It was a big shock to start to understand how wage-earners heavily reward land owners, for being land owners.
George Monbiot, in a devastating article, The Great Imposters, in 2006, where he speaks of the first imposter:
The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘this is mine.’
And he wrote that the then government had set up something called the Natural Capital Committee and Ecosystem Markets Task Force, that:
… has already begun describing land owners as the “providers” of ecosystem services, as if they had created the rain and the hills and the rivers and the wildlife that inhabits them. They are to be paid for these services, either by the government or by “users”.
Providers of ecosystems! It’s really vile and offensive nonsense. And Monbiot reports lots of other gobbledegook terms which have emerged around the commodification of nature, like unbundling ecosystem services, a ludicrous concept, surely.
As Monbiot points out, the rationale is clear enough, to put a value to the natural world which at present is treated as if it were worth nothing. Nothing exists without a monetary value, and everything has its price, everything. Once something has a price, the easier it is to steal it. The world is not for sale, we recoil violently from this way of thinking. Nature is worth nothing, it is beyond value. It starts to acquire value in the human universe when someone wants to deny it to others.
As the report itself acknowledged, it was perhaps an impossible exercise of putting value to things which could be considered infinite in value; but they went ahead, of course they did, it was their commission, who can blame them? So they got down to it and came up with unbundling ecosystem services.
Inevitably, in the commercially rapacious world we live in, ideas like the ones expressed in this report, already gaining momentum, will doubtlessly result in the packaging up of nature for marketization, further severing people from nature and forever changing our relationship with Mother Earth.
The Stern Report shows how accountancy and materialism governs our thinking about even the most fundamental things. It helpfully made the point that action now on climate change would be more cost effective than action later and, obviously, it’s felt that the whole issue was only going to be taken seriously if demonstrated in these terms. And so, horrendously, it had to produce economic expressions and valuations of nature, of what is unfathomable, incalculable, unownable, in the context of what is an absolutely clear threat to the very existence of millions of lives. It is necessary to put a monetary value on their lives, in relation to other’s lives.
Lord Stern has only done what he’s been asked to do, and has done so honestly, in the terms he’s being asked to report in. In this report Stern does – as his brief demands - put a value on people’s lives. The formula for calculating the value of people’s lives goes as far as to link it to their income, their economic value in this world of false values. It’s monstrous, and it makes monsters of us if we start to think in these terms. Some things do not have a price. We should banish from our minds any notion of thinking in this way. We cannot produce papers which calculate the worth of a human life, to reduce it to a question that’s manageable on an accountant’s balance sheet, this is barbarism.
It’s clear where the pricing of nature and of life is going, in this age of blind acceleration, the final death of moral considerations, where steadily values are shed and replaced by value, the reduction of everything to price.
And that which was excluded as a factor of production, is now to be purchased from those who appropriate its value in the first place! A horrendous full circle is completed here, it is now not they who need to compensate the community for their monopoly of land, it is the community which should compensate them (even further) for their provision of nature to us.
George Monbiot says in the same article:
Land ownership since the time of the first impostor has involved the gradual accumulation of exclusive rights, which were seized from commoners. Payments for ecosystem services extend this encroachment by appointing the landlord as the owner and instigator of the wildlife, the water flow, the carbon cycle, the natural processes previously deemed to belong to everyone and no one.