Tuesday, June 7, 2011

#158 / Ecosystem Services

"Ecosystem services" is a phrase used to make clear that there is real "value" in the natural environment. Money value, that is!

How much would it cost, for instance, to build the necessary apparatus to clean up contaminated water, and make it fit for drinking? Left alone, our ecosystem does that without the need for any human intervention. That's valuable. "Ecosystem services" is an investigation of how much money we would have to pay to obtain the "services" that nature gives us for "free."

For those who like the concept, this is a way to build respect for nature into our economy and political life. Since money "rules" in our human world, valuing nature in terms of money helps us understand that we ought to be respectful of the natural world.

A recent posting on Legal Planet, a blog I follow, illustrates the way "ecosystem services" has entered our public debate. The British government has recently done a report giving what purports to be a full tally of the (economic) value of the U.K. environment. Legal Planet thinks that this is splendid, since even though "the British government is controlled by budget-slashing conservatives," these British politicians "nonetheless seem to value the environment, unlike their American counterparts."

All good and well, but the premise upon which "ecosystem services" is based is fundamentally flawed. It's topsy-turvey thinking, because it proposes that we value the world of Nature in terms of the primary values in our human world (i.e., in terms of money). This gets it backwards, since our human world (where money is the measure of value) is in fact totally dependent on the world of Nature.

Because that is true (and as a popular ad campaign puts it, admittedly in a completely different context) the value of Nature is priceless!

Putting a price on Nature allows us to exploit it for human ends. Our continuing efforts to exploit Nature, and to achieve through that exploitation what we think of as our human objectives, is in fact the major challenge to the continued existence of human civilization on our planet. If we keep acting like Nature is dependent on us, rather than the opposite, we're on our way out.

Read up on global warming, if you don't believe me.


  1. Here is a comment from my good friend Larry Spears:

    Is the problem putting a number on Nature's effects in the world or putting a dollar number on Nature's effects? If the comparison of human substituted service for Nature's service can be subject to an estimated ratio, would this not help the public to recognize the relative importance of Nature's service?

    I recognize that numbering Nature is an exercise in anthropocentrism, but it could also be seen as a gateway to expanding our understanding of anthropocentrism toward a more mature ecocentrism that progressively includes animals, plants and the inanimate parts of our globe.

    Just a thought.

  2. How to post comments:

    My friend Larry has had a problem posting comments on this blog, because the program requires you to select a "profile" before allowing the comment to be published. If you don't have such a "profile," and don't want to get one, then you can post as "Anonymous." You can also post with your real name, if you have a URL to go along with it, which many people do.

    If you don't have a URL, and you don't want to create a "profile" of some kind, just to be able to make a comment, and you don't actually want to make the post "anonymous," then I'd suggest using the "Anonymous" profile option, but including your real name and/or other contact information in the body of the comment itself. I think that will work!

  3. To respond to Larry's comment:

    I don't have any problem with trying to "value" the "services" that the World of Nature provides to our human world in terms that the human world understands; namely, in terms of money. I think that Larry is right that this could be rather instructive in making the basic point that I am trying to promote with Two Worlds/365: our world, and our lives, are dependent on the World of Nature.

    The problem is that this valuation exercise implicitly suggests that OUR human world is primary, and the World of Nature should be evaluated in our terms. In fact, if our world is to continue, we must realize that the actual situation is completely the opposite.

  4. This is a test of the comment procedure suggested.

    Larry Spears

  5. Valuing nature in terms of money helps us understand that we ought to be respectful of the natural world.
    Houston Car Injury Attorney

  6. That's the theory. But as I am sure you know from your work, money can't really compensate for the losses we sometimes experience. True in the case of personal injury. And true in the case of damage to the environment.


Thanks for your comment!