Protecting environment pays off, experts
By Gary Wisby, Environment Reporter
Chicago Sun Times
Published March 21st, 2005
What is a honeybee worth? A wetland? A fish or a bird?
A human life?
Ecologists and health advocates are assigning dollar
values to the environment as they argue for its protection
and enhancement. Budget-minded governments make this a
practical approach, if sometimes a distasteful one.
"You can't have a healthy economy without a healthy
environment," says John Kostyack of the National
Wildlife Federation. He cited recent studies showing that
"an investment in conservation today really pays
off in the long run -- and the payoff is in terms of both
quality of life and dollar and cents."
Why pay $9 million for a barrier in the Chicago Sanitary
& Ship Canal to keep Asian carp out of Lake Michigan?
To protect the Great Lakes' annual $4.5 billion fishing
industry, environmentalists say.
It makes economic sense to restore wetlands to trap and
store rainwater because flooding on the Des Plaines River
alone costs local governments and property owners an average
of $20 million a year, according to the Biodiversity Recovery
Plan of Chicago Wilderness.
The 3 million people who watched birds and other wildlife
pumped $1.6 billion into the Illinois economy in 1996,
the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service estimated. A 2001
survey by the Lake Michigan Federation and University
of Illinois at Chicago showed that Chicago area residents
would part with more than $3 billion to preserve 20 species
of birds and fish.
$20 price tag on honeybee
Pati Vitt of the Chicago Botanic Garden and her volunteers
hand-pollinate rare white-fringed prairie orchids to substitute
for the equally rare hawk moth. She's in awe of another
pollinator, asking, "Who would think that a single
honeybee would be worth $20?"
That's its value in propagation of the rabbit-eye blueberry
out West, says Utah State University researcher James
Hanging price tags on the environment took off after
the 1997 publication of a controversial report in Nature
magazine that figured the contribution of ecosystems worldwide
at $33 trillion a year or more -- or about double the
combined gross national product of every country in the
Some have tried to establish a dollar value for even
a human life. Two years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency came up with $6 million. But when analyzing the
Bush administration's proposed Clear Skies Act, which
would have mainly benefitted older people with breathing
disorders, the EPA discounted the lives of people over
70 by 37 percent.
Some find such calculations offensive. "How much
would you pay for your kid to avoid an asthma attack or
for your grandmother to live an extra 15 years?"
asked Rebecca Stanfield of the Illinois Public Interest
Research Group. "These are questions that are impossible
to answer for real human beings."