David Suzuki: Protecting nature in our neighbourhoods saves us money

Last winter, as the federal Finance Department was preparing to spend billions of dollars to stimulate the economy in the face of a global economic meltdown, the David Suzuki Foundation offered its ideas on how to spend the money.

We recommended increased and sustained funding for public transit, subsidies for renewable energy, and cash for research and development to green Canada’s auto sector. We also suggested that the government should take a closer look at the economic benefits of protecting our terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems.

We argued that protecting nature results in cost savings for governments, because natural areas provide many direct ecological benefits that sustain the health and wellbeing of our communities at little or no cost. These include services like clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, and flood control. All of these are costly to replace if they are degraded or lost due to mismanagement, assuming they can be replaced at all.

The financial benefits of protecting nature have long been understood. Many ambitious policy solutions have come about not because government leaders were motivated to protect wildlife habitat but rather because they were looking for ways to save a buck. For example, in the early 1990s, New York City chose to protect its watershed through land purchase, pollution control, and conservation easements, rather than build new infrastructure to filter its water. In doing so, the city has saved billions of dollars in engineering costs.

Providing clean water at an affordable cost is a challenge in many Canadian cities because few draw their drinking water from protected watersheds. Cities like Toronto and Montreal must rely on expensive treatment systems, because the ecosystems from which the water is drawn are already degraded or are tainted by pollution from industrial and agricultural activities and urban runoff. In comparison, Vancouver’s drinking water comes from protected watersheds in the North Shore Mountains. These mature forests filter, store, and regulate Vancouver’s drinking water at no cost to the taxpayer, thereby providing beneficial natural services that complement engineered solutions like water filtration.

Studies suggest that a strong fiscal incentive exists to protect and grow the urban forest cover in cities like Vancouver in the face of development pressures. A recent joint study by municipal, provincial, and federal agencies in B.C. estimated that Vancouver and surrounding communities could save about $1.1 million annually in storm-water infrastructure costs if they significantly increase urban forest cover.

The economic benefits of nature conservation were also recently profiled in a groundbreaking United Nations report. It found that protecting natural ecosystems and biodiversity is worth trillions of dollars in annual economic benefits globally. The lead author of the report, Pavan Sukhdev, told the media that investments to protect ecosystems can return 25 to 100 times more in benefits from the natural services they provide.

This sort of research is important, because policy-makers often ignore the full economic costs of degrading land and the ecological services it provides when making development decisions. For example, in 1973, British Columbia designated good quality farmland in the province as “agricultural land reserve” where non-agricultural land use would be strictly controlled. Today this critical bank of farms, fields, forests, and other ecosystems represents more than 60,000 hectares in and around Vancouver alone.

But the ALR has consistently been degraded by development, under the watch of government, despite the fact that its rich agricultural lands offer so much more to society than just blueberries and broccoli. The ALR’s planted crops and agricultural soils sequester and store millions of tonnes of atmospheric carbon, thereby acting as a “hedge” or offset against carbon pollution.

The ALR also offers outdoor recreational opportunities. And these working farmlands provide important habitat for wildlife, especially migratory birds. Yet, successive governments have allowed more than 6,000 hectares of land to be removed for development from the ALR in and around the Vancouver region. A paltry 277 hectares have been added as compensation. A David Suzuki Foundation report found that a lot of ALR land has also been removed in other prime agricultural regions of B.C.

It’s time we started looking at the true value of our forests, fields, farmlands, and other natural and managed ecosystems beyond just the resources that we take from them.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.



Travis Lupick

Nov 24, 2009 at 6:04pm

Neither David Suzuki nor the David Suzuki Foundation receives any form of monetary compensation from the Georgia Straight.

Travis Lupick
The Georgia Straight

Take a Gravol

Nov 25, 2009 at 2:11am


I'm sorry, where's the scandal in all this? Isn't it a private citizen's right to contribute to a political party of their choice, regardless of their vocation? The piece didn't even have any mention of David Suzuki personally. You question the 'loyalties' of someone with an untarnished academic reputation based on... one piece of hack journalism from some nobody, who normally writes for 24 hours?

Grow up.


Nov 25, 2009 at 10:03am

As "Take a Gravol' knows, Bob Mackin's article in the Tyee was prefectly sound, fact based journalism.

Revealing to voters the actual partisan loyalties of those advocacy groups and various shapers of public opinion who falsely and piously claim to be completely non-partisan is an important, even vital piece of information. It allows voters an opportunity to assess the quality of the claims being make. Why then would Take a Gravol object to Macklin's article? Gee, ... I just can't imagine!

The real question is why Macklin's story wasn't picked up by the CanWest press, who were busy printing for months a series of op-ed pieces damning Carole James and Jack Layton for not supporting Premier Gordon M. Campbell's carbon tax and Stephane Dion's Green Shift, even when ordered to do so by David Suzuki, Ian Bruce, and Matt Horne. Those op-ed pieces seemed to have a particularly sharp partisan edge, as if they were in fact written in the the BC Liberal Govt's notorious Propaganda Affairs Bureau and them simply signed by the tenured academics or celebrity environmentalists whose names appeared in the media as "validators", and as "attractants" to make the screed smell newsworthy.

I wonder if Travis Lupick can tell us why Macklin's story was not carried by the Georgia Straight?

Rod Smelser

Travis Lupick

Nov 25, 2009 at 11:11am

Because it was carried by The Tyee.


Nov 25, 2009 at 12:03pm

funny how Hoggan was featured in the Globe and Mail twice last week: a plug for his book and a so called poll. Meanwhile the Thomson Reuters Globemedia empire owned by the richest family in Canada has yet to report on CRUgate exposing the obfuscation IPCC authors have done to legal FOI act.
Funny how the defenders of freedom can find pages to say when their little soldiers are tagged but when their idols are exposed, SILENCE!
Information? No, opinion and deception!


Nov 25, 2009 at 3:32pm

Travis Lupick:
Because it was carried by The Tyee

Well, that would be a complete answer on the assumption that it's a minor story. If a story is major, all media report it.

Rod Smelser

Travis Lupick

Nov 25, 2009 at 4:12pm

@RodSmelser: I think there may have been a miscommuncation here and don't want to be misunderstood. I interpreted your question to mean, 'Why did the Straight not republish Macklin's story at Straight.com?' But rereading your original message and subsequent comment, I'm now thinking that your question was, 'Why did the Straight not cover the story that Macklin wrote about in the Tyee?'

For that question, I don't have an answer. Except for the obvious explanation that there are only so many hours in the day.

Important news?

Nov 25, 2009 at 4:33pm

Travis Lupick wrote: "Because it was carried by The Tyee."

bit of a glib response from someone who may be speaking on behalf of the GS.

It seems to me that the Tyee article about David Suzuki's endorsement of Gordon Campbell and the BCLiberals policies is important news and is relevant enough to at least have full coverage in the "less" MSM sources such as the GS


Nov 25, 2009 at 4:40pm


OKay. I find the same thing happens to me, usually around 11pm.
Rod Smelser