AirBnB and protecting nature

Experience of AirBnB in the USA illustrates an important thing about the relationship between man and the planet.

AirBnB is the online “bed and breakfast” agency (without the breakfast) now valued at $10bn.  We stayed at two AirBnB’s on a trip to the US.  Although the first was superficially clean, we met a cockroach in the kitchen.  So we moved to another one.  It was obviously a spare flat of the owner.  Despite being on Locust Street, luckily there were no more cockroaches.  But it was shabby, without the chic.  It needed a thorough clean.  Repair work was scrappy.  Kitchen surfaces had a certain stickiness.  Hair.

So what does it take for someone to care for something?  Ownership is not sufficient, since in the second case the flat was owned.  Occupation is not sufficient since in the first case the rented flat was usually occupied by the host.  It seems like ownership and occupation are necessary conditions.

But hold on.  We have been to two AirBnB’s in Turkey – spotless, pristine.  Owned but not occupied.  So it’s not about economics after all.  It’s a cultural thing!

Conventional economists and people at the World Bank think that you need to price nature in order to get people to look after it.  For an object to have a price you need property rights.  And for that, someone needs to own it.  But we now know from AirBnB that ownership does not imply looking after things.  What if the forest holding represents such a small portion of the owner’s wealth that he has no time to care for it?

We need a culture of care, not just pricing, if we want to preserve nature.

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