Does the natural world have value in addition to monetary value? The Great Barrier Reef generates more than $5 billion per year to the Australian economy and about 63,000 jobs. Surely that’s worth saving in its own right, but what if it did none of those things? Would it be less worthy of preservation?
Earlier this month George Monbiot wrote a piece about The Culture of Nature in which he likened appreciation of the natural world to appreciation of art. He argued that they are identical in all respects. They are a form of culture. Why then, is it okay to condemn a rainforest or a coral reef without a second thought, but completely unacceptable to destroy, say, the Botticelli collection at the Uffizi gallery in Italy? Now I’m no art connoisseur but I have seen these paintings in their home and I think it would be criminal if we did not preserve them for future generations to enjoy. For the same reason, I think it would be criminal not to preserve things like rain forests and coral reefs for the benefit of our own and future generations.
It is possible that one hundred years from now, as a result of our carbon emissions, there will no longer be any coral reefs in the world. What will be our excuse for this? That we wanted to drive our cars and air-condition our homes with fossil fuels. Not exactly convincing. What will future generations think of us?
People who fight for the preservation of art or heritage are applauded and rightly so, while those who fight for things like the Great Barrier Reef are regarded as – according to Monbiot – romantics, escapists and fascists.