In putting a price tag on endangered species and degraded ecosystems, ecologists and economists have joined forces to formulate a new rationale for environmental issues:
restoring natural capital
© Erich Schlegel/Dallas Morning News/Corbis
Ecological restoration is expensive. The United States government is slated to spend almost $8 billion restoring parts of the Florida Everglades as wetlands between 2000 and 2030. The Army Corps of Engineers had a plan to spend $14 billion to restore New Orleans' barrier islands before Hurricane Katrina arrived. On a smaller scale, South Africa, whose gross domestic product (GDP) is 4% that of the United States, is spending $450 million to restore native vegetation and increase water supply.
Can countries afford to spend such sums on ecological restoration? A new school of economists and ecologists answers with another question: Can the world's economies afford not to? Consider New Orleans: Ecological engineer William...