Norway helped save Guyana’s rainforests

One attention grabbing story is that of the unique partnership forged between Guyana and Norway. In an effort to save his country’s rainforests, in 2007 Guyana’s President Jagdeo put an economic value on his country’s rainforest. He then reached out to Britain’s then Prime Minister Tony Blair, proposing a business partnership.

Ultimately Norway stepped up and agreed to pay Guyana $250 million over five years to keep the rainforests intact.

This partnership pays for the work done by the forests to capture and store carbon. This groundbreaking venture is one that Juniper hopes other countries will emulate.

The popular discourse of economics is wrong, says Juniper. “We’re told by politicians that the destruction / degradation of Nature is the price we pay for progress. (But) the more we degrade Nature, the more likely we are to end progress,” he said. “It will take away the very foundation of the economy,” he said.

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina cost the U.S. $81 billion and damage still remains. If the land around the levees hadn’t been redeveloped for shipping and aquaculture, it’s believed much of the damage caused to the city wouldn’t have occurred. When Hurricane Rita came ashore in Texas a few weeks later, it did significantly less damage.

Comparing these two, scientists found Rita was much less destructive because it went across healthy wetlands before it hit inhabited areas Juniper explores the value of natural systems to help protect us from natural disasters in the book’s chapter on Insurance.

The economic cost of the global bee die-off is in the $billions

The economic cost of the global bee die-off is in the $billions

“Where you have mangroves, salt marshes, coral reefs,” Juniper said, “these helped dissipate the power (and) destructiveness of these storms and the effects of tsunamis. They act as fire shields.” These systems are like an insurance policy, he said. “With Katrina, destroying those wetlands was like tearing up our insurance policy.”

There are other cautions in this book we should pay attention to. These include a rabies epidemic that followed the disappearance and near extinction of India’s vultures. Anti-inflammatory drugs routinely administered to cattle killed the birds. The uneaten carcasses that were left led to an explosion of wild dogs and thus a rabies epidemic.

Juniper’s book looks at how Nature provides a biological blueprint for human solutions and innovation.

Scales from butterfly wings have inspired new paints that don’t use pigment and avoid some of the pollution during manufacturing. Chemical compounds found in jellyfish are being studied that could revolutionize the way cancer is detected and diagnosed.

We humans don’t realize the economic costs of the bee die-off. The crops that rely on animals for pollination equal $1 trillion of the world’s $3 trillion annual sales of agricultural produce. The UN Environment Program Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Report said in 2010 that the economic value of replacing the services provided by pollinators was around $190 billion.

In the end, said Juniper, “it’s about raising awareness, about people seeing these connections. It’s a challenge for economics and how we judge progress,” he said. “We need (to use) new tools in how we measure progress (and) figure natural capital into the equation.”

What Has Nature Ever Done for Us is available online at bookstores and online at BarnesandNoble.com and Amaon.com.

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