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Posts Tagged ‘environment’

Once again Seattle, Washington is flexing its large, environmental muscle – one that not only seems to be superior in terms of size, but also seems to have the enviable ability to trigger movement and action in both the local and state governments.

In Seattle, it is now illegal to throw away food with rubbish (it has already been illegal, for several years, to throw away recyclable items with rubbish). This comes as a pumped-up version of mandates for composting that already exist in places such as San Francisco, Vancouver, and Vermont. The difference, however, is that Seattle homeowners failing to comply will be penalised directly, after being warned once – a warning displayed publicly with a large, red tag around the offender’s rubbish bin. These red tags also double as a public education campaign about the new law on recycling and composting.

While the establishment of this policy is something to be admired in and of its own right, the sentiment behind it sheds light on an exemplary dedication to the larger environmental goals of the people of Washington. This (comparatively) strict law did not come into place as a strong, last-ditch effort to fix some overwhelming problem. On the contrary, it was established to help the city increase its recycling and composting rate to 60%, only four percentages points higher than its current level, and was a result of the fact that the state’s recycling rate slipped to 49% in 2013 from 50% in 2012 – even though this 49% is still among the highest recycling rates in the US. This new law therefore symbolises just how committed Seattle is to its environmental and ecological responsibility. The people of Seattle and Washington are willing to push strong, novel policies in reaction to small (environmental) steps backward and/or in order to increase, even by relatively small amounts, their already exemplary environmental practices and lifestyles.

Excuse my implied pessimism for the rest of us, but this ambition to be ‘better even when already one of the best’ seems a refreshing deviation from the environmental attitude of setting discouragingly low goals and coasting once a level of ‘good enough’ has been achieved (restricting the growth of many an environmental muscle).

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This week the UK Natural Capital Committee (more info here) released its first State of Natural Capital report with little fanfare.  It achieved a small amount of press attention, with only four environmental news outlets covering the report (according to Google News). A damp squib in terms of press coverage, which was depressing to those immersed in these concepts and convinced this is the right way forward.

It may be healthy to take a step back and a realistic view on the popularity of Natural Capital as a concept. I used Google Trends to gauge public awareness and interest in the concept.  In order for a fair comparison I compared “Natural Capital” against “Ecosystem Services”  – another environmental economics buzz word.

The Google Trend graph is presented below, with Natural Capital represented in blue and Ecosystem Services  in red:Image

Ecosystem services appears to be getting more ‘heat’ than Natural Capital, despite being around as an idea for less time. Interest in ecosystem services are increasing, while interest in Natural Capital has been flat (or even declining) over the past seven years or so.

Possible reasons for this trend are that ecosystem services as a concept is mutli-disciplinary friendly and less contentious. Consequently it has been adopted across the environmental sector.  Natural Capital, although intertwined with the ideas of ecosystem services, is more difficult to define, and although popular with business may not be popular across the environmental sector.

Perhaps the difference in adoption and interest has its source in concepts themselves. Ecosystem services as a term seeks to capture the benefits flowing from nature without trying to define nature itself. Natural Capital as a concept, shoehorns the matter that makes up nature into a bleak financial framework. For the lay person and those nervous about the ‘commodification’ of nature, Natural Capital is perhaps a step too far.

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