Working With Nature, Not Against It

The concept of ‘natural capital’ calls on policymakers to consider the value of natural infrastructure, which can often improve climate resilience without expensive construction projects.

2 minute read

March 22, 2023, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


North Carolina Outer Banks Cape Hatteras National Seashore

MarkVanDykePhotography / Shutterstock

In the April 2023 issue of Scientific American, the editors draw attention to how nature can be a tool for fighting the impacts of climate change. The article outlines the dangers of prioritizing development—including climate and weather mitigation measures such as levees or seawalls—over preserving natural features that can prevent erosion, limit the impact of flooding, and make coastal areas more resilient.

“Wetlands, coastal plains, sand dunes, forests, and many other permeable surfaces do cheaply (or even for free) what engineered levees, seawalls and pumps do at a cost of billions of dollars,” the editors explain. “They are vital infrastructure that makes us more resilient against climate change, and the cost of destroying them or weakening their ability to function must be factored into the decisions we make to build and grow.”

The article highlights the concept of “natural capital,” “the idea that ecosystem services should be valued in a similar manner as any form of wealth.” Because the economic value of nature—aside from usable resources like lumber and ore—has not been factored into policy decisions, may ecosystems have vanished. While it may seem crass to put a dollar value on what many consider priceless natural treasures, the editors argue we are at a point where it is necessary because “developers have long conflated pricelessness with worthlessness, allowing them to profit without paying for the consequences of destroying the environment.”

The article concludes, “Economic value is never the only reason nature is worth preserving; it is simply a powerful, underused tool to help us make decisions about how to live more sustainably in a climate-changed world.”

Saturday, April 1, 2023 in Scientific American

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