WHAT IS THE VALUE OF NATURE?

It was with this ambitious question that we opened our first SRN lunchtime seminar of the 2014/15 academic year, held on Friday 28th November 2014 in the Pope Building, University Park.

About fifteen attendees shared a thought-provoking hour-long lunch, during which two guest speakers from the University presented their research and views in this area.

hollyThe first guest speaker was Holly McCain from the School of Geography, who introduced us to the notion of assigning a value to ecosystems and biodiversity as a growing trend in both business and policy arenas. She covered some of the main valuation techniques employed in ecological accounting, including the view of nature as a commodity and a service provider, and the controversial concept of biodiversity offsetting. She observed how business decision-making may depend on both the perception and thee account of their relationship with the environment. She ended her talk by posing a number of poignant questions over the potential economic, social and environmental implications of employing such monetary-based approaches.

tomWe also heard a presentation by Thomas West from the School of Law, who approached the topic from a different yet complementary angle. By exploring the ethics and the legal validity of nature having intrinsic value –as opposed to instrumental or inherent value–, he argued that natural entities may be valuable in and of themselves, without the need to relate them to an economic or human-based rationale. He covered both ecocentric and anthropocentric approaches, and the challenges involved and the potential for reconciling these different values in the rights debate. He concluded his talk with a very inspiring quote:

“These goals will often be so mutually supportive that one can avoid deciding whether our rationale is to advance ‘us’ or a new ‘us’ that includes the environment”. Christopher Stone (1972), Should Trees Have Standing?

Although some different viewpoints were presented, both of the speakers seemed to agree on the clear human dependencies on ecosystems. This finding, together with the contents of their talks, triggered a very passionate debate amongst the attendees – clearly, more than a lunchtime slot was needed to arrive at the answer to this question!

Those interested in environmental rights may wish to visit the ‘Rights of Nature: Art and Ecology in the Americas’ exhibition at the Nottingham Contemporary, open to the public from 24th January until 15th March 2015. The exhibition is being launched this coming Friday 23rd January at a special opening event, which will include refreshments and live music from 6.30pm to 11pm. The launch will be followed by an international conference the following day between 10am and 6pm, exploring the rights of nature from the perspectives of artistic practices, indigenous knowledge, and activists engagements in the Americas and elsewhere. Both the opening event and the one-day conference are free to attend, but prior booking is required. To save your place, please visit the Nottingham Contemporary website.

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Post by Laura Mayhew-Manchón, Project Officer at the Environmental Technology Centre, University of Nottingham. 

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