Should we be putting a price on nature?
We are one with the Earth. We are created from it, born onto it, live within it, and depend on it. No matter how much modern society attempts to separate people and nature, we are inseparable. This is a concept that may be approached in so many different ways.
The concept of biophilia describes that we have an innate tendency to seek connection to nature. This concept has been proposed many times over history by different people, but was finally coined the Biophilia hypothesis in 1984 by Edward O. Wilson. We yearn for nature and, if we allow it to, it can restore us. Do you ever find yourself just wishing you were outside in the trees? Do you ever feel excited when you see flowers or wild animals? Even our connections to domestic animals may stem from this idea of connecting with other forms of life.
Psychological research indicates that spending time in nature can restore our attention capacity where deficits are caused due to our high stress, quick-paced lives. This healing power has been connected to our evolutionary history where certain natural places were seen as "safe havens". The Attention Restoration Theory is centred around our high use of directed attention on stimuli which would not normally attract attention (Bratman et al. 2012). This results in difficulties concentrating and higher rates of irritability. Situations which do not require this directed attention for a period of time may allow us to restore this cognitive control. These overall reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression may also have implications for physical health.
Additionally, an emerging field in the intersect between ecosystems and human health describes our need to be exposed to the environment and its microbiome. A microbiome is the combination of all the tiny organisms in a particular community. The soil microbiome for example, is the community of microbes which live in the soil. This microbiome can influence aspects of its surroundings such as plants or animals (Baruch et al. 2020). We also have a very important microbiome in our gut! Our gut microbes are crucial for normal gut functioning and digestion. However, more and more research is indicating that humans require exposure to ecosystem microbiomes to maintain our own gut microbiota (Breed et al. 2020). Coined the 'Old Friends' hypothesis, research suggests that this relationship is due to our evolutionary history (Rook 2013). We evolved as part of these ecosystems, and therefore need exposure to our bacterial 'old friends' to stay healthy! Kind of makes sense, right?
So these are just a few reasons that we are intrinsically linked to the environment. And we haven't even begun to mention the 'ecosystem services' which come first to mind such as water, food, shelter, and clean air. No matter how technologically advanced we think we are, or manage to get, the Earth is the most abundant resource, life-giver, and health provider, if we would only treat it right.
How could we possibly put a price on this? We should be thinking about how we can give back to the environment and the Earth, rather than thinking about what the Earth can give to us with an arbitrary unit of dollars stamped to it.
What do you think? Should we be assigning worth to ecosystems and their 'services'?
Baruch Z, Liddicoat C, Cando-Dumancela C, Laws M, Morelli H, Weinstein P, Young JM, Breed MF (2020) Increased plant species richness associates with greater soil bacterial diversity in urban green spaces. Environmental Research 196:110425
Breed MF, Cross AT, Wallace K, Bradby K, Flies E, Goodwin N, Jones M, Orlando L, Skelly, Weinstein P, Aronson J (2020) Ecosystem Restoration: A Public Health Intervention
Bratman GN, Hamilton JP, Daily GC (2012) The impact of nature experience on human cognitive function and mental health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1249:1
Rook GA (2013) Regulation of the immune system by biodiversity from the natural environment: An ecosystem service essential to health. PNAS 110:46:18360-18367
Wilson EO (1984) Biophilia. Harvard University Press.