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Posts Tagged ‘forests’

Today is the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s independence. I spent 2 weeks there recently, partly for work and partly for holiday. It was the low season on the Caribbean coast which meant very quiet beaches there and lots of (mostly warm) rain wherever in the country I went. But this is not a blog for holidays…

Work there was very interesting too. I spoke at a workshop on economic valuation organised by the National Institute of Ecology (Instituto Nacional Ecologica). The workshop was attended by a large group of well informed and highly enthusiastic people from the public sector, NGOs and academia. Some research funders were also there.

Mexico is a bit of a paradise for an environmental economist – and I repeat not just because of the tourist attractions, even though they include the Museum of Economics in Mexico City! Rather it is because they have used the methodologies and instruments of the profession rather more extensively than one might expect. For example

  • The Mexican system of Payments for Hydrological Environmental Services (PSAH), which is one of the first Payments of Ecosystem Services. Mexico faces both high deforestation rates and severe water scarcity problems. The PSAH was designed by the federal government to pay participating forest owners for the benefits of watershed protection and aquifer recharge in those areas where commercial forestry is not currently competitive. It seeks to complement an array of forest policies that include development of community forestry firms and prohibitions of land use changes. Funding comes from a fee charged to federal water users. Applicants are selected according to several criteria that include indicators of the value of water scarcity in the region. For a paper that describes the process of policy design, main actors and rules, and provides a preliminary evaluation please click here.
  • The fisheries buyback scheme (buying back excess fishing gear) to protect endangered marine mammals, and
  • A pilot project to reduce energy subsidies and make sure that they are not indexed to production to protect overexploited aquifers.

Amongst the future projects, there is the possibility of a TEEB application for Mexico which came up in the discussions at the workshop but hopefully will become reality. TEEB is an international project that quantified and where possible monetised the services provided by the ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide. Country specific applications of its methods are emerging to estimate the economic value of the natural capital countries own. Benefit of such an application is that big numbers are talked about in the media and the overall process engages all sorts of different stakeholders who can see ‘what’s in it for them’ more clearly.

On a clearer link to holidaying in Mexico…I think there is a lot of room to increase the entry fees to the attractions like the Mayan ruins at Tulum (less than US$5 per person) and Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (US$2.5 per person). There will of course be the predictable protests from local and international businesses but really compared to the benefits provided by such places and the funding need for their maintenance, such entry fees are terribly low. We hope our friends at INE will receive the support they deserve if and when they pursue arguments for a better benefit capture from such sites.

As you can easily find millions of attractive photos of Mexico on the internet, I thought I end with a photo much harder to find…a case of ‘appropriate technology’ in perfect use at a restaurant toilet inside the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve (snorkelling at the reef there was interesting too!) .

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Away from the pasture for the holidays, I’ve been doing some reading…Chekhov plays. I knew he was a visionary, but I didn’t know environmental issues were his bag. So imagine my surprise when I read this little exchange in the play Uncle Vanya – Scenes from Country Life in Four Acts written in 1897!

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Sonya: ….He [Astrov] says that forests embellish the earth, they teach man to understand beauty, they inspire ideals in him. Forests alleviate a climate’s harshness. In countries with a gentle climate less energy is spent on the struggle with nature, and so man is gentler there, more delicate; people are handsome, versatile, easily aroused, their speech is refined, their movements graceful. The arts and sciences flourish among them, their philosophy isn’t gloomy, their attitude to women is fine and noble.

Voynitsky [laughing]: Bravo, bravo!…all that is charming but unconvincing, so [Astrov] my friend, you must let me go on stoking stoves with logs and building sheds with wood.

Astrov:  you can burn peat in your stove and build your sheds of stone. Well I grant you can cut down forests out of need, buy why destroy them? The forests of Russia are being wiped out by the axe, thousands of millions of trees are dying, the homes of animals and birds are being laid waste, river levels are dropping and drying up, wonderful scenery vanishes forever, and all because lazy man hasn’t the sense to bend down and pick up fuel from the ground….One has to be a mindless barbarian to burn such beauty in a stove, to destroy what we cannot create. Man is endowed with reason and creative power in order to increase what he is given, but hitherto he has not created but destroyed. There are fewer and fewer forests…rivers are drying up, game is becoming extinct, the climate is damaged and every day the earth is becoming poorer and uglier. You are looking at me ironically and thinking all I am saying isn’t serious, and…perhaps this really is just craziness, but when I go past the peasants’ woods, which I’ve saved from destruction, or when I hear the hum of my young trees, which I planted with my own hands, I know the climate is a little in my control, and if in a thousand years if man is happy, the responsibility for that will in a small way be mine. When I plant a birch and then watch it come into leaf and sway in the wind, my spirit fills with pride and I…However….I must go. All this is probably craziness after all. I bid you farewell!

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Well, farewell 2010…wishing us all more compelling arguments in favour of the environment in 2011!

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Earlier this month I was away from the pasture traipsing around the Western Eastern Europe (think Poland down to Slovenia) for a couple of weeks. Most of my journeys between places of interest were taken during the night to give me more daytime to enjoy said places, however one rare daytime trip made me and my companion realise the mistake we’d made in sacrificing good sleep and beautiful countryside for a few hours saved here and there.

This revelation came on the 13:00 from Zagreb to Ljubljana where, soon after dozing off I was shaken awake by my travelling companion who wanted me to see the countryside we were passing through. And what countryside! This was not the countryside of Western Europe where one travels through endless fields – cows, horses, sheep, sunflowers, wheat… My travelling companion and I tried desperately and unsuccessfully to capture the beauty of the forests, the swirling mists on the hilltops and the charming villages along the river; something difficult enough to do when you’re standing still and practically impossible when you’re on a train!

I feel like the shots I have of this landscape is something like what we do in environmental economics – attempt to capture the intangible value of the environment to try and show the world (and policy makers) that it exists.  We produce something that is far less than what we’d like and what is there, but it is a minimum that should hopefully give you some idea!

So with all that said all I can leave you with are these poor excuses for photos and a reminder of why we who work in the environmental industry do what we do…

Bridge over the Mirna river in SloveniaMist swirling around the hilltops
Village by the Mirna

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