What a Tree is Worth: In Terms Even a Banker Can Comprehend
Written By Maxwell Storms
An article was published recently by CNN illustrating the success of British entrepreneur, Leo De Watts, with his recently-formed company, Aethaer. They are marketing, selling, and shipping 550mL (20oz) containers of fresh Britain countryside air to buyers in China who have become sick of breathing the heavily polluted atmosphere currently existing there, mainly due to the dominant coal industry. Probably the most astounding detail of these transactions is the fact that these bottles, which cost the company practically nothing to produce, are being sold in droves at the price of $115 per bottle.
Images from CNN's story on British bottled air: click here to read the story
However, this is not a rant about my outrage over that. This is an opportunity for environmental science, conservation, and economics to join together in a beautiful way, if viewed from the right perspective.
The Trump administration is here, and for better or worse, we all have at least two years of unabashed corporatism and deregulation that could work to bring about another great recession and even more environmental disasters rooted in negligence, according to VICE Money. His administration choices immediately repudiate the message of his entire campaign and should immediately lead one to the conclusion that Donald Trump is going to be the best distraction from Congress the Republicans (now the Koch Party) have cooked up since the inception of the Tea Party Movement. As the hyperlink hinted above, Mike Pence is actually a worse choice for commander-in-chief for a host of good reasons. Trump’s idiocy, however repugnant or bigoted, are conditions we might have to actively ignore if we are to fight the bigger battle in Congress next election to save the planet from deregulation. Paul Ryan, who has never been elected without Koch funding and received a standing ovation at the Koch Donor Summit (an annual and sometimes biannual event in which top Republican Party, fossil fuel, pharmaceutical, finance, media, and industry titans representing the top .001% of wealth are in attendance), would be worse yet. Paul Ryan represents every industry in America that is profitable solely due to exploiting either other people or the planet, also known as the Kochtopus or Koch Donor Network (learn more about the Koch Donor Network in Jane Mayer’s recently-published book: "Dark Money"). This event is probably closer to a real-life meeting of evil villains than anything I could imagine.
This article from NY Mag affirms this premise in describing Trump’s soon-to-be assault on the EPA. Points of this sabotage include:
“the complete elimination of climate-change programs; a half-billion-dollars in funding cuts for EPA grants to state and local governments; an immediate halt to Clean Air Act regulations affecting new and existing power plants; an about-face on auto emissions standards; and a general defanging of EPA’s crucial ability to overrule federal and state regulations that pose environmental dangers.” - NY Mag
“As one example, the REINS Act would totally neuter the new Chemical Safety Act, just passed by the Republican Congress last year. The act requires U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review and set standards for 10 widely abused chemicals in the next six months alone. The act passed only because in exchange, states gave up much of their power to protect their citizens from toxic chemicals; without that incentive, the Tea Party will certainly act to prevent EPA from restricting the use of these chemicals.“ - EcoWatch.
If REINS gets through the Senate, it is almost certain that Trump will enact it. With this important piece of protection gone, Congress will be able to undermine many of the important, under-the-radar achievements of the last 4-8 years.
Just the other day, the Koch Congress closed the case on Flint, Michigan’s clean-water crisis (which most argue is still unresolved). This is a couple days after the EPA released a secret memo to its staff detailing the freezing of all grant funds and a full lock down on sharing information gained through EPA research with the public, effectively muzzling the voice of reason in a time where rampant development of polluting factors are likely to persist and excel.
Long has the privatization of our public lands been a top priority of those who frequent the Koch Donor Summits. Supporting this end, Congress moved on January 3 to change the rules around selling off federal lands, lifting rules that would otherwise make it very difficult or impossible to sell these lands off. Specifically, as laid out by Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva in a statement, “this proposed rule change would make it easier to implement this plan by allowing the Congress to give away every single piece of property we own, for free, and pretend we have lost nothing of any value. Not only is this fiscally irresponsible, but it is also a flagrant attack on places and resources valued and beloved by the American people.”
In other words, it is a brazen attempt to devalue our collectively-held land to a value of $0! This constitutes a prelude to theft.
One tree produces on average 260 pounds of oxygen per year. That’s the equivalent of 56 and a half bottles of $115 air, or $6,514.20 worth of oxygen, per year, per tree. Now, since we know that in 2014 there were 228 billion trees in the US, and that 44% of our forests exist on public lands, what’s 44% of 228 billion? That’s 100.3 billion trees.
Multiplied by each individual tree’s worth of $6,514.20 the value of our collectively-owned public land in the oxygen trees produce alone is worth over $653 trillion, considerably more than our total economy! However, they are only worth that much alive.
While I’m not suggesting we create a massive air-bottling enterprise, I am using the premise of a price-precedent to determine the real, current value of breathable oxygen from trees on land that equitably belongs to all of us. Privatization of public lands would mean a massive theft of our high-return investments and assets that have been valuated by the clear demand of our largest creditor, China. This is just one example of thousands of how public lands are profitable assets of the citizens of the United States and, arguably, the most equitable holdings the American people could ever have for leveraging power away from the Kochtopus.
Some might see this high value of nature as something with wiggle room, something that we can take from for a long time without having to worry. That perspective reflects the type of thinking that exploitative industries use to justify investing in more fossil infrastructure while it’s clear the planet cannot handle any more. This is the same type of thinking that morphed China to the continuously unmitigated environmental disaster it is today. This type of thinking is why people there are willing to pay $115 for 20 ounces of air with the same quality as here.
Personally, I think we should double-down on trees.
The next steps reside mainly in the mid-term elections of 2018 and require us, both as individuals and collectively, to begin working to educate ourselves about the Kochtopus, the basic structures of the Federal government, our local and state governing structures, and the human beings involved in them. We need to consciously consider whether these elected officials ought to be replaced or not. Groups working to ensure there are better candidates to choose from, including Brand New Congress and 314 Action, need support now more than ever. Organizations like ProPublica, who make the investigative research into these shadowy figures possible, also deserve support. The above-mentioned, silenced sectors of government have united and rebelled via twitter on their new, alternative handles. If you want to learn more on how nature has monetary value, be sure to check out the short film “A Bee’s Invoice: The Hidden Value in Nature”, Directed by the same Adrian Grenier that some might know from Entourage. (Part 4 of the wonderful series, “We the Economy”)