Winter Solstice, 1992 – my first day on the job at The Wilderness Society, and Pat, one of my new colleagues, takes me around to meet the handful of staff actually working four days before Christmas. One of these was, of course, our counselor, Senator Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day, hero of the environmental community, a man who was in the Senate when I was in diapers. I was a bit intimidated.
We step into the Senator’s office for an introduction that goes like this:
Pat: “Gaylord, I’d like you to meet our new economist, Spen-”
The Senator (interrupting): “What the hell do we need another economist for? Aren’t they the kind who lie awake at night wondering whether what happens in the real world could work in theory? I heard that an economist is someone who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing!”
Well, Gaylord, your ribbing had a kernel of truth to it: too many economists and other folks don't know the value of the most valuable things. They don't see beyond prices of energy and other commodities, of what they could get by selling an undeveloped parcel to developers, or on how many jobs could be had in the process of converting natural systems into sellable stuff.
Quite a few economists do know that the value of nature transcends prices and that without healthy of natural systems, there’s not much basis for a truly wealthy economic system. As Senator Nelson also said,
The wealth of the nation is its air, water, soil, forests, minerals, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats and biodiversity…. In short, that’s all there is. That’s the whole economy.
I founded Key-Log Economics to continue the work of putting solid information behind this idea. It’s a privilege to help our clients make economic case for their conservation efforts, and a joy to work with a team of colleagues dedicated to the idea that doing right for the economy means doing right by nature.
Happy Earth Day!