I find this both wildly perverse and perversely intriguing:

Ecological economist Robert Costanza… and his team of researchers have already released one study claiming to have commoditized the world’s biosphere. The total value: $33 trillion…

There’s a big part of me—the mountain-climbing, Edward Abbey-reading part—that finds this simply appalling. The natural world is so astonishing and beautiful that I can’t stomach the thought of putting a monetary value on it. Then there’s the other part of me—the pragmatic, Sightline-researcher part—that tells me that we already put a monetary value on nature. We just don’t do it systematically; and we often to do it in order to exploit rather than conserve.

Even though $33 trillion is more than the combined world GDP, and even though the researchers believe the estimate to be conservative, there’s still something dissonant about putting a price on what feels priceless. Or, is it really the best way we have to quantify, and therefore protect, natural systems? After all, prices have a way of clarifying in a way that few things can.

Costanza will be speaking in Seattle next Wednesday. I doubt I’ll be able to make it, but I’d love to hear what people think.