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What's nature worth? New computer models tell all

next spring. In small teams, they'll link together the latest understandings of how forests, grasslands, wetlands, open ocean, and other ecosystem types function with detailed maps of where these natural communities occur and other geographic information.

Next, these models will be informed by new methods of estimating the value of ecosystems. Conventional economics has relied on the rather clunky notion of "willingness to pay" to determine how much a product is worth. This approach doesn't apply well to many ecosystem services that are either indispensable--like air to breath--or exceedingly subtle--like global climate regulation.

"Instead, we're looking for effects of ecosystems on human welfare, whether people perceive them or not--rather than just asking them how much they'd pay for this service," Costanza said.

And finally, next year, the project will put out its results through an interactive website--perhaps a bit like Google Earth for ecosystems services--journal articles, and other reports.

Recent studies have made it clear that not only do ecosystem services provide a majority of income for poor people in developing countries, but, more startling, that the economic value of the world's ecosystems is much larger than the value of all the products and services usually put under the umbrella of "the global economy."

Ultimately, Costanza hopes the project will help policymakers realize that conservation is not a luxury; it must be a key economic goal. If his project succeeds, "it will allow us to move beyond the counterproductive conservation vs. development debate to thinking about conservation as a form of development," he writes.


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Source:University of Vermont


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