This interview was originally published on BirdLife International. 

Fantastic interview with Tony Juniper, conservationist campaigner, writer and sustainability expert, around the need to recognise the value of  our natural world.

“So, Mr. Juniper, can we, or should we, give a dollar value to nature?

Yes, we must try to understand the economic value of nature. Sometimes we can see it clearly, sometimes it’s more difficult, sometimes impossible. It’s about spotting when it’s the best tool, and exploiting it to the best we can. For example: working with water companies has allowed us to show very clearly the value of conserving and restoring blanket bogs to have clean water, reducing costs in chemicals and engineering for water treatment. Winning the economic argument in that case allowed us to restore habitats for Golden Plovers, rare insects and plants with the support of the water company. Because it made economic sense to them.

But it’s not always that easy.

There are cases where it’s very hard to see an economic value, saving the rare Blue-eyed Ground-dove  might be an example. In these cases I would rather go for the moral, intrinsic, scientific argument we’re very familiar with.

So all conservationists must become economists?

Environmentalists must understand the way politics and the public discourse work. We have not lost the argument of nature being beautiful, or important. We have lost, time and time again, the argument of the “choice” between economic growth and the protection of nature. If we don’t win “that” narrative we will continue to lose. We have to locate economics inside ecology in order to win the big battle that lies ahead.

Isn’t it dangerous to even just concede to the argument that either the “rare bird” has a clear economic value, or it is not even worth considering? By accepting this framework are we not drawn into the logic that is causing the problem in the first place?

No. We must be pragmatic: if you don’t have a clear economic argument then don’t make it. The arguments we have been using until now (beauty, intrinsic value, irreplaceability etc.) sometimes are just not enough. I’ve just returned from a trip to the Ivory Coast for a project on cocoa farming. The farmers are the main drivers for forest loss in that region, but now we have a new argument: water. In the past we have been saying: the forest is great, with its White-necked Picathartes, the elephants and chimpanzees; but it hasn’t worked. Now policy makers have finally realised that rain, from which their export cash-crops depend, is affected severely by deforestation. Saving the forest has become the twin argument of saving the countries’ crops, we have a much stronger argument and things are changing. We are not abandoning our previous values, we are just “adding” tools to achieve our conservation goal. Some of us are sceptical about this, they see it as “either/or”. It is  not like that at all…”

Read on at: BirdLife International.