This important article from the New York Times tells about a major effort to quantify the value of nature. The idea is to protect the environment by determining the value of “natural capital” — nature’s goods and services essential to human life –, and making that value known to decision makers. The Natural Capital Project or NatCap is led by Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. It aims to inject nature’s benefits like clean air and water, flood protection, crop pollination and carbon storage into business, community and government decisions that today are based solely on economic calculations.
NatCap has developed a software program called InVEST (Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Trade-offs) to value nature’s goods and services needed by humans. InVEST, available as a free download, is being moved onto the Google Earth Engine platform developed by Google.org, the philanthropic arm of Google. With InVEST, the Google Earth Engine will provide a tool for policy makers to make better environment-related decisions.
Such decisions are needed urgently, as the 2005 publication by the U.N. of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that recent human-caused changes have resulted in a “substantial and largely irreversible loss” in diversity, and that two-thirds of Earth’s ecosystem services are declining. GR