[Book Review] – What Has Nature Ever Done For Us by Tony Juniper

what has nature ever done for us?

I don’t read too many books but when I saw a piece on the Guardian website by environmental campaigner and author Tony Juniper talking about the economic benefits we receive from nature, my interest was piqued enough to go out and buy his book on the subject.

I’m not a very fast reader and I’ve had a lot of other things to do but I’ve finally finished digesting it and I must say that it ranks up there among the best books I’ve read in years – fiction or non-fiction.

Now you might say that I am probably a little bit biased in favour of the subject matter and I’m not going to deny this but I still appreciate a well researched piece of work with arguments that are both rational and very well constructed.

Even had I not been an environmental thinker beforehand, I could not have read this book without coming away with a different viewpoint on nature. Indeed, despite being a self proclaimed environmentalist, I have never truly appreciated what nature provides in global terms – I have generally been more concerned with emissions and the current and future effects of climate change on the peoples of this planet.

A Numbers Game

One of the key features of this book is the number of studies that it cites that have tried to estimate the monetary value we derive from natural systems. While I am always a little careful not to draw conclusions based on a limited body of research, even if some of the numbers in this book are out by a factor of 10, they would still prove quite extraordinary.

I don’t want to cover too many of these here as it is better you read the whole story for yourself but I’ll repeat some of those that Juniper himself has published online:

Tony Juniper

  • $34bn – the cost to India of losing their vulture populations – these costs are primarily incurred because of worsening public health after the vultures disappeared
  • $1,500 per hectare – the annual value provided by insect-eating birds to timber-producing forests
  • One quarter – the proportion of Belize’s GDP that relies almost entirely on the coral reefs and mangrove forests around its coasts
  • $6.6tn – the annual, global cost attributed to the degradation of natural systems

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what nature provides to the human population on this planet. There are even more striking numbers to come when you read the book and they will likely stir up some powerful, and often conflicted, feelings inside you.

I say conflicted because, as you read this book, you can’t help but see your own contribution to many of the problems we are causing.

But this is not really a doom and gloom type of book; instead it shows us just what we stand to gain by protecting and nurturing the natural ecosystems of the world. It demonstrates just how strong the argument is for utilising nature in a sustainable way and the enormous cost savings to be made by its proper maintenance.

Getting Back To Nature

After working his way through the various ecosystems and natural systems of the world, Juniper looks at the human health benefits of nature in his penultimate chapter.

He explains how exposure to the natural world has been shown to significantly improve both the physical and mental wellbeing of human populations. It is also true that this improvement in our health comes at a very small cost compared to the drugs and treatments currently employed.

I thought this was a particularly significant chapter because while topics such as deforestation, over-fishing and melting icecaps are easy to distance oneself from, the direct health benefits of experiencing nature are not just important at a societal level, they are felt at a personal level too.

A False Economy

The final chapter goes into some of the reasons why both governments around the world and the general public fail to act upon the growing scientific consensus and the comparisons Juniper makes between monetary capital and natural capital are very interesting.

In essence, we are treating nature like dividends that we can take (and continue to take) when we should be treating it like capital that you have to maintain and look after. The dividends that nature currently provides are actually far greater than any we can gain from its destruction and degradation – we simply have to realise this and act upon it.

What we need to combat is an in-built tendency to focus on the short term rather than the long term.

Buy This Book

In my opinion, this book is one that everybody should read and reflect upon. You don’t have to be green to enjoy it, nor do you have to be very scientifically minded to understand it.

Juniper is an author with a clear passion but he does not try to sway readers with this alone – indeed he often presents the facts and figures in a very clinical, yet persuasive way.

I’m sure there are some people out there who would like nothing more than to pick through this book to find fallacies but I believe Juniper has done a good job of presenting his evidence in a manner which is not overly reliant on one of two data sets but on as many as were available to get his point across.

This book is a compelling read and will become all the more pertinent with every passing year as natural systems continue to be taken for granted until their degradation causes huge impact on a global basis.

What more can I say but go and buy this book now.

If my review is not enough to sway you, at the time of writing, this book has 23 five star ratings and 3 four star ratings out of a total of 26 on Amazon. So that’s zero ratings below a four. So it’s not just me who thinks this is a great book.

Steve (156 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.

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