Some things are beyond measure and beyond price. No amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of the sacred.
In case you were wondering whether the oceans are worth protecting, the World Wildlife Fund has helpfully put a monetary value on them: $24 trillion. No doubt they hope to align economic incentive with ecological well-being: a laudable motivation. But think for a moment about the mentality this kind of valuation feeds. It suggests:
(1) That money is a valid way to assess the value of something like an ocean.
(2) That we can and should make decisions about the planet based on the foreseeable financial gains and losses, and therefore...
(3) That if we could make more than $24 trillion (say, $48 trillion) by trashing the oceans, then we should do it.
(4) That it is possible to foresee and calculate the contribution of the oceans to human welfare in the first place—that our knowledge is sufficient to qualify us to even make this valuation.
(5) That we can separate out the oceans from the rest of the planet, as if they were a line item on a spreadsheet independent of the rest. So conceivably, we could compensate for the loss of the oceans with more from some other revenue stream.
(6) That decisions about the oceans should be made based on the effect on human beings—that the oceans themselves and everything living in them have no intrinsic worth. What is important is their economic worth—their value to us.
Clearly, this mentality is part of the problem. At this very moment we are trashing the oceans for the sake of money. I do not know how many trillions of dollars we are making in the process, but when I read of ten thousand seals washing up dead on California’s beaches, I know that however much we are making, it isn’t enough. No amount of money is enough to compensate for the loss of the sacred.