Breakingviews - Nature is capitalism’s biggest loser

Steam billows from a stack at the U.S. Steel Canada plant, formerly Stelco, in Hamilton, March 4, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - U.S. hedge-fund boss Ray Dalio is one capitalist who frets about the gap between rich and poor. Yet our planet’s billions of people on average are improving their lot. A report released on Monday shows how land, water and biodiversity, on the other hand, are paying the price.

A million animal and plant species out of an estimated 8 million are at risk of extinction, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which involves more than 130 countries. The causes include overexploitation of land and freshwater resources, the degradation of land productivity, the loss of forests and overfishing, among others.

The uppermost worries are not even climate change or plastic pollution, though both hot topics feature in the report and will intensify the problem in the coming years. Driven in large part by economic activity, the world’s expanding population – 7.6 billion in 2017, according to the United Nations, and projected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050 – is killing off critical parts of the natural world, from pollinators like bees to wetland habitats and everything in between.

Humankind has benefited, overall. Despite increasing numbers, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 a day is now below 10 percent, the World Bank reckons. That’s down from more than a third in 1990. But the IPBES makes clear that time is running out for the environment. Required policy changes will, the authors say, meet resistance from vested interests.

One possible approach is to put a financial value on nature. The same group has, for example, previously calculated that the contribution of the natural world – an example being forests as both resources and absorbers of greenhouse gases – is worth $24 trillion a year to people in the Americas alone, the same ballpark as the region’s GDP.

Dalio’s solutions to inequality run the gamut from some degree of wealth redistribution, including taxing pollution, to improving childcare, education and healthcare. It’s already a complex mix. But a man worth $18 billion, according to Forbes, could think bigger still. After all, such efforts will fail if the natural resources essential to human gains go into irreversible decline. He’s right that people don’t all benefit from capitalism, but nature is its biggest loser.


Reuters Breakingviews is the world's leading source of agenda-setting financial insight. As the Reuters brand for financial commentary, we dissect the big business and economic stories as they break around the world every day. A global team of about 30 correspondents in New York, London, Hong Kong and other major cities provides expert analysis in real time.

Sign up for a free trial of our full service at and follow us on Twitter @Breakingviews and at All opinions expressed are those of the authors.