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Daily, Gretchen C. and Katherine Ellison. The New Economy of Nature: The Quest To Make Conservation Profitable. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2002 (260 pp.). Just as ecotourism and heritage tourism use the natural and cultural environments for economic benefits, a new breed of ecological entrepreneurs is experimenting with programs and approaches that will help save disappearing nature and make money at the same time. The idea behind many of these programs is that the century-long appeals to people and governments to preserve the environment because itís the right thing to do clearly are not working, as devastation of flora and fauna continues unchecked around the world. These visionaries believe that tapping into the economic benefits of the land will go further toward convincing governments, corporations, and people to conserve nature, if for no other reason than itís good for the bottom line. The premise that underpins most of these approaches is that nature has been providing benefits to societies for generations, such as the stand of trees that absorbs poisonous carbon dioxide or the family of bees pollinating plants that become our food, but nature or the people who manage that slice of nature have generally not been compensated for these benefits. For the most part, trees only become economic assets when they are cut town for wood or paper, or animals only assume some economic status when they, their eggs, or their pelts, for example, are "used" in some way. This "new economy for nature" argues, however, that forests, rivers, insects, and nearly every other part of the ecosystem holds economic worth, if they can only be recognized, quantified, and explained in clear terms. The actors in this venture all begin with strong environmental credentials, and many of them have worked in the usual nonprofit or national park arena for years; most are frustrated with the habitat destruction that continues unabated, and so they have turned to think tanks, foundations, governments, and even corporations to re-imagine our approach to conservation. Itís no surprise that many of their suggestions Ė the principal one being that nature has "market" value Ė do not have universal support among the typical environmental lobby. Their argument would be, though, that current policies are not working, and the market, which is not going away, might be part of the answer. Aside from this unique if controversial premise, the interesting thing about the book is the manner in which itís written. Rather than the typical "study" of environmental issues and possible solutions, the writers (one a scientist, one a journalist) follow several of these entrepreneurs through years of meetings, visioning sessions, and program start-ups, including more failures than successes. Each chapter focuses on one of the central figures in the saga, describing how he or she is tapping into nature for both preservation and economic incentives, which provides the reader with an interesting variety of approaches to the topic. Sporadically, the principals meet at annual conferences to update one another on their progress, or lack of it, and in that sense, the book reads like a story, covering about four years of theory, philosophizing, research, and field work. As an example, New York City was ordered by the EPA to build a water filtration plant that would cost billions of dollars. Instead, the city purchased all of the land around the reservoirs and streams, removed what development there was and prohibited new building (which was the cause of the contaminants). Trees and plants now filter the water naturally, open space that would have been subdivisions was preserved, and the strategy cost a fraction of a new plant. Another common tactic is trading CO2 rights to businesses that pollute, if they help preserve forests that remove the gas; while controversial and still difficult to quantify, the trading and selling of these and other rights may someday take place on the stock exchange, allowing investors to earn a profit while supporting conservation. Creative approaches like this fill the bookís pages, and although all of the approaches do not live up to their dreamerís dreams, Daily and Ellison highlight the fact that a growing number of people outside the usual environmental spheres, including corporations and economists, understand that current levels of resource extraction and use are not sustainable, and that new solutions demand out-of-the-box thinking. The debate will continue as to whether these conservationists are using the market to save nature, or whether corporations are using the environment to turn a profit. Some would probably argue that the end justifies the means, while others would no doubt say that the emphasis on profit has the potential to compromise conservation efforts. The jury is still out.


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