A subscription society – with one egregious omission
What would you be willing to pay to never run out of the things you need – or just the things you want? The TV series, the food treats, the beauty products?
For the average UK consumer, the answer is this: more than £550 a year, equivalent to 1-2% of the average salary. With a typical household committed to seven subscriptions, we now live in a 'subscription society'. Entertainment ranks as the most popular form, alongside a range of others - from beauty and grooming to alcoholic drinks.
But, without realising it, we have also each been signed up for 'free trials' of a plethora of additional goods and services: 'all you can breathe' oxygen; monthly rainfall ‘downloads’; the cleaning services of microorganisms; precision pollination deliveries; 'on demand' streaming of nature's ever-changing, infinitely surprising audio and visual content.
Which of these services feature in the top ten global subscriptions? Or even the top 100? The answer, of course, is none. Nature's services - those that allow or our very existence, and the mighty shoulders upon which our global economy and society stand - are unnoticed and unpaid.
But as with all subscriptions, a free trial only lasts so long - before the goods stop being delivered, the streaming cuts out or we are left staring at the flashing warning of unpaid debts.
But what would it cost?
But what would it take to sign up for this extraordinary portfolio of nature’s services? Surely the bill would be astronomical? Incalculable even? We are prepared to pay the equivalent of 1-2% of the average income to ensure we don't run out of nail varnish and Netflix series.
Astonishingly, according to the world’s leading authorities on the subject, a global 'subscription' to the continued functioning of nature's services - paying for its active protection and restoration - would cost significantly less than 1% of GDP.
And what would it buy us?
Most fundamentally, it would help secure a liveable planet, where the services and cycles we depend on to survive - a predictable climate, fertile soils, pandemic prevention - are maintained; help redress the cavernous inequalities that have arisen from the exploitation of natural resources by a lucky few, at the expense of the many; create the financial incentives to drive dynamic private-sector investment into protection and restoration.
But much more than that, it would provide what no other subscription service can truly deliver: joy.
The joy of knowing that each one of us is contributing to the continuation of the extraordinary cacophony and complexity of life on this planet. That we were not just watching wildlife documentaries - we were an active part of the greatest show on earth: the riotous colour and choreography of coral reefs, the renewal of forests and grasslands, the reconnection of rivers and migratory corridors, the continuation of the extraordinary cycle of life – the miraculous emergence of pups, kits, chicks, fingerlings and hatchlings.
Giving ourselves the gift of becoming planetary subscribers
As we continue to rebuild from the rubble of the global pandemic, let us sign up for something more than just streaming. Let us all acknowledge the natural services we use every day, and give ourselves the gift of becoming planetary subscribers.
illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.