Scientists setting dollar value for ecosystem

Vancouver, November 1:

A scientific model announced today will answer questions like ‘what is a honeybee worth?’ and measure the economic costs and benefits of ecosystems to human life, Canadian and US scientists said.

Researcher Kai Chan of the University of British Columbia said the model will help estimate the dollar value to people of such ‘ecosystem services’ as mangroves and wetlands. Such modeling could allow decision-makers to include the costs and benefits of nature conservation when planning developments such as housing, agriculture zones or hydroelectric dams.

Chan said the first part of the model will be put in place in China, Tanzania, Hawaii and the west coast of the US over the next eight months.

The model was launched yesterday in Washington by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Nature Conservancy and scientists from Stanford University in California and the University of British Columbia. Chan said development plans are often made with little understanding of hidden or future environmental issues that can cause economic loss and even death. Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005, and the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami were exacerbated by failure to assess the value of nature’s ‘services’ in protecting coastlines.

Because US authorities had permitted development to shrink and damage wetlands on Louis-iana’s coast, there was no natural buffer when Katrina hit New Orleans at a cost to the US economy of some $150 billion.