Nature is an economic engine even more productive than Silicon Valley, Wall Street, and the industries of Asia and Europe. It produces goods, services, and amenities that—even though we may take them for granted—underpin all other economic activity and human well-being. We refer to nature’s production of clean and available water, breathable air, and productive soils, along with its provision of beauty and recreational opportunity, and ability to protect us from floods and diseases, as ecological wealth.
The goal of RFF’s Center for the Management of Ecological Wealth (CMEW) is to make ecological wealth apparent and amenable to management. Ecological wealth usually has no owner—it is value that is shared—and we don’t see it priced or traded by markets. Economically speaking, ecological wealth tends to be invisible. This invisibility is problematic. Growing appetites for natural resources—due to population growth and corresponding demands for food, water, land, and energy—will further stress natural systems already in decline. This matters not only because we care about nature for its own sake, but because of our economic, physical, and psychological dependence on its goods and services.
The Center’s mission is to work with our colleagues in the natural sciences—ecologists, hydrologists, soil and water scientists—to better understand the natural factories that produce our ecological wealth. RFF’s particular strength is translating that understanding into economic and social terms that resonate with private and public sector decisionmakers. In the coming decades, our ability to manage and act strategically depends on broader and more precise appreciation of nature’s economic, not just spiritual, relevance.