A while back Rael Levitt of Alliance Auctioneers - now in trouble over “fixed” auctions - stated on Radio 702 that only land that can be developed has value.
Really? So, “empty” land has no value? A growing number of South Africans believe otherwise.
Britain has now put a price on the benefits of parks, lakes and wildlife for the first time in a government-commissioned study released recently, attempting to make the financial case for protecting nature.
It says the health benefits of simply living near to a green space are worth up to R4 000 per person per year. The assessment showed that until now, the focus has been solely on the market value of resources that can be exploited and sold, while caring for the environment was seen as a cost. By highlighting the value of services such as views of urban parks and green spaces, it is hoped that developers will allow for more natural areas when planning housing developments.
Wetlands are considered to be worth billions of rands for their benefits to water quality while bees and other insects which pollinate fruit and crops have a value of over R5 million a year to British agriculture.
One of the study's lead authors said the point of putting economic values on environmental goods and services was "to ensure their incorporation on equal footing with the market-priced goods which currently dominate decision-making".
If our own city planners were to “put a price on the benefits of parks, lakes and wildlife” maybe these crucial open spaces would not be disappearing so fast under office blocks, shopping malls and cluster housing.
SA's downward slide
South Africa's natural environment has deteriorated alarmingly over the past 20 years - nearly the fastest in the world. This was the finding of a group of US scientists who measured the state of the environment in 132 countries in collaboration with the World Economic Forum.
South Africa was in 128th place, with Iraq at number 132.
Using 22 indicators, the report stated that South Africa's air and water quality, biodiversity, the functioning of its ecosystems, and its agricultural and fishery systems, had seriously deteriorated.
In the 2005 Environmental Sustainability Index (ESI) South Africa ranked 93rd out of 146 countries according to the Mail&Guardian. A considerable slide from 2005 to 2012. The ESI measures 21 tasks such as maximising biodiversity, pollution levels, environmental management efforts and improving water quality.
Where's the problem?
Is the latest lumping of the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), with Social Services, perhaps an indication of official lack of understanding of the environment's importance for sustaining life?
This restructuring is the latest in a series of downgrades which saw “Conservation” and “Environment” (GDACE) morphing into Rural Development (GDARD) in 2009. The principle of “out of sight, out of mind” applies all too easily.