A View from the Future: Financing Large Scale Restoration

E.O. Wilson said that the “the next century will… be the era of restoration in ecology.” But what he didn’t mention was how and by whom that era of restoration would be financed and the criteria private capital would use for their investment decisions. This week I am attending a business conference on emerging carbon and environmental markets. Many new and well known financial and investment firms (along with the usual assortment of government and academic folks) are here hoping to legitimate these new commodities (carbon allowances and offsets, stream and wetland mitigation banking, species and biodiversity banking and trading, etc) and capitalize on their investments in these emerging markets. In my first response I asked whether social and political goals should be included in how we, as scientists, evaluate restoration success. I asked this question because “social success,” especially at the international level, is now a necessary metric in securing financing for large-scale restoration efforts. If we, as dreamers of the end of Wilson’s “great extinction spasm,” want to practice the scale of restoration necessary to accomplish this feat, we will only be able to mobilize the necessary private capital by paying attention to how our applied science intersects with people and institutions. For example, credits resulting from a restored forest that sequesters carbon that includes social goals is priced higher than a restoration project without social metrics. But maybe it is not our job as scientists to care about the human dimensions of restoration. Maybe that should be left up to finance capital.

Image: Ecosystem Restoration Associates Inc. - "Bringing Carbon Back to Life" (!)


  1. I put this in the discussion page, as it doesnt critique a specific paper -- yet it brings up an excellent point that we often dont address as academics. A lot of our actions are driven by funding -- should we let the market decide restoration priorities?

  2. This is from Mark Zimring, I am just reposting:

    "The invisible hand of the market needs to be told where to go by a larger understanding of value outside of economics."-Dick Norgaard.

    Economics simply cannot function in isolation from other systems. We are only beginning to understand the complexity of large social and natural systems--and they are constantly changing. Equity considerations aside (and this is a major aside), we can never hope to fully value natural systems with economics. What we can do is use scientific and social values and priorities to guide our use of markets as a tool to create incentives for conservation and restorative ecology.

  3. yeah, but Norgaard also wants to be able to incorporate apriori ethical reasoning into economic models along with a return to a general equilibrium framework. Good luck with that.

    I am not suggesting that neoclassical economics is accurately pricing (not valuing, marginalist economics can't value anything) natural systems. What I am suggesting is that is doesn't matter whether price is "discovered" of forced upon through government regulation (like wetlands markets) or how complex socio-ecological systems are. The process of commodifcation (something else economics can't deal with) in already stripping away complexity, for example with wetland restoration (for the EPA/Army Corp) measured by acres of restored wetland. What I am suggesting is that these markets are moving forward at an exponential rate whether we like it or not. Until the scientific community, especially ecologists, stop towing the company line, these markets will continue to move ahead with profit as the only driver, and with economics functioning in isolation from the real world.

  4. see Palmer and Filioso's 2009 article "Restoration of Ecosystem Services for Environmental Markets" for a good intro to the possible perils of using ecosystem restoration for environmental markets.