How capitalism tries to save nature - VPRO documentary - 2017

The problem is… If you say: Let nature take its course,
what is your benchmark? Many people say: Just leave it be. That's like pushing an invalid out of
his wheelchair and telling him to walk. We've completely crippled nature. We can't separate ourselves
from nature. Our entire economy is based on
natural resources that are running out. We're closely intertwined with nature… …but we don't always recognize that. Before I start a series of lectures I say:
Ladies and gentlemen, before I begin… …let's first establish what nature is. That takes us about a week. We all have very different
ideas about what nature is. The Netherlands is
a very interesting country… …when it comes to the concept
of handling nature in the future. We're one of the most densely
populated countries in the world. So we've had to think
long and hard about… …how to continue to preserve
nature in this populous society. We've pioneered all kinds of
nature restoration plans in the world. And even in developing new nature. It's tied up. You can see the outline
of the next island. Island D1. You won't recognize it
in a few years' time. It's still a construction site. Although we've already
sowed reed on this island. A bit further back. Could you access it?
– With the hovercraft. It's so big already… On the parts that are being
worked on you hear this sound… But the other parts are completely quiet.
All you hear is birds. And there's already some nature.
The birds can breed there. This is the beginning,
the result of a lot of human labour. The result of a huge effort
that took two years. The idea is that we then back off
and let nature take over. But it takes a lot of reflection,
and machinery… It's a huge area. It's only slightly
smaller than the Veluwe. So we knew upfront
that it would be worthwhile. But it will take a considerable budget
to make the Markermeer healthy again. This is one of the last bits of forest here,
why are you cutting it? This is the A27. Take a look at the motorway,
the surroundings and Amelisweerd. Look at the motorway in your own way… …and from there try
to gain a new perspective. The role of nature is debatable because
it's seen as a replaceable product. That's why nature is always
on the defensive. Is chopping off 15 metres really so bad?
You can debate it. But if you keep taking 15 metres off
you're left with a minimal amount… …which we then say isn't worth much,
so let's remove it. Any other thoughts? I'm not a biologist, and looking at
the area I thought: It's not that special. So if it's really important
to have the extra space… …well, that tiny bit of forest… And I'm the one who goes running there,
so it would impact me. But I wasn't that impressed. So that makes it a tough case
from an environmental perspective. How pretty is the forest? In a few weeks it will be beautiful,
with the wood anemones… You have to take a civil servant there on
the right day to explain it's important. Can you compare
the Amelisweerd forest… …with something as photogenic
as the Wadden… How do you assess a forest's value?
It's personal. To what extent can you replace it? What's so special about Amelisweerd? It's less special now anyway
because of the motorway. The motorway will always beat
a small part of forest. How can we turn that around?
How can we let nature win for once? Often, ecology and economy
are seen as very different things. But I think there's less of a difference
than we think. Our economy needs
these ecological resources. And our economy has an impact on
our ecology. So they're connected. If we exhaust our ecological resources… …that will damage our economy,
so we mustn't let that happen. Relatively little attention is paid
to nature in policy decisions. That's because the benefits of nature
are a bit abstract. A landscape can be divided
in ecosystems. A forest or heath area, for instance. The ecosystems provide us
with various products and services: Ecosystem services. These can be split into three categories: The first one is
the provisioning services. Think of wood or biomass
for energy production. Water used for the production
of drinking water. Products derived from ecosystems. The second category
is regulating services. These are all kinds processes regulated
by ecosystems. One example is pollination. Without pollination, some products like
rapeseed or fruit would produce far less. Coastal conservation is another service
provided by ecosystems in Holland. This includes the prevention
of erosion and infestation. The third category
is that of cultural services… …such as the tourism and recreation. A lot of employment depends on it,
so we factor it in the decision-making. We spent last year
working on ecological models… …and now we're working on
the economic models. We're looking at how exactly
these ecosystem services… …are used in society
and by which economic sectors. Is there a market,
can we work with market prices… …and compare them with the cost of
the ecosystem services and products? And our economy has an impact on
our ecology. So they're connected. Some crops are dependent
on pollination. We've agreed we want to head
toward a more sustainable society. But we have to be able to measure it. What is the status of our nature,
what is our supply? What services and benefits do
we receive from nature every year? How does it change over time
and how can we manage it better… …so it can be passed on
to future generations? Our method allows us to create
a bookkeeping for nature. We monitor what products and services
nature supplies to our economy. And the economic value of them. Look at that. It's just a big black blur. Impossible to count
– No, you always count way too few. You see one,
but there's two more behind it. How do you know if it's right?
– You don't. No, it's difficult. Exactly is not the same as accurately. This is E38.
– Are you ready? I'm just going to count 1, 2, 3… Let's see. Doe. Doe. Buck. Buck. Doe. Antlers. OK, let me jot that down.
So that's D28. I've got it. Good. You can't do it
without a telescope anymore. You'd miss half. The Marker Wadden project serves
several purposes. That helps with the funding. For us, the Dutch Nature Conservation
Society, our love of nature is enough. But we've actually developed a project
which helps improve water quality… …which is an important reason for the
Dutch Ministry of Public Works to join. But we also wanted to create an area
that was attractive for people. The Markermeer was suffering
from a lack of love. The fourth objective was
to offer space for innovation. There's a lot of expertise
in the Netherlands. This offers them the opportunity
to create something… …that's never been seen before.
So bring on those ideas. If you can come up with a way… …to turn worthless sludge into
something worthwhile… …that's already attracting attention. People ask us what we're doing
and how it works. We live in a fascinating time. All these questions
we're discussing now… …get a very real dimension… …in this stage of human development. Something has changed regarding
who we are in this world. In ancient tribal cultures… …people were very aware of the fact
that they were intertwined with nature. If it didn't rain for a year,
there was no food. If the animals didn't come,
there was nothing to shoot. We have detached ourselves
from reality. If we can't connect these two… …and form an economy
with an ecological basis… Interestingly, the words economy and
ecology have the same root: Oikos, which means house,
and managing a house. If we are not able… …to allow our human society,
and all we do in it… …to resonate that properly
with the natural state we live in… …then we have a problem and we'll
continue to create more problems. Secretary Schultz wants
to broaden the A27… …but is being thwarted by
a badger sett and local residents. This is Gangmakers, a radio
show by and for entrepreneurs. Objections to the Secretary's plans… …because she didn't draw up the
social cost-benefit analysis properly. This conclusion was drawn
in a crowdfunded study. I believe this debate concerns
the viability of the earth. That includes the Netherlands
and Amelisweerd. If we keep taking small parts of nature
nothing will be left in the end. The average person doesn't think:
I should drive less… …for the viability of the earth. Mr Joustra, liberal party,
you want to broaden the A27. You argue that not doing so
will reduce economic growth. It's already reduced. Tens of thousands of people
sit in traffic every day… …waiting to drive on. That's a waste of travel time… …which means losses for the state
and for the people themselves. The listeners can't follow anymore. The road makes sure we get
two work two minutes sooner. That adds up to a certain amount
of production per day. Compared with the services
the forest provides… …there's some recreation
and a few other things. But it doesn't outweigh the economic
importance of the road. Based on these services we decide… …that area can go because
it's not productive. I think that's a slippery slope. If you speak in terms of ecosystems
you can say: This is an organism… …that produces oxygen for us, at least. You could say it has deep roots
that keeps the soil together… …so that it doesn't erode.
That's important too. You could say it provides
an important product: Wood. But you can look at it differently. It has a beautiful shape. This tree has a majestic shape… …with its branches and green leaves. To an artist, this is beauty. For people who grew up here
and go for walks… …it could be a link to the past. Maybe their grandparents or great-
grandparents sat under this tree. Maybe you had your first
passionate kiss under this tree. That means that you will always
associate this tree with romance. Yet another meaning of this tree. And last but not least, the tree is a tree,
and has a right to simply be. So when we talk about
ecosystem functions… …regarding a tree or nature in general… If we only talk about the economic
meaning and value… …that's a gross restriction of what is. Apart from the economic value
there are so many other values… …that are then forgotten about. I think it's a bizarre discussion. As if nature should still need
to prove that it's valuable to us. It just indicates that
we have a huge blind spot. And we're talking about
that last small parts of nature. What is the Rijksmuseum built of?
Bricks. What are bricks made of? Clay. Who put the clay there?
The river. Nature. We're now talking about nature's
services as if they're something new. We owe our entire welfare to it. You should rather say
we are indebted to nature. The politicians are only interested
in one thing. They want to reduce the number
of animals. They want less geese. What they are really afraid of… …is that the Oostvaardersplassen will
stop the expansion of Lelystad Airport. It's absurd,
because it's a nature reserve. This determines what can happen to the
airport, not the other way round. When I was in primary school,
the teacher hung up a map of Holland. It was mainly green and blue. It had a few pink spots, of which he said:
These are the last bits of wasteland. But in twenty years' time we'll have
cultivated those too. He was very proud. This was in the 1960s. Back then, it was normal to think
that nature was there to cultivate… …and made useful. I think the best example
of the value of nature… …is tourist tax. If I build a campsite here… …Almere will request tourist tax. But none of it will go to the preservation
of the Oostvaardersplassen. Even though the campsite owes its
creation to the Oostvaardersplassen. What do you mean
by nature's services? It's there, but we keep channelling
the money the wrong way. That block of flats over there. Can you imagine the view? Do you think even a penny went
towards the Oostvaardersplassen? No way. But I promise you those people
paid a fortune for that view. Where did that money go?
To the real estate agent. I often ask my students if they're
optimistic about a sustainable future. Every year, less hands go up. If I ask them why they're not optimistic
they say: I can try to live sustainably… …with respect for nature,
but what difference does it make? In the light of the economy
and political systems. I have no influence on that. I think one of the new
big crises of our time… …is that feeling of powerlessness.
That you don't matter anymore. It's worthless to live in a forest. It's worthless to live next to
a beautiful area. It's worthless that we will live
three years less on average. A good night's rest is worthless. Lane by lane,
a beautiful area is killed off. For the local residents,
these values are high: Good health, use of space… …and care for the natural values
which the residents deem very high. I think you should remember
what democracy is about. Citizens elect representatives… …to represent their interests
in the government. It's the representatives' job… …to not only focus on the majority… …but to always consider all
the other interests of minorities… …and vulnerable interests
that should also count. A democratic government's job… …is to consider the interests of an
entire society as well as it can. If a democracy was executed
that way… …the climate, as a collective interest,
would be much higher on the agenda. Take Maslow's hierarchy: At the bottom you have
people's basic needs… …on top of that they
get to develop culturally… …and all the way up there
is art and all that. That's the top of the pyramid. That's where we position nature
these days, like a hobby. If we have some money to spare
we can sponsor nature a bit. Because it's so nice
on a Sunday afternoon. It's reversal of values.
Nature is the foundation of life. The foundation
of our welfare and economy. It's not right, it's not left,
it's not even in the centre. It's the whole spectrum. I think that's it's a government's job… …to keep those value references visible.

  1. When talking about the Highway I would have just pointed at the US where it has been proven that widening a highway does not solve the problem. There will be more cars on the road afterwards and so the problem keeps repeating itself.
    The solution? For me those are autonomous cars, more public transport in such places and things that The Boring Company from Elon Musk does: making transport 3D with tunnels.

    And I know two of those things are still in development. But it was what I instantly thought of could help in this situation.

  2. This is so serious. I hope that these vpro documentaries are also available for the politicians, economists, investors etc.

  3. Great documentary. Now all we need is a time machine so we can show it to people when it could do some good. "Strike another match, go start anew
    And it's all over now, Baby Blue."

  4. Anti-capitalism (not capitalism) is a major barrier to solving environmental issues because it is ignorant to think that we replace capitalism with a better system within the time constraints set forth by the IPCC. Moreover, capitalism is highly maleable with technology and regulation. Naomi Klein has done more to drive people – especially men – away from pro-environmental volition than towards it. Furthermore, she even says she wouldn't have cared about the environment if she hadn't seen how it could be used to advance her ideological beliefs. This video grossly misrepresented the issues it addressed by presenting a sociologist who is erecting barriers to solving the problem rather than looking at how capitalism can be leveraged to our benefit.

    Shame on VPRO for this example of regressive activism.

  5. The foundation of the current mess humanity has created requires reexamination and reinterpretation. In the west this foundation is the story of man being thrown out of the garden of eden. Man separated and fallen from nature. This storyline is baked into every story since. Taken for granted, assumed. This leads humanity into a false narrative of man vs nature, nature vs man. Humans are natural. By extension just as a birds nest, beehive, antfarm, termite mound, coral mounds etc etc etc are natural so our homes, farms, roads are natural. The defining difference is that the intertwined systems we call natural tend to be self limiting. Bound by what is readily available and what has succeeded over millenia. A good first step is to allow our minds to first consider how when where and with what materials we intend to accomplish our goals. At least initially set aside money as it has no value outside of what our brains assign to it. It's just another story as Harari and others tell us. Holistic thinking. Do we continue to expand outward and further disrupt these intertwined systems that undergird our own existence? Turn around head back on what we've built so far improving it in line with current knowledge? Humanity is well equipped to do the latter. AI, sensing and imaging technologies, additive manufacturing, many millions of brilliant humans. What we are lacking is leaders willing to write the first chapters of this new story. We know they are in our midst and eager to start writing. How does each of us say 'yes' to this possibility? How do we tame 'I' and open up 'We' ?

  6. I like to refer to Nature as the wholeness of wild nature AND human nature. We so conveniently forget that we and everything we do is Nature. We forget it because we think we are somehow special or have a special place in the Universe. Thus we separate ourselves from the rest of Nature. As long as we as a species don't recognize that we aren't more special than an ant, in our hearts there will be anxiety in any human endeavor.

    Every critter thinks in its own way, that its special, just as we do on our way. So what to do? People always do what feels right, one way or another. Let that sink in… Anyways, progress will either kill us all or make us live in a human Nature as gods, in a VR or simulation maybe.

  7. Thanks to everybody who has been live for the premiere of this documentary! It was a great pleasure to meet some of you:)

  8. Another good documentary! I am really curious about the sustainable companies in previous episodes. How did they improve in the past 5 to 10 years? Is there any possibilities making a new episode about sustainable energy? Thank you again for upload this.

  9. Many contributors in this excellent documentary, among them Mattijs Schouter and Jason W Moore, are truth tellers and I do not use the term lightly. However, I am sorry to say, I almost did not watch the video because of the depressing inference made by its title: “Using Capitalism to Save Nature.” I had very low expectations but fortunately my curiosity overtook my fears.

    I can’t understand for the life of me why VPRO chose that title. Was it some kind of play on words. Nearly the entire documentary rejects the notion that some kind of marriage of convenience can be made between rapacious capitalism and nature. Naomi Klein has written on the collision between neoliberalism and environmental sustainability: “The Shock Doctrine”, 2007. Neoliberalism is killing life on the planet ….the Anthropocene epoch.

    I am in 100% agreement with all Jason Moore said. That is a rare occurrence for me.

  10. Convincing capitalists not to destroy the environment because it will make them money? Jeez, I wonder if these people could be motivated by anything other than money, like survival, health, decency, humanity or anything that's not evil. If not then maybe we should get rid of the capitalism and the environment would probably do just fine.

  11. Dear God . . . the blindness . . . WE are giving NATURE a place within our society . . . the thinking of OWNERS is a plague upon the universe. After watching the whole video, though, I gave it a Like.

  12. We need to reform our monetary system so that the economy does not require continous growth.

    Exponential growth is a concept that needs to be taken seriously.

    Grow anything 2% annually and it doubles in 35 years. The use of resources, pollution, you name it.

    If a cubric meter grows 4% in size every year, in less than 1300 years the volume of it equals that of two globes combined

  13. Nature does not need us to survive … we need it ….. Nature owes us nothing …. we owe it everything. Just my two cents of what used to be called …. common sense.

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