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Can we convert dollars back into natural wealth ? - by Angela Curry

There is an urgent need to translate our environment back into its true value. In a decade the price tag given today will look like a joke and we will ask, ”How could we have relinquished that land, (that river, those wetlands) for such a small sum?”

Over the last 40 years our environment has been increasingly spoken of in the public domain in terms of its monetary value. This was reinforced to me at a recent meeting where the speaker made it clear that tree and general nature conservation arguments must be expressed to the powers that be and associated bean counters in these terms. The attribution of a dollar value to something so complex and so vital to us as our natural environment is absurdly inadequate yet it has blinded and desensitised the minds of many to actual values. A translation back from the dollar is needed.

Once upon a time there was barter: transfer of goods between place of origin and place needed in exchange for what was considered of equal value. Then there was “currency” which acted as an intermediary for this exchange.

Currency was and still is used for its convenience, as it allows for a time lag in reciprocation and the ability to store credit. It serves a purpose.

Fast forward a few thousand years and find yourself in Australia. In the early 21st century. Not only goods are given a monetary value - let’s call it a $ value- but all that we see around us, all of nature, including natural processes that serve our needs and are vital to our survival are not real to those in power unless they are given a $ value. The $ (a human construct ) has become the end rather than the means. Trees that shade our local environments, keep us cool and are home to the birds whose song we enjoy may only be retained after their effects are translated into an ongoing $ value as in the savings on air conditioning and road re-surfacing. The $, whose buying- power is in fact fugitive and changeable, becomes the ultimate “measure” of the worth of things !

Bays and waterways, national parks and wild life, are considered by governments in respect to their tourist-pulling power rather than their intrinsic value as our enduring heritage and common wealth. The cart now goes before the horse, the tail wags the dog and the $ is now our tyrant . This despotism turns our attention from what we have to what we can aspire to, what can be acquired at the local mega store, to fulfill our material dreams. Or so we think.

When we are thus distracted from our surroundings , we can, in the blink of an eye, lose what we already have.

Translation of everything into the dollar ($ ), reduces beauty and benefits to numerals, and completely ignores subjectivity. So the joy of seeing something or being somewhere is not counted. This imperative to see everything in DOLLAR ($ ) terms means that our governments, our bureaucrats are dissuaded from using their mature judgement, abiding instead by the formula. Normal everyday people now even talk this way, in $ terms as though this is the real currency of our environment.

There is an urgent need to translate our environment back into its true value. In a decade the price tag given today will look like a joke and we will ask, ”How could we have relinquished that land, (that river, those wetlands) for such a small sum?”

We have been had. The value of an urban forest must be seen for itself as a cooling, calming, wildlife-accommodating irreplaceable oasis to be enjoyed, rather than a $2 million piece of potential housing real estate. $2 million will look totally ridiculous in a decade and the loss is permanent. It cannot be bought back once it has been put to another use. The $ value is ultimately meaningless.

We need to see things again for what they are, not through the $ medium. $s are handy for every day transactions but ridiculously inadequate and inappropriate for a unique geographical feature or area. Let’s ditch our $ glasses and really see our world, maybe for the first time in some people’s lives.

Let’s not lose our world in the useless one-way translation into the $ dollar. Earth is not a tradeable commodity.

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The short answer is no!!! However, neoliberal philosophy dictates that a dollar value must be attached to everything and anything including humanity. It must also be remembered that each and every person who voted for the major parties including the Greens, voted for neoclassical rationalism. i.e. the majority of Australians although, I dare say, many of them unwittingly.

Good article, and the accompanying cartoon is excellent.

The answer of course is no, because we live in 'market' culture, where the prevailing wisdom is everything can be explained economically.

There were a rash of books to this effect in the last decade. Books like"Logic of Life and "Freakonomics were the result of economists, or people who fancied themselves as economists, thinking they have discovered that economics governs not just the market for goods and services, but everything. Everything, whether one chooses to smoke or not, choice of partners, absolutely everything was seen as being economic in nature. It was argued we are rational being attempting to maximise our gains, and this shapes absolutely everything.

The thinking was sloppy though. It's based on the assumption that people have free will, make decisions based on reason and always strive to 'maximise gain'. Also, they tended towards post-hoc justifications. Actions which defy reason were found after the fact to have an 'economic rationale', after searching. Much in the same way that people have always found prophecies which have come true, only after an event has happened which people could potentially tie it in. People can't use 'economics' to predict future behaviour well. Hence why people are still shocked about things like Brexit, Trump and the rise of populism in Europe. Their model is broken.

As a result, attempting to put a $ value on natural resources means using a broken model of viewing the world. It's based on assuming things which aren't true, assuming human behaviour and values which are by no means universal, and fudging our understanding of science and ecology to boot. It's a fraud, maintained only because the establishment permits no insight into the fraud.