The value of nature

How do we value nature? That question is not easy to answer. Each of us values and experiences nature in our own way. The differences in our experiences, feelings and interests determine our attitude towards nature and therefore our daily actions. Nature conservation requires recognising and bridging those perspectives and attitudes. Specifically within this topic, the question is: how can you express the different values of nature in terms of money? And does that help to draw more attention to the loss of biodiversity?

With a growing world population and increasing demand for food, nature is coming under increasing pressure. At the same time, we are realising that we desperately need nature and biodiversity to keep our planet liveable. We must start living with nature and build nature-inclusive societies that make sustainable use of the land and sea. In doing so, we can learn from people and communities who relate to nature in different ways.

How do people perceive nature?

Living together with nature requires us to look at how people relate to nature. The 'Nature Futures Framework' describes three different perspectives on nature:

  1. Nature for nature's sake: Nature has intrinsic value and must be protected from human encroachment. "Who do we think we are as human beings to exterminate other species?"
  2. Nature as culture: Nature is anchored in people's identity and way of life. For example, in what they eat and how they prepare it. This can be an inspiration to transform our relationship with nature. "We must find a way to live in harmony with nature."
  3. Nature for society: What does nature have to offer humans, and how can we make the most of it? "We need nature for food, fertile soils, clean water, building materials and medicine."

Anyone who wants to get people moving to protect biodiversity must navigate through these different perspectives. Scientists from Wageningen are investigating the social aspects of societal challenges. How can you explore tensions, enter into dialogue and break through power relations? And how can you embed new ways of learning and decision-making in society?

Ecosystem services: what are they worth?

Ecosystem services are services that nature provides to people. For example, the oxygen you breathe, the bees that pollinate crops or the woods where you take a stroll. Ecologists and economists try to measure and quantify nature's contribution. If you can make the economic and intrinsic value of nature explicit, you can potentially motivate governments and businesses to take different decisions. This is also called 'Ecosystem Accounting' or 'Green Accounting'. WUR has contributed to the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) of the United Nations.

In addition, we are working on earning models, for example for farmers or tourism, which add value to nature and thereby contribute to conservation and protection.

Working together as scientists

In order to value nature from various perspectives, WUR scientists work together in the fields of ecology, sociology, economics and policy. This is necessary, because global problems such as climate change and biodiversity loss cannot be tackled in a single place or manner. Our integrated knowledge helps achieve a balance between sustainable use and the preservation of biodiversity.