Professor Dieter Helm appointed chairman of the government's new Natural Capital Committee
Lovely view, but what's it worth to us?
The Sunday Times (News Review), p. 6, Jonathan Leake, 01/04/12
Interview with Dieter Helm, professor of energy policy at Oxford University and Fellow of New College, who has been appointed chairman of the government's new Natural Capital Committee, a body that will advise the government on the worth of the country's natural resources, especially in relation to economic development.
Some green campaigners are not happy with the choice of Helm as chairman, saying he has been appointed because he is a free-market economist whose views are therefore in tune with chancellor George Osborne's. Helm says: "I am a very committed environmentalist. The fact is that I do not pursue the same kind of solutions as others with the same kinds of views, but that is a different issue. Humanity has committed the planet to more than 2C of warming, and we are on course to eliminate half of all species. This is a very serious situation. The carbon crunch we face now is much more serious than the credit crunch. So, knowing that, how can anyone not be an environmentalist?"
On some environmentalists' view that trying to place a value on aspects of the environment is wrong, he says: "This view from environmentalists frustrates me. It leads to a situation where you can't put a value on anything, and that makes it too easy to say that the value is zero. I don't see why an environmental asset is any less important than a physical asset and we should value them accordingly ... My argument is that we ought to have a charge in the national accounts for the capital maintenance of our assets. That might sound like an arcane accounting idea, but you quickly discover how fantastically radical that would be. Because in order to have such a charge you need to know what the assets are and how much they are being depreciated or damaged."