What is the contribution of nature to the economy? Students of economics are well acquainted with production functions, which work out how inputs like capital and labour combine to yield output. These functions make all sorts of assumptions, many of which economists know well (that the contributions of capital and labour are subject to diminishing returns, say). Others rarely get a thought: that a mix of inputs that generates output on Earth will not on Venus, for example. The breathable air, drinkable water and tolerable temperatures that allow humans to do everything they do, and the complex ecosystems that maintain them, tend to be taken for granted. This is more than a mere analytical oversight, reckons a new report on the economics of biodiversity commissioned by the British government, and produced by Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge. By overlooking the role nature plays in economic activity, economists underestimate the risks from environmental damage to growth and human welfare.
Agricultural practices in the Brazilian Cerrado, which entail extensive deforestation and land-clearing, are both affecting and being impacted by climate change. This is an example of a positive feedback loop that moves a system away from equilibrium, and it has negative implications for food security in Brazilian
Pervasive human-driven decline of life on Earth points to the need for transformative change
Sandra Díaz, Josef Settele, Eduardo S. Brondízio, Hien T. Ngo, John Agard, Almut Arneth, Patricia Balvanera, Kate A. Brauman, Stuart H. M. Butchart, Kai M. A. Chan, Lucas A. Garibaldi, Kazuhito Ichii, Jianguo Liu, Suneetha M. Subramanian, Guy F. Midgley, Patricia Miloslavich, Zsolt Molnár, David Obura, Alexander Pfaff, Stephen Polasky, Andy Purvis, Jona Razzaque, Belinda Reyers, Rinku Roy Chowdhury, Yunne-Jai Shin, Ingrid Visseren-Hamakers, Katherine J. Willis, & Cynthia N. Zayas
For decades, scientists have been raising calls for societal changes that will reduce our impacts on nature. Though much conservation has occurred, our natural environment continues to decline under the weight of our consumption. Humanity depends directly on the output of nature; thus, this decline will affect us, just as it does the other species with which we share this world. Díaz et al. review the findings of the largest assessment of the state of nature conducted as of yet. They report that the state of nature, and the state of the equitable distribution of nature’s support, is in serious decline. Only immediate transformation of global business-as-usual economies and operations will sustain nature as we know it, and us, into the future.