We agree with varied environmentalists upon the idea that we've got to include natural capital in our calculations of how well the economy is doing. Not entirely for Gaia worship reasons, nor because of some insistence that only naturally produced items matter. We still agree upon the necessity of measurement simply because we want to know whether the system is working, is sustainable.
We've also always rather liked the finding that the rich country which is expending its natural capital at the fastest rate is Norway. Seems that social democracy is easier if you're floating on oil, who knew?
We thus applaud the ONS and its attempts to make exactly these measurements. The result of which is that natural capital really isn't very important:
The ONS concluded that the parts of the UK’s “natural capital” that it was able to estimate contributed £16 billion to the economy in 2015. Their asset value, which is based on their contribution to the economy over the next 100 years, was estimated at £761 billion. That compares with UK GDP — the value of goods and services in the economy — of £1.9 trillion in 2015.
The number that will be splashed all over the place is that £761 billion and it will be compared to that GDP. Entirely incorrectly of course. Stocks of wealth should be compared to stocks of wealth so, at minimum, the £761 billion is to be compared to household wealth (some £10 trillion) or better some measure of national wealth including government holdings.
Or we can do it the other way and look at income streams. Which is that £16 billion and the GDP of £1.9 trillion.
Yes, we should measure natural capital and yes, we should at least estimate the contribution it all makes to our welfare. It is, after all, important to know what is going on. The answer being that it's not an important part of what creates our welfare.
Certainly, we'd miss it if it were gone, decidedly miss it. But the interesting outcome of this measurement of natural capital is quite how much of our living standards doesn't stem from it at all but instead simply from the collective efforts of us humans in adding to, rather than extracting from, the value of that natural world.