Five years ago, a World Bank study entitled “Where is the Wealth of Nations?” raised a basic question: have most models, previously marshalled to assess the value of mineral wealth, been fatally flawed because they didn’t account for irreversible socio-ecological impacts, reaching into all our biospheres?
The report was widely ignored. But now its key premise is being seized upon by the United Nations and, not least, by some of those whose core activities are at the heart of these damaging processes.
Renewed interest in calculating  the “true cost” of sacrificing our natural capital has undoubtedly been stimulated by the massive oil eruptions, caused by BP in the Gulf of Mexico. So far these calculations were tied predominantly to assessing the adverse economic consequences of  climate change caused by burning fossil fuels. Next month sees a conference in London, ostensibly dedicated to discussing “The Economy of Ecosystems and Biodiversity”, which holds out the promise of going further – by evaluating monetary losses across a broader spectrum of industrial activities.
However, just consider the track record of some of those behind this exercise – Deutsche Bank, Rio Tinto and Lafarge, the world’s biggest cement producer, among them. It’s surely impossible to suppress the thought that (as with past self-justifications  by  tobacco manufacturers and Big Oil)  the foxes aren’t, once again, trying to take up residence in the chicken house.
Back in 2005, the fundamental import of “Where is the Wealth of Nations?” was that no realistic price can be set on many environmental losses. Any attempt to monetarise our eco-systems is doomed to failure; after all, what is priceless, ipso facto, should not be priced.
More dangerously, this initiative is almost certain to justify further egregious “trade-offs” (like the fraudulent carbon emissions market) between industrial activities and the preservation of vital biodiversity.
As if the one could, or should, conceivably be evaluated on a par with the other.