In 1962, the Drifters, a popular rock 'n' roll group, sang:
At night the stars put on a show for free,
And darling, you can share it all with me...
Nature provides many products and services that we, like the Drifters, enjoy for free. But, as Thomas Paine said about liberty, "What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly." Ecologists point out that "the goods and services that nature provides in support of an economy - such as the cycling of nutrients for the production of renewable resources (like fish and forest products), the pollination of flowering plants, and the regulation of climate - are free."1 We may therefore esteem them too lightly.
Many ecologists and ecologically minded economists suggest that we would appreciate and protect nature more if we attached market prices to the products and services it provides.2 According to one prominent ecologist, "Moral arguments are not enough - we have to make nature a regular column in our spreadsheets and cost-benefit analyses, so that natural assets are properly valued in our decisions."3
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