The Oceans Are Not Worth $24 trillion
Some things are beyond measure and beyond price. No amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of the sacred.
The Oceans Are Not Worth $24 trillion
By Charles Eisenstein /

In case you were wondering whether the oceans are worth protecting, the World Wildlife Fund has helpfully put a monetary value on them: $24 trillion. No doubt they hope to align economic incentive with ecological well-being: a laudable motivation. But think for a moment about the mentality this kind of valuation feeds. It suggests:

(1) That money is a valid way to assess the value of something like an ocean.

(2) That we can and should make decisions about the planet based on the foreseeable financial gains and losses, and therefore...

(3) That if we could make more than $24 trillion (say, $48 trillion) by trashing the oceans, then we should do it.

(4) That it is possible to foresee and calculate the contribution of the oceans to human welfare in the first place—that our knowledge is sufficient to qualify us to even make this valuation.

(5) That we can separate out the oceans from the rest of the planet, as if they were a line item on a spreadsheet independent of the rest. So conceivably, we could compensate for the loss of the oceans with more from some other revenue stream.

(6) That decisions about the oceans should be made based on the effect on human beings—that the oceans themselves and everything living in them have no intrinsic worth. What is important is their economic worth—their value to us.

Clearly, this mentality is part of the problem. At this very moment we aretrashing the oceans for the sake of money. I do not know how many trillions of dollars we are making in the process, but when I read of ten thousand seals washing up dead on California’s beaches, I know that however much we are making, it isn’t enough. No amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of the sacred.

We have to understand that some things are beyond measure and beyond price. This conflicts with the reigning ideology of our time: science says that nothing is beyond measure; economics that nothing is beyond price. Accordingly, we (the dominant culture) have believed that by extending the scope and accuracy of our quantitative reasoning, we will through technology conquer the world, and that by extending the domain of market relationships, we will maximize the efficient production of wealth.

Why then, even as our technologies of control grow more powerful and precise, does the world seem to be spiraling out of control? Why then, even as global GDP reaches new heights, do we experience greater and greater poverty—a poverty from which even the financially rich are not exempt? It is because something is left out of our measurements.

What is left out? First, the things we choose not to measure, perhaps because we don’t think they are important, or because they interfere with established power relationships.

Second, the things we don’t know how to measure, because our understanding of nature or society is much less complete than we admit. Can we really know the effect of the seal die-off when it cascades through the ocean ecosystem?

Third, those things that are un-measurable: beauty, joy, purpose, pain, sacredness, fulfillment, play... and the sight of seals on the beach, even if they are useless for any other purpose. Yet these are what make life rich. Think of the difference between a rote performance and a song actually sung to you. Money can’t buy you love.

Numbers have their place, but if we are to preserve the things on this planet that are beyond price, we cannot rely on mathematics to do it. We cannot scare ourselves into compassion, imagining that properly quantifying the blowback will deter us from wreaking further harm. Fear for one’s self-interest is what thwarts compassion in the first place.

Nor can we bribe ourselves into love, hoping that we will finally take care of the oceans if only we realize how much money we’d save. Those contributing to the despoliation of the oceans are making an awful lot of money doing so, and a lot of the choices we must make in the future will seem to defy economic interest. The pecuniary mind won’t save us from the destruction generated by the pecuniary mind.

We need to be very cautious about valuing “ecosystem services.” At best, this stance allows the bean counter in all of us to relax their guard and give us permission to act from our love of Earth. “It’s OK, it makes economic sense too.”

Unfortunately, by invoking economic arguments we risk perpetuating the notion that the ecosystem is, fundamentally, a source of “services;” that the planet is here for us, valuable for its use to us, and not in its own right.

The ecological revolution must go deeper than that. It isn’t about valuing and utilizing nature more cleverly. It’s about genuine respect for nature, and according it intrinsic value—even holding it sacred.

Where is the sacredness when we have reduced nature to a number?

Charles Eisenstein is speaking at the Leading Wellbeing festival that takes place in Ambleside, Cumbria, from July 16-18 2015. 

3.8 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 20,473 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
For Those Who Don't Want to Vote for the Lesser of Two Evils
Peter White · 15,336 views today · Ranked-choice voting is catching on, and Maine might become the first state to help citizens vote for candidates they actually want.
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 10,994 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Anarchists - What We Stand For
unknown · 9,311 views today · Anarchism : The word “anarchy” comes from Greek and means “no rulers”. As a political philosophy, anarchism is based on the idea that organization does not require rulers—that...
Donald Trump Is the Mirror and Hillary Clinton Is the Mask
Chris Agnos · 8,444 views today · Disclaimer: I do not support Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton for president. I think the scope of the political debate is far too narrow for the kinds of actions that need to...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 5,668 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
Gil Scott-Heron Deconstructs Colonialism and Black History in His Own Unique Style
3 min · 5,461 views today · His-Story: I was wondering about our yesterdays, and starting searching through the rubble and to say the very least, somebody went to a hell of a lot of trouble to make sure...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 4,659 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
Donald and Hobbes Is Genius
Various · 4,401 views today · Some clever folk have been replacing precocious 6-year-old Calvin, from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, with Donald Trump and the results are, well, take a look...
Our Obsession With 'Good Immigrants' Breeds Intolerance
2 min · 1,940 views today · Society sets the bar so high to become a 'good immigrant', argues writer Nikesh Shukla, that normal immigrants are demonised. He says non-Brits in the public eye have a simple...
My Cuba - An Intimate Look at the Pleasures and Struggles of 6 Different People's Cuba
150 min · 1,758 views today · Cuba - diverse, vibrant and complex - is undergoing immense change. But what does it mean to be Cuban in this time of change? Six people. Six films. From the comedy and ballet...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 1,753 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Lessons in the Calais Jungle: Teaching Life Stories and Learning About Humanity
Aura Lounasmaa · 1,553 views today · I am part of a team of academics teaching a course to residents in the Calais Jungle, a camp for migrants and refugees outside the French city. Life Stories in the Jungle has...
Planet Earth II Could Be Best Nature Doc Ever Made
3 min · 1,030 views today · 10 years ago Planet Earth changed our view of the world. Now we take you closer than ever before. This is life in all its wonder. This is Planet Earth II. A decade ago, the...
Bird Watching on Lesvos Island - A Poetic Call to Stand With Refugees
3 min · 989 views today · Born in Darfur, Sudan and raised in Philadelphia, Emi Mahmoud is the 2015 World Poetry Slam Champion and the Women of the World co-Champion of 2016. From a young age Emi...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 817 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 696 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
The Important Difference Between Love and Being Loved
2 min · 590 views today · We talk of love as if it were just one thing: in fact, it’s two very different moves, Loving and Being Loved. You start to grow up when you stop focusing on the latter and get...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 587 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Alliance of 600,000 British Doctors Calls for 'Imperative' Coal Phase-Out
Nadia Prupis · 521 views today · Doing so would constitute 'double win for tackling the twin health threats of air pollution and climate change,' report states
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
The Oceans Are Not Worth $24 trillion