NYT: Putting a Price Tag on Nature's Defenses

InsightaaS: Regular readers will recognize that Sunday's are a bit different at Across the Net: we tend to feature a post with an environmental theme, and 'double up' on content by adding a second post, featuring an infographic. Today's environmentally-themed post comes from the august New York Times.  An article from the NYT explores research done by a team of scientists headed by Australian National University professor Robert Costanza that attempts to quantify the economic benefit of natural defenses against natural disasters - the value, for example, of having coral reefs and coastal marshes to absorb or deflect hurricanes, rather than having to build levees and flood walls. Costanza's work is controversial for several reasons, but it provides a compelling reason for debate: his research values the 'services' provide by ecosystems at $142.7 trillion per year, nearly nine times the GDP of the US.

After Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the United States Army Corps of Engineers got to work on a massive network of levees and flood walls to protect against future catastrophes. Finally completed in 2012, the project ended up costing $14.5 billion – and that figure didn’t include the upkeep these defenses will require in years to come, not to mention the cost of someday replacing them altogether.

But levees aren’t the only things that protect coasts from storm damage. Nature offers protection, too. Coastal marshes absorb the wind energy and waves of storms, weakening their impact farther inland. And while it’s expensive to maintain man-made defenses, wetlands rebuild themselves.

Protection from storms is just one of many services that ecosystems provide us – services that we’d otherwise have to pay for. In 1997, a team of scientists decided to estimate how much they are actually worth...

Read the entire article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/05/science/earth/putting-a-price-tag-on-natures-defenses.html?_r=3