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What Is Environmental Capital?

B. Turner
B. Turner

Environmental capital includes all the natural resources found within a country. It includes both renewable resources like plants and clean air, as well as nonrenewable assets like oil and gas. Analysis of environmental capital is often based on how this capital is impacted by business activities, like mining or manufacturing. These activities are said to be sustainable when they are done in a manner that preserves existing environmental capital rather than consuming or damaging it.

Natural, or environmental capital includes all resources that benefit society in some way. These assets may be things that are vital to survival, such as food, air, and water, or more intangible items like beautiful scenery and views. It reflects the sum of both renewable and nonrenewable resources.

Environmental capital is all the the natural resources found within a country.
Environmental capital is all the the natural resources found within a country.

Renewable forms of capital include things that society can make more of. Some examples include food, like grains, cattle, and fruit. Fresh water is also considered a renewable asset because it can be purified through mechanical means or naturally via the water cycle. Clean air is also a form of capital, which is renewable through filtering and purification. Wood and fiber, which are used to make homes and clothing, are also considered renewable resources.

Nonrenewable forms of environmental capital include assets that are in danger of being used up or eliminated. The most widely cited example of this is fossil fuels like coal or oil, which take millions of years to regenerate. Rainforests and other old growth forests are another example, as are endangered species or plant life. Minerals, metals, and gems other form of nonrenewable capital.

As society shifts towards a greener, more sustainable lifestyle, the pressure is on companies and the government to preserve existing environmental capital. This means investing in more sustainable technologies and production methods, such as wind or hydroelectric power generation, pollution controls, and responsible harvests and fishing. At its essence, a sustainable society is one that provides all the resources that people need to live now without compromising the lives of future generations.

In a traditional capitalist society, businesses have little motivation to protect environmental capital. Some companies choose to behave more sustainably in response to customer demand. It is only by customers shifting their demand and speaking with their dollars that more businesses will be motivated to change their ways. Citizens can also encourage elected officials to bring change through the introduction of new laws that force businesses to protect environmental capital.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is environmental capital?

Environmental capital, also known as natural capital, refers to the world's stock of natural resources, which includes geology, soils, air, water, and all living organisms. It's the basis for our survival and economic activity, providing raw materials, regulating services like climate and disease control, and cultural or aesthetic benefits. It's a critical component of our planet's overall wealth and health.

How does environmental capital contribute to the economy?

Environmental capital is foundational to economies by providing ecosystem services that support agriculture, fisheries, and forestry. It also offers resources for energy production and raw materials for manufacturing. According to the World Bank, natural capital accounts for a quarter of total wealth in low-income countries, highlighting its economic significance.

What are some examples of environmental capital?

Examples of environmental capital include forests, which provide timber, absorb carbon dioxide, and regulate water cycles; water bodies, which supply drinking water, enable transportation, and support aquatic life; mineral deposits that are essential for industrial processes; and biodiversity, which ensures ecosystem resilience and potential sources for pharmaceuticals.

Why is it important to protect environmental capital?

Protecting environmental capital is crucial because it sustains life and economic activity. Loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, and water pollution can lead to a decline in ecosystem services, affecting food security, health, and livelihoods. Sustainable management ensures that future generations can also benefit from these natural assets.

How is environmental capital measured and valued?

Environmental capital is measured by assessing the stock and condition of natural resources. Valuation can be complex, involving ecological, economic, and social metrics. Methods include market pricing for resources like timber, cost-based approaches for ecosystem services like water filtration, and contingent valuation asking people their willingness to pay for conservation.

What can individuals do to help preserve environmental capital?

Individuals can help preserve environmental capital by adopting sustainable practices such as reducing waste, conserving water, supporting renewable energy, and choosing sustainable products. Participating in conservation efforts, advocating for environmental policies, and educating others about the importance of natural capital also contribute to its preservation.

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    • Environmental capital is all the the natural resources found within a country.
      By: Massimo Cattaneo
      Environmental capital is all the the natural resources found within a country.