We need to understand the value of nature if we want to protect it, and that should include paying ecosystems to keep us alive, argues Ian Redmond, head of conservation at a nonprofit streaming platform. Ecoflix and co-founder of Rebalance the Earth, a company that aims to build a sustainable, resilient and equitable economy. He is trying to change the harmful equation that “if minerals underground are worth more than trees and animals above ground, then traditionally, trees and animals have to go.”
Putting a price on nature’s benefits would help protect it, he suggests. Wildlife tourism shows that people are willing to pay up to $1,500 just to spend an hour in the company of an elephant in Rwanda, she says, so tourists already know how valuable nature is. But what about the local population? Filmmakers should share profits from their wildlife films with those who protect or depend on the ecosystems they film.
“The irony is that people who live in the developing world, where many of these documentaries are made, can’t watch them because their national television stations can’t afford to buy them,” he explains. “We should make people care about wildlife in the countries where they live.”
And we should pay animals like elephants for their essential tree gardening, he argues. “Apes, elephants and birds are agents of seed dispersal in tropical forests,” she adds. “They swallow seeds and deposit them in their excrement miles away.”
This has a hugely beneficial effect locally and globally, because trees do much more than simply store carbon. A study in the Congo Basin found that the amount of wood in a forest where elephants still lived was up to 14 percent greater than in one where elephants were extinct. That basin sets up weather systems that ultimately produce rain in Britain and Europe.
“Do you think any proportion of what you pay for your (electricity) goes towards protecting elephants and gorillas in the Congo Basin, by planting the trees that fill hydroelectric projects in Scotland?” he says. “Not a cent. There is no valuation of the service of that ecosystem from which we all benefit.”
Ralph Chami, former deputy director of the International Monetary Fund, estimated that the value an elephant provides to the world over its lifetime is around $1.75 million per animal. “That’s roughly $30,000 a year, or $80 a day if the elephant were paid for the service it provides to the world,” he said. “But of course, no one pays that.”
So, it’s time to pay the bill. “I want every gorilla, every orangutan, and every animal to be valued for what they do for the ecosystem, and for us smart humans to build a system that allows that to happen,” he says. “At last count, it was estimated at about $700 billion a year. Its a lot of money. “It’s not going to come out of government coffers, it’s not going to come out of philanthropy, but it could come out of the global economy if we build it like this.”
This article appears in the March/April 2024 issue of UK WIRED Magazine.