How much is your Mother (Earth) worth?


All human things of dearest value hang on slender strings.

Edmund Waller

Like pricing the Earth, getting the right price for your Mother might be harder than you think

So you want to sell your Mother. It’s a free market, most other things are bought and sold these days and all sorts of exotic items are priced and traded every second.

In addition, you reckon she must be worth a decent amount. I mean, she is your Mum after all!

How to figure out the asking price though? That’s where it starts to get tricky…

Assuming you like her, you may feel that she is worth more than a simple calculation of what you might fetch with the sale of her possessions, the change and notes in her purse and the sum of flogging off any decent clothes or shoes she owns.

Similarly, selling her house, car and jewellery (if she has them) may well not come close to telling you how much she ought to fetch. It is possible that you may be able to calculate what her actions are worth. For instance; to multiply the number of meals she has cooked you at the going rate, then add a cook or chef’s salary, likewise with laundry and sundry other services…

The trouble is that if you take this approach you may be left with a nagging feeling that you have sold yourself (and perhaps your dear old Mum) rather short.

The Earth presents a pretty similar challenge for pricing. You can price its results, its productivity, but that price comes nowhere near a true reflection of the value of its capacity to continue to sustain us and everything else in (pretty much) perpetuity.

This is why the seductive notion of pricing ecosystems as a route to sustainability must be seen clearly for what it is and what it is not.

As I have said elsewhere, factoring the Earth’s ability to sustain us into economic value is a little more complex than just finding a price that we would be prepared to pay or forgo to preserve or develop parts of the environment.

To flog the metaphor one last time – ecosystem prices tell us what it would be worth if we sold all of our Mum’s stuff but it wouldn’t buy us a new Mother (Earth).


Multimedia Update!!!

In September 2013 we produced a short animated video to illustrate this idea, and also provided further thoughts on the issue in November through a remixed post, find this here.

2 thoughts on “How much is your Mother (Earth) worth?

  1. A fabulous metaphor, in my view. Thank you for it, but I might not show my mum. Seriously, the short-termism of a pounds-in-pounds-out model is a serious threat to the true understanding of the value of things.

  2. Also worth considering is the idea that by putting a price on something we create a high degree of fungibility, at least in the minds of those who aren’t persuaded by the inherent value. It’s bit like (abusing your analogy a bit more) noting that by putting a price on your mother, you’re saying that you’d be equally happy with a different one that cost the same…

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