An interesting piece of research came from one of Australia’s Queensland University. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, one of Australia’s leading marine scientists and director of the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute in St Lucia, published a report claiming to value the world’s oceans at $24 trillion.

Hoegh-Guldberg is the lead author of Reviving the Ocean Economy, a report published today by the conservation group WWF. It attempts to estimate the value of the ocean and proposes steps for its safeguarding.

The report looks at the ocean as one system, which has not been the case in previous efforts to value the oceans. In the past interactions between local and global factors have been missed along with interactions between fishing and ocean chemistry and so on.

“If the ocean were a country it would be the seventh-largest economy on the planet.” proclaimed the author.

After identifying the various interactions that could be priced the next step was to put a value on them. ”

“That is ambitious. No one has really tried to do that. One of the reasons why is people thought we can’t evaluate everything. How do you put a value on the climate regulatory activities of the ocean? And so the answer is: this is the minimum number. Despite that it’s quite large.” Said the scientist.

The report goes on to detail that ocean assets such as fisheries, shipping lanes and tourism are worth US$24 trillion and produce an annual value of $2.5 trillion from their outputs.

This is an interesting concept but the outcome is problematic. Jane Gleeson-White, author of Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance devoted over 5 years of her life documenting it.

Our modern system of accounting and finance does not have a method of assigning value to things like the ocean, happiness or social connections. The value of these go far beyond mere dollars and simply cannot be valued using the present system.

In the case of the ocean it is the giver of life to our planet. It gives us every single piece of food consumed and every drop of water we need for life. To assign it a value, even a very large one, makes it seem replaceable. It is not.

The WWF and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg have not failed in their efforts. Their study is drawing attention to the environment and for this they should be lauded. But the idea that we can financially quantify the value of the ocean is an impossibility. It is time we looked beyond mere numbers to get a sense of the true worth of such things. It’s more holistic, less mathematical and for those reasons it is avoided by most. This should not be the case – we should increasingly try to move beyond debit, credit and balances when accounting for items precious to humanity.

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