For over 100 years, scientists and economists have struggled to figure out how much money our natural resources are worth when left in nature untapped. We addressed this problem by creating a new formula to measure the value, in money terms, of leaving nature in place. We then picked a case study—a real-life example — to illustrate our formulas: we investigated an agricultural area in western Kansas that grows crops using groundwater. These underground water resources are stored in the High Plains Aquifer. We think of the aquifer like a bank account and ask how much money did Kansas pull out of its groundwater “bank account” over a period of 10 years.
The number turned out to be large: $110 million per year, which is more than twice the amount Kansas spent on schools in that time! Our study shows that we have to take the value of nature into account when planning how to use its resources in order to make wise and sustainable investments for our future.