Assigning (Monetary) Value to the Environment

On Public Lands Day 2011, my friend and I spent some time in White Clay Creek State Park.  As we walked through the park, a few female Mallard ducks flew over the creek.  We found a few large spiders in vernal ponds and a grasshopper jumping around through the weeds.  We could not, however, identify a certain type of frog that was present on the trail we were hiking.  The frogs were scattered throughout the trail; we could hear them.  My friend and I would identify where we thought the sound was coming from in the wet grass and then run our hands over the area, pull back the plants; we even stepped carefully around the area to try to scare the frog into our sight.  The elusive amphibians were too sneaky for us.  I became frustrated and said, “Whatever.  It’s not like it’s that important anyway.”  My friend, being a bit more patient than I am, responded, “I’d still like to know what it is though.  I still want to know what’s around us.”

I stopped to think about his remark.  He was right.  We should still know what is around us.  We should connect with our living, active surroundings.  As an Environmental Studies major, I do feel connected to the environment and in my opinion; all species have an intrinsic value and a right to exist.  But sometimes I can get frustrated in the “instant gratification” society that we live in today.  My friend’s comment gave me perspective and I later took my shoes off just to feel the water rushing from the creek under them and walked all the way home with silt covering my feet.  It was my turn to offer him perspective.  After he asked why I had my shoes off, as if it was an act of extreme social deviance, I explained that it is important to experience nature and not feel apart from it.  My shoes had suddenly become a barrier between the soil and my feet, so I removed them and got a little dirty.  I was not caused any physical pain.  I feel I should spread the word; being out in nature will ground you and give you a different outlook, not necessarily cause you any harm.

With a guest speaker in one of my classes, we discussed value using the differences between wealth and income.  In my International Human Rights Class, we review ways that humans have assigned monetary value to other humans and likened them to property.  How should we assign value to the environment to ensure better conservation?  Is it even moral to do so?  There are always political debates centered on carbon taxes and cap and trade programs, but what value can we assign to the frog in White Clay Creek State Park that could not be seen?  Robert Costanza, of Maryland’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, has stated that, “A resource [like the Chesapeake] can be driven to extinction before the market even realizes it was there” (Wennersten 195).  The wildlife in WCCSP is representative of the flora and fauna throughout the state of Delaware.  Perhaps a large number of our unidentified amphibians have lost their habitats to commercial development and suburban sprawl.  If an Environment Studies major and Rutgers University Cook College graduate could not identify the frog; I’m going to venture to say that the developers in Delaware have not.  The thought of losing a species without even knowing it existed in the first place is startling to me.

I believe that the environment should be given some sort of value, by as demonstrated in Wennersten’s book, defining the environment in solely economic terms only leads to more destructive, profit-motivated behaviors.  We must transition to a new social consciousness similar to the “land stewardship” that Wendell Berry spoke of.  We should “seek to redevelop rural culture in terms of an ethic and way of life based upon love of place and devotion to the land,” (Wennersten 220) so as to save the frog in Delaware and the flora and fauna throughout the world.

I blog for MEN

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