The price tag of nature Sep 24, 2018
De heer Anne NOBEL
The environment we live in is in danger. Damage to it is increasing at an alarming rate. The earth is plunged into an unprecedented environmental crisis. Our cleverness, inventiveness, and activities are the drivers of every global problem we face. Different environmental protective actions should be taken. But what do we protect? And how do we make that choice? What is nature really worth to us? Anne Nobel, a Ph.D. student at UHasselt, is looking for answers.
THE VALUE OF NATURE
“We should preserve every scrap of biodiversity as priceless while we learn to use it and come to understand what it means to humanity.” - E. O. Wilson.
Climate change has a devastating impact on typical European ecosystems like dry heathland, lowland areas dominated by colorful heather, gorse and bracken. But during the past 50 years its quality and quantity have decreased tremendously. Without human intervention it will disappear under future climate conditions. So what is nature really worth? Will the cost of heathland conservation be higher than its benefits? Is it worth preserving? In his research at Hasselt University, Anne is expressing the impact of climate change on this typical European ecosystem in monetary terms. He literally puts a price tag on nature.
A BALANCING EXERCISE
“I grew up on a small touristic Dutch island, called Ameland, where a lot of discussion took place about whether we should exploit nature and attract more tourists, or preserve the nature of the island as it is. Making the right decision has always been a balancing exercise. Growing up in that environment as a child sparked a desire in me to learn more about designing and managing our physical environment. I truly find environmental economics fascinating and versatile. It tackles questions about the value of biodiversity conservation, recreation and climate change mitigation and analyses the costs and benefits of new environmental policies and projects. So I started my studies in civil engineering and continued with technology management studies. After that I worked at an engineering consulting firm, analyzing new environmental policies, before starting my Ph.D. at Hasselt University.”
MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE
“Knowing what our natural environment’s real value is, helps policy-makers who want to compare the different benefits of new policies. Environmental economics is about the things that we value, but for which no markets exist. Imagine that policy makers would have to compare two strategies that are identical except for two things: the first policy leads to a new recreational destination, and the second decreases global warming by creating more carbon storage through the preservation of nature. Which policy should they choose? By putting a price tag on the different scenarios, choosing the best option becomes easier”, explains Anne.
WISER AND BETTER
The project Anne is working on is one-of-a-kind. Using samples of heathland the Ecotron facility of UHasselt simulates the future climate scenario, allowing him to observe the actual changes and estimate the economic value in collaboration with researchers from Massuchusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The research results obtained will enable a direct comparison of the costs and benefits generated by protected areas and will help us answer the question if we should preserve our heathlands. It is this type of research that helps policy-makers make the right choices and leads us to make wiser and better decisions for our future.
Anne Nobel is a Ph.D. fellow of the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO). He is affiliated to the Environmental Economics research group within the Centre of Environmental Sciences of Hasselt University, where he prepares his PhD under the supervision of prof. Robert Malina.