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The complex web of inter-dependent ecosystems which constitute life on Earth includes us. We are part of that web and are entirely dependent on clean air, fresh water and healthy food for our survival. Some people would argue that as the species at the top of the food chain capable of acting on the planet's ecosystems to create profound change, we have a responsibility to act as stewards of the planet, protecting nature for its own sake and ensuring our consumption levels are sustainable.
Others take a more utlitarian approach and argue that we should protect nature on the basis of the present and potential use of elements of biodiversity as biological resources, and focus on maintaining the biosphere in a state which supports human life.
While some may prefer the 'nature for nature's sake' approach, many of the individuals, organisations and corporations whose activities are putting the planet's ecosystems under immense pressure are more responsive to utilitarian arguments framed in concrete and measurable terms.
Current corporate accounting systems tend to ignores costs to nature, and look only at the short-term economic benefit of development to a small group of individuals. This incentivises indifference to the environment, at best, and maximum exploitation for profit, at worst. In order to counteract this, scientists have been working on the development of clear and transparent ways of assigning a monetary value to some of the ecosystem functions on which we depend, such as the activity of bees and other pollinators, the treatment of water and purification of waste, or the carbon sequestration and climate regulation role of plants, in particular tropical rainforests.
These are known as 'ecosystem services'. The methodology for measuring their value was set out in the United Nations 2004 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA), and they are the basis of much of the work of the TEEB project - The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity - which has the following goals: To draw attention to the global economic benefits of biodiversity, to highlight the growing costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, and to draw together expertise from the fields of science, economics and policy to enable practical actions moving forward.
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