Valuing nature the key to NZ’s future – public talk
Wednesday, October 9,
Valuing nature the key to NZ’s future – public talk
Are economic growth and ecological preservation inherently at odds?
The rationale for, and workings of, ecological economics – a cutting edge trans-disciplinary field that unites the seemingly incompatible in the interests of planetary preservation – is the focus of a public conversation by two of its foremost international proponents.
Massey’s Associate Professor Marjan van den Belt will lead a discussion with guest speaker Professor Robert Costanza, a renowned US-born ecological economist who is currently Professor and Chair in Public Policy at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University.
The numerous ways we use nature and take it for granted with scant regard for its economic worth are the starting point for the talk at Massey’s Manawatü campus next Monday.
The pair will discuss how accounting for the cost of human use of “natural capital”, or ecosystem services, is essential in planning for, and ensuring, the survival of life on Earth.
Dr van den Belt, who is director of Ecological Economics Research New Zealand (EERNZ) at Massey’s Manawatü campus, says ecological economics is a strengths-based, solution-focused framework for bringing natural and social sciences together.
“We want to push the frontiers in making ecosystem services visible. Instead of taking natural capital – like oceans, rivers, land, forests, wetlands, and agricultural land – for granted, the ecosystem services approach aims to value and include in decision making the multitude of benefits we derive from nature,” she says.
Ecosystem services are the collective resources and processes we derive from the natural environment. Examples are clean drinking water, food/fibre provision, nutrient recycling, flood protection, pollination, biodiversity and climate regulation.
“In New Zealand, as in the rest of the world, it is increasingly expensive, if not impossible, to substitute the many services natural capital gives us for free and replace them with human-made technologies,” Dr van den Belt says. “This talk explores New Zealand’s potential to instigate a ‘game-changer’ and effectively work with its natural capital, to enjoy its ecosystems services for generations to come and make genuine progress toward lasting prosperity.”
Smart, creative, technological solutions are being developed through advanced modelling systems capable of incorporating data from diverse sources such as biophysics and psychology.
She says the acceptance of the ecological economics framework by government, councils, institutions and individuals requires a fundamental shift in the way people view their relationship with the natural world. Change occurs firstly through awareness, then by people making practical choices in terms of lifestyle and consumption. Social equity and access to basic resources are also part of ecological economics thinking.
“It’s simply about connecting the dots,” says Dr van den Belt. “Economic growth at any cost isn’t sustainable. The richer segment of society can insulate itself up to a point. But in reality, no one is exempt.”
Dr van den Belt is working with a number of councils and iwi around New Zealand on developing ecosystems services ‘mediated models’ involving private, public and non-government sectors for infrastructure developments, including in the Manawatü, Waikato, Auckland and Tauranga. This week she attended workshops at Treasury, with officials looking at how the ecosystems services model can be implemented at a broader political level.
While the ecosystem services approach is being adopted on an ad hoc basis around New Zealand for conservation (marine spatial planning in Hauraki Gulf), rural spatial planning (Waikato) or urban spatial planning (Auckland), her vision is to “stitch the pieces together and develop a multi-scale integrated ecosystem services approach for the whole of New Zealand”.
“This vision for a society that values natural, social and human capital is inspirational to some, but terrifying to others,” she says in a mission statement on the EERNZ website. “A vision is judged by its clarity, not by its implementation pathway. With a 100-year vision, you collaboratively back-track to what you need to do to achieve goals 50, 20, five and one year from now.”
Dr van den Belt and Professor Costanza will discuss international developments in the field, and explore the opportunities for New Zealand. The conversation, titled Ecosystem Services: Why valuing nature is key to New Zealand reaching its full potential, takes place at 12pm, Monday 14 October in the Japan Lecture Theatre.
They will also feature in a public conversation hosted by Auckland Council on a similar topic in Auckland next Wednesday, at 4pm in the Aotea Centre, Aotea Square.
Professor Costanza is a world leader in ecological economics. He was Distinguished Professor of Sustainability in the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University (2010 to 2012), and is co-founder of the International Society for Ecological Economics and founding editor-in-chief of the journal Solutions.
For more information on the Ecological
Economics Research New Zealand