Pricing Our Planet
Featured Documentaries

Pricing the Planet

Can a ‘green’ economy save the planet? We investigate the buying and selling of nature.

Editor’s note: This film is no longer available to view online.

Economists, bankers, investment funds and financiers are taking a huge interest in the environmental crisis. They say they can protect the planet their way – with money.

This two-part documentary investigates the declining state of our planet and whether a commercial approach can in fact save it.

We see how since the Industrial Revolution we have heavily depleted our natural resources, polluted the planet, and how we are now losing endangered species at an alarming rate.

To satisfy our current demands, we use the resources of one-and-a-half Earths. At this rate, by 2030, we’ll be using resources equivalent to two-and-a-half Earths. Gilles Boeuf, president of the French National Museum of Natural History, tells us: “By 2048 the last fish will be pulled from the ocean.”

Nature wasn’t produced to be sold. It’s not just another product.

by Genevieve Azam, economist, University of Toulouse

By examining the commercialisation of nature, something that has been in the making for nearly 50 years, we speak to the biggest players in this global arena – the economists championing a “green” economy and the environmentalists challenging it.

We question whether nature can be priced and if a new economic order really helps the planet, or simply encourages the depletion of natural resources and species.

We explore how the laws of the market are being applied to endangered species, and how their protection is now in the hands of “mitigation banks”. One such bank in the US has made more than $20m by buying part of the habitat of America’s first endangered fly. Businesses that want to develop there must offset any environmental impact by investing in the fly’s protection. Any business whose activity harms an area protected by a mitigation bank must pay: There are lizard credits, cacti credits, prairie dog credits.

But these banks also choose which species they will save or will let die – it’s a choice dictated by profit.

As Ricardo Bayon, a cofounder of EKO Asset Management Partners, which styles itself as a new breed of financial institution, says, the depletion of resources renders them a commodity: “What happens, if there are very much fewer trees, if there’s not the clean water we need, where we need it, when we need it, if there isn’t the clean air, where we want it, where we need it, that becomes scarcer, that becomes more valuable – we’re going to start to put a price on it, we’re going to start to put a price on the destruction of it, and we believe there are opportunities in that transition to profit from that transition.”

Pablo Solon, director of Focus on the Global South, is opposed to the buying and selling of nature: “To consider nature as capital is nonsense. It means using nature the way one uses technology, to invest and make more profit. That is what they are suggesting. They are insane.”

Jutta Kill, with the World Rainforest Movement, points out that in the biodiversity market, banks are major actors, but these are also the same financial institutions whose trading resulted in the last financial crisis. “Banks, of course, don’t do that because they have at heart protection of nature, they do that because they see a business in this. They want to become the ones who provide the trading platforms.”

Pavan Sukhdev, an environmental economist and a former banker with Deutsche Bank, argues that putting a price on nature does not render it a commodity – it makes states aware of their ecological resources and companies more responsible. “Economics is mere weaponry. The direction in which you shoot, is an ethical choice,” he says.

In this series we ask, where politics has so far failed, can the markets succeed? And if so at what risk? And at what price? We investigate the pricing of our planet as we navigate the increasingly complex landscape of the emerging, sophisticated and dark, “green” economy.

Pricing the Planet – Episode 2 of 2


By Sandrine Feydel

The film follows the path my co-director Denis Delestrac and I have taken for two years.

Protecting our planet has become big business with companies promoting new environmental markets. Many respected economists believe that the best way to protect nature is to put a price on it, but others fear that this market in nature could lead to companies having a financial interest in a species’ extinction.

Then there are concerns that, just as the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 did, the market in nature credits will crash. And there are wider issues at stake. What guarantees do we have that our natural world will be protected? And should our ecological heritage even be up for sale?

At the beginning of our investigation, I thought that the proponents of these new economic tools could have a genuine interest in safeguarding our natural heritage.

Throughout this journey, I discovered the hidden agendas and interests of some of those advocating these economic mechanisms. I ended up discovering the risks associated with these financial tools.

Most proponents of these new markets think that these new economic tools won’t lead to the development of economic and financial markets, that making money by protecting nature is the most moral behaviour man can adopt.

To my mind, the greatest danger comes from the close links and interests between the finance and banking world and the protection of nature.

If the protection of nature has to be profitable to be efficient, then left in the hands of market forces, what would happen when a crash occurs? We are already witnesses of such a crash: carbon markets were supposed to make carbon pollution more expensive than cleaner industrial technologies. Almost 20 years later, it is a failure. Carbon emissions are higher than ever. As someone I interviewed said: “You create the tools, but you cannot control who will use them and how.”

Who could have ever imagined before the last economic crisis that some people would create financial derivative products to speculate on homeowners’ defaults?