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This review is from: What Has Nature Ever Done for Us?: How Money Really Does Grow On Trees (Paperback)
A few years ago I paid a visit to the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Winchester. Besides the usual suspects, the sanctuary at the time featured an enclosure of truly sad profundity, containing a handful of the few remaining Indian vultures, held there for safe keeping whilst back in India a solution was sought for their plight, caused by the use of an anti-inflammatory drug in cattle which had killed millions of vultures as they performed their job as nature's dustbin.
Vultures often get a bad press. Calling someone a vulture implies a lack of scruples, but in reality vultures are graceful fliers and useful scavengers, their use value given by Juniper in this book at $34bn in India alone. Without the vultures diseased carcasses are not cleared so efficiently, and there has been a surge in numbers of feral dogs which has led to an escalation in attacks on humans, often leading to rabies and death.
This is just one of a number of case studies used by Juniper in this readable and informative book to demonstrate just what it is nature has done for us. It's a mix of bad and good news. Awareness of the role played by natural agents - birds, bees, mangrove swamps, trees - is rising, but not enough is being done still to prevent their wholesale eradication and destruction. There is not only too much talk of mitigation instead of prevention, there isn't even enough actual mitigation.
In some ways Juniper is wrong that economists don't have the tools to cope with the situation. There are very clear models of negative externalities from pollution, showing the private and social costs associated, and the implications for taxation, but too many are tied to free market solutions related to carbon trading, which has so far been an abysmal failure, a broken system nobody has the will to fix. Juniper himself mentions the model of the tragedy of the commons and the way that solutions are being deployed, quite successfully, based upon game theory, amongst others.
Nevertheless, Juniper does make a very strong, plausible and readable case for protecting and nurturing the various natural agents upon which he focuses, showing how they are not just a Good Thing in the abstract but also a Good Thing in concrete terms. The Benefit-Cost Analysis, another tool of economics, works.
But as well as the macro-level ideas, he also picks up problems at micro level, such as the harm done by concreting over gardens, which made me feel quite self-righteous, having not long ago had my own back yard reconverted to lawn from patio.
Finally, just a note. The author of The Lost World, inspiration for Juniper's pet biome project, was Arthur Conan Doyle, not Arthur C Clarke, as he early on asserts.