How to decide? Or why money is not a synonym for value

La ilona

Xoan García Huguet is a great photographer.

And as most of the great ones, he has a lot of patience.

When he decided to repair an old house in Asunción (Paraguay), he began to collect waste from other construction works. The result, which you can see in the above image, was la ilona.

Was it worth it?

In other words, how to decide when reuse, repair or recycling is better than getting something new?

It will probably take you more time, perhaps more effort. There will be probably consensus about that it could be a good option if you can get your “raw materials” for free -if they are considered “waste”, you are not supposed to pay for them.

Most of the times, it seems that money is the unique criteria applied. And we can find lots of tips about “how to decide”.

Let’s have a look at this one of “Use a cobbler’s simple rule to determine whether your shoes are worth the money to repair“. Antonia says: “Of course, some people choose to ignore this rule and repair old, broken-in shoes for sentimental reasons”.

When Antonia walked into Danel Shoe Repair in midtown Manhattan with a pair of shoes which had only cost $20… does it mean that $20 is the “value” of her shoes?

Here comes the conflicting issue: money is not a synonym for value.

Even if we are only thinking about money, the price of the shoes is not the cost of the shoes to the society. Because externalities always occur and most of times they are not taken into account.

There are damage cost methods which calculate in detail how emissions or use of resources causes damages to man and the economy. That is called “monetization” of impacts.

One step further would be measuring the value given to ecosystem services. Have you ever wondered about how the air that you breathe can be assessed or if you are in danger of facing long-term energy shortages or shortages in drinking water? And if so, what can you do for it?

These are the questions that research projects such as VALUES project are trying to answer. It has been the subject of much previous research and the answer implies measuring the value (whether economical or otherwise) given to these services (i.e. natural carbon sequestering in trees) in order then to prioritize and integrate them in future development plans.

There is still much to be done, but what is obvious is that there is something that we already know and can´t forget about that: value is not only money; and money is not only price.

The poet W. H. Auden once wrote:

A culture is no better than its woods

This is not about “sentimental reasons”. As we take decisions and we pass down our culture and values, we must be aware of that sustainability is an essential element. With our globalized economy and sophisticated technology, we can decide to continue to degrade our planet and allow intolerable inequalities…

Or we can use our knowledge to strive for a better world.

 

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