University of Vermont

University Communications

UVM's Costanza Featured in Major BBC Series

Release Date: 06-13-2008

Author: Joshua E. Brown
Phone: 802/656-3039 Fax: (802) 656-3203

The University of Vermont's Robert Costanza is featured in a new BBC documentary series Nature, Inc, that explores the economic value of biodiversity.

The first installments of the program will begin airing on BBC World News on Friday, June 13th and will continue five times a week for six weeks. Later installments will continue through 2010.

"Nature Inc. takes its lead from the University of Vermont's Robert Costanza and other environmental economists who have worked out that nature's services are worth more than the economies of all the countries of the world combined," a release from the producer announced.

Costanza, director of UVM's Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, achieved world fame for his 1997 paper in Nature that placed the total value of global "ecosystem services"—like pollination, soil formation and clean water—at about $33 trillion.

According to a more recent estimate it could be as much as $60 trillion—more than the total value of global GDP.

These efforts to place an economic value on what had previously been considered "beyond value" or "external" to the economy is at the heart of the new TV series. And Costanza's pioneering and often controversial research is debated in the series.

"The first principle of ecology is: everything is connected," Costanza said in a preview of the program. "We're talking about systems that have evolved over millions of years; there is nothing redundant. Everything is doing something in the system."

In the first episodes, Nature Inc. reports on topics like how honeybee population crashes threaten the $2 billion almond industry in California and how hillside forests are putting freshwater on tap, saving billions of dollars on water pumping and purification plants for the world's expanding cities.

"Some believe that putting a dollar value on nature is immoral and politically incorrect," said series producer, Robert Lamb. "But there's a growing body of opinion from the current German chancellor to leading businessmen and merchant bankers that nature's services —from clean water to species diversity—should go on the books."

"The figures are controversial, but we want them to be," said Richard Norgaard from the University of California at Berkeley, who is interviewed in the first program. "We want people to think about the value of nature."

Bob Watson, chief science adviser to the UK Environment Ministry, is deeply skeptical about the calculations of Costanza and other ecological economists: "But what he has done, is wake us up to the contribution ecological services make to our economic welfare."

After broadcast 5 times per week on BBC World News, French and Arabic versions will go out on TV5 Monde and Medi1 Sat. Through these networks Nature Inc. is projected to reach 800 million homes worldwide. It will also be available to broadcasters in developing countries free of copyright fees.

Nature Inc. will be fully interactive with video streaming and podcasts on a dedicated website:

To watch a preview of Nature Inc, click this YouTube link: