There was a great story in the Washington Post about what happens when you treat something as an intangible asset. All of a sudden, it has value. And then a case can be made that the value needs to be protected. Such was the case that surfers first made in 2002 about the waves off Rincon, Puerto Rico. The result was the birth of a new way of looking at the environment, according the Post story, “Surfonomics quantifies the worth of waves.”:
Surfonomics is an offshoot of natural resource economics that seeks to quantify the worth of waves, both in terms of their value to surfers and businesses and their non-market value — or how much people would be willing to pay not to lose them.
In the case of the waves off Rincon, a real estate development was blocked because it would result in damage to the reef. Lose the reef, lose the waves, lose the surfers, and lose the tourist dollars. And it turns out that surfing is big business — worth over $2 billion to the US economy annually. Just the waves off Half Moon Bay, CA generate annual revenues of $23.9 million from visiting surfers and spectators. All of a sudden, those waves are worth protecting.