When explaining a certain sensitive issue to their children, many parents start explaining the story of the birds and the bees. It seems this makes things less embarrassing and less difficult.

Well, today the world faces a very embarrassing and a very difficult issue: the green economy. And indeed, the easy way to understand it is through the birds and the bees!

The green economy is all about putting a price and selling ‘ecosystem services’. Everything Nature does for humanity has a benefit, and should be priced in order to be protected. To come back to the birds and the bees: the birds feed themselves mostly with insects, without them the world would be plagued by so many insects we could not live quietly. In fact the birds play many roles: as predators, pollinators, seed dispersers, seed predators, etc.

The bees are even more important: they assure the pollination of at least one third of all the food production. Without bees, no pollination, and no food.

So, humanity has to be very thankful to the birds and the bees. But according to the green economy promoters, this thankfulness must be expressed in monetary terms. Because, according to them, the only way to protect these ecosystem services is to assure protection brings profit, and destruction brings losses.

The monetary value of bee pollination was estimated by the TEEB study at 190 billion US$ per year. Quite a lot of money. This raises some questions:
1) Who pays for this?
2) Who receives the money?
3) And how will this money assure that the bee population is protected.

It quickly becomes clear that agriculture, and especially industrialized agriculture, has a need for the pollination services of the bees, and are willing to pay for this. So beekeepers are the ones being paid for this, and they are becoming a kind of an industry: producing bee colonies and hiring them to agricultural business in the pollination period. Now, that’s called payment for ecosystem services.

Indeed the value of pollination is estimated by the value of agricultural products that grow thanks to pollination. But, as Einstein said: without the bees, humanity would have only four years to go. Put it this way: how much would the bee’s work be worth once bees are exterminated? The answer is: the bee’s work is priceless; there would be no human life, let alone economy, without the bees.

But, how does this payment ever protect the bee population? In no way! In fact the bee population is rapidly declining, due to the phenomenon of Colony Collapse Disorder: beehives just disappear. Often at rates of up to 50% of bee colonies per year. This mostly affects the European honeybee. But then, it is precisely this bee that displaced native species all over the world in order to attend the agricultural needs.

The thing is, nobody really knows why this phenomenon happens. It may be (certain) pesticides. It may be a virus that affects the bees. It may be cell phone radiation or genetically modified crops with pest control characteristics. Probably it is not such a wild guess to state that the unsustainable living patterns of humanity have something to do with this.

Whatever the reason, it is absolutely clear that payment for ecosystem services will NOT resolve the issue. Money cannot resolve a problem of which the causes are not understood. Nevertheless, bee pollination is brought forward as the classical example of payment for ecosystem services, that is to say, of the green economy.

Also birds suffer unexplained massive mortality. Does the green economy provide any scheme that would safe the lives of the birds?

No. Up to date, it seems nobody even defined the monetary value of the bird’s ecosystem services. If even such an obvious category of ‘ecosystem services’ as birds is not taken into account, what about the thousands and thousands of other ‘ecosystem services’? However far ‘science’ might study them, there will always be ‘functions of nature’ that are not accounted for. And sooner or later, these ‘functions’ will prove to be fundamental. It cannot be different, as all the (living) beings of Mother Earth are interdependent.

And this is precisely one of the clearest reasons why green economy cannot possibly work ever: it is per definition impossible to study and to incorporate ALL ecosystem services in the economy. It is per definition impossible to break down Nature into all her different ‘services’. The only way to help Nature, is to protect her in an integral manner.

So, probably we should urgently forget about this massive distraction that is the green economy, and assure that scientists spend their investigations on how to protect nature, rather than on how to measure it. Assure that economists spend their money in the protection of nature rather than ‘investing’ in profiting from it. Assure that all of us start respecting the Intrinsic Laws of Mother Earth rather than expecting nature to serve us. Let all of us respect the Rights of Mother Earth, adapting our living patterns to Nature’s needs.


  1. Great essay, Nele Marien. Yes, indeed. Who pays the birds and the bees? We don’t. Yet, they are part of the whole. Scientists try to give it a name, but in the meantime the species continue to serve each other.

  2. Very well stated…recognizing the Rights of Nature is the foundation for a sustainable future and economy.



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