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Buddy, Can You Spare an Ecosystem?

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Forests that store greenhouse gases. Wetlands that purify water. Oceans that supply, well, oceans of biodiversity. There's really no end to the services nature provides to us.

What do we provide in turn to nature? In many cases, the answer is, "not much." We're happy to reap the benefits of ecosystems, but we rarely pay nature back - or even consider, in economic terms, the services rendered as valuable. As a result, when nature and profit bump into each other, nature's often the one to give way. Which, in the long run, gets to looking a lot like shooting ourselves in the foot - because when nature gives way, so do all those free services we've been taking for granted.

The Natural Capital Project is doing something about that.

A collaboration of Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and the University of Minnesota's Institute on the Environment, the project is developing and field-testing a system for assigning monetary value to the services nature provides. Doing so makes it possible to include nature in the calculations when determining whether and how to alter natural systems.

The Natural Capital Project is currently applying its nature-valuing efforts to finding the sweet spot for balancing ecosystems and economics at 19 sites on four continents. Initiatives include developing a forest carbon offset system in Hawaii, establishing a value for nontimber forest products in Borneo, and minimizing impacts of mining on biodiversity in Colombia.

Sound intriguing? If you're in the Twin Cities, register to attend a free talk by project founder Gretchen Daily of Stanford Monday, June 13, at the University of Minnesota. Daily will speak on "Harmonizing People and Nature: A New Business Model."

Whether or not you can make Daily's presentation, check out this three-minute animated video to learn more about what nature provides for us - and how we can provide for nature, too.

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  The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
  of the Institute on the Environment/University of Minnesota.