Royal Irish Academy (RIA) lecture jointly organised by NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute, EPA and the Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland.
Environmentalist and author Tony Juniper, speaking at the Royal Irish Academy, has said that environmental protection is not a luxury that can be put to one side in recessionary times. In contrast, Tony Juniper argues that rather than the view that conservation and pollution controls stunt growth and competitiveness, the reverse is the case. Wealth and economic growth are utterly dependent on Nature’s essential services.
Tony Juniper was speaking at the Royal Irish Academy (RIA), an event jointly organised by the Ryan Institute for Environmental Marine and Energy research at NUI Galway, the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Sciences Association of Ireland (ESAI).
Nature’s key role in economic activity is often only apparent when it’s removed. The economic contribution of bees to commercial fruit pollination is only now fully understood as species of bees disappear. Fresh water, a fundamental need, can be sourced, in sufficient quantities by working with natural systems Tony Juniper argues. The replenishment and supply of clean freshwater can often be achieved at a lower cost than highly engineered approaches.
Professor Colin Brown, Director of the Ryan Institute for Environment, Marine and Energy at NUI Galway says “The services that nature provides us, like clean water, clean air, fertile soil and food, are crucial for the well-being of humans and represent an astronomical economic value. Typically the loss of biodiversity costs about 3% of GDP which for the EU means about €450 billion - year after year after year. Tony Juniper is one of the most eloquent advocates of the need to tackle the inadequacy of existing economic thinking to tackle this problem.”
Tony Juniper cites examples where Healthy Nature can also help control the spread of disease. A study looking into the outbreak of West Nile Virus in the United States in 2002 found that the uneven distribution of cases was linked to wild bird diversity. Where there were greater numbers of wild birds less people caught the disease. Mosquitos that spread the West Nile Virus nasty virus among people prefer to feed on the blood of birds. Where there are fewer birds, they turn to other animals to get a meal, including people.
As Ireland works to recover from serious recession, Tony Juniper says it is critical to recognise the direct economic value that is provided by natural systems. Wetlands help reduce flood risk; woodlands absorb carbon dioxide; bees pollinate crops, green spaces improve health and beautiful places attract tourism. These examples and many other natural services make a massive contribution to the economies of places. Indeed for Ireland, it has been estimated that these ‘ecosystem services’ are worth €2.6 billion per year
Despite the mounting evidence that protecting Nature is of huge economic value, it is still portrayed as a brake on short-term economic growth. Many people accept the idea that the depletion of natural resources, high greenhouse gas emissions and disappearing animals and plants are the acceptable price of progress. In his talk on 25th September, Tony Juniper challenges these views and demonstrates how healthy environments make vast contributions to economic growth.