Currently, many parts of India, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, are being crushed by sweltering heat, leading to nearly 50 deaths a day in mid-June, as reported by Bloomberg. While the extreme weather events are testing human limits of survival, significant economic losses are increasingly putting the most vulnerable communities at risk. A new study shows there is hope: investing in nature boosts the economy.
The study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota and Purdue University developed an Earth-economy model to show global interactions between the economy and the environment. Through these interactions, the researchers showed nature benefits humans in various ways, from providing timber to pollinating crops and how these benefits impact the economy, as stated in a press statement by the University of Minnesota.
For long, people have looked at the economy and the environment as working against each other, Justin Johnson, an assistant professor of Applied Economics at the University of Minnesota, said in a press statement. “Investing in nature does not stifle the economy, it boosts the economy. But it has been difficult to model those interactions until recently,” he added. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Over the years, research has also shown how environmental loss has a significant impact on mental health, such as causing physical, emotional, and mental distress. However, witnessing the loss of one’s environment and seeing the destruction of neighbourhoods, homes and territory can cause pain and distress, which is also defined as solastalgia, a feeling of displacement according to Australian environmental philosopher and trans-disciplinary professor Glenn Albrecht.
In a world driven by capitalism, more than the significant impact on mental and emotional well-being, the effect on the economy drives policy changes. The new study brings this perspective into the mix. It shows that investing in nature also helps uplift the economy, and results in gains. For instance, policy options focusing on environmental preservation resulted in annual gains of $100 to 350 billion (2014 USD) globally, with low-income countries showing the largest percentage increases in GDP.
These policy options include eliminating agricultural subsidies, funding research into improving crop yields and international payments from rich countries to poorer countries to support conservation, according to the press statement.
Notably, continuing with the current trends in environmental degradation would result in $75 billion in losses annually, with low-income countries suffering from 0.2% losses in GDP annually.
Tom Hertel, a professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, said that traditional economic models often neglect how the economy relies on nature. “This new study required a detailed understanding of how and where land uses patterns change as a result of economic activity, with enough spatial detail to understand the environmental consequences of these changes. It is a huge achievement,” he added in the statement. Moreover, investing in nature tends is also likely to be a more equitable place, according to the study.
Along with increasing inequity regarding access to resources, environmental loss also has a huge impact on people's mental health. For instance, in a 2021 article, Mumbai-based psychologist Sonali Gupta told Lounge that over the last five years, there have been clients who have complained of anxiety and grief that they linked to environmental changes. “First, nobody seems to understand this feeling; second, they don’t have the language for it,” she added.
To fill this gap in the lack of language related to environmental loss, Australian environmental philosopher and trans-disciplinary professor Glenn Albrecht wrote his book Earth Emotions: New Words For A New World (2019). In it, he described solastalgia, an emotion that many might be feeling without knowing how to describe it. It also highlighted how deeply environmental loss impacted people.
“I define solastalgia as the pain or distress caused by the ongoing loss of solace and the sense of desolation connected to the present state of one’s home and territory. It is the existential and lived experience of negative environmental change, manifest as an attack on one’s sense of place,” Albrecht wrote in the book, as mentioned in the Lounge article.
In the same article, conservationist biologist Neha Sinha talked about the loss people feel when they see green areas replaced by malls and real estate. “People often associate loss of natural landscapes with rural areas, but the same is absolutely true for urban areas. Any city-dweller who has noticed their surroundings will see this…they are looking at a cumulative loss of not just habitats but also urban wildlife,” she said.
As the new study shows investing in nature has various benefits such as improving the economy but it is also crucial for people's well-being.