AboutZoos, Since 2008


Valu­ing nature is not enough

pub­lished 26 Jan­u­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 26 Jan­u­ary 2013
Randu meadowsIs it pos­si­ble to put a price tag on the nat­ural world? Researcher have been exam­in­ing the rise of a new con­cept — ecosys­tem ser­vices — to describe the mul­ti­tude of resources sup­plied to us by Mother Nature.

Aca­d­e­mic Dr Mar­ion Potschin, of the University’s Cen­tre for Envi­ron­men­tal Man­age­ment, is among an inter­na­tional team of researchers who have been inves­ti­gat­ing the eth­i­cal con­sid­er­a­tions of this new con­cept, which some have argued turns nature into a ‘com­mod­ity’.

In a paper pub­lished in the Decem­ber issue of the jour­nal Bio­Science, Dr Potschin and her col­leagues from uni­ver­si­ties in Aus­tralia, Spain, Ger­many, Canada and the US look at the impli­ca­tions of attach­ing a mon­e­tary value to the envi­ron­ment and argue that the social impact of this needs to be con­sid­ered along­side ques­tions of social equity. For exam­ple, how should the costs of main­tain­ing ecosys­tems that sup­ply us with resources such as clean water and food be appor­tioned in soci­ety, and what kind of respon­si­bil­i­ties do those who ben­e­fit from these have in meet­ing the costs?

The idea that nature pro­vides a range of ben­e­fits to soci­ety in the form of ecosys­tem ser­vices has recently gained wide inter­est in the inter­na­tional sci­ence and pol­icy com­mu­ni­ties. It has sparked debate about nat­ural cap­i­tal and the way we man­age it along­side human, social, man­u­fac­tured and built cap­i­tal and is increas­ingly being used to bet­ter inform goals for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.

Intrin­sic value
Dr Potschin and her co-​authors said:
The increas­ing use of the ecosys­tem ser­vices con­cept has occurred at the same time as the devel­op­ment of a glob­alised econ­omy, increas­ing pri­vati­sa­tion of pub­lic assets, greater gov­ern­ment dereg­u­la­tion and grow­ing eco­nomic ratio­nal­ism. This back­ground poses a major chal­lenge for those who seek to argue for the impor­tance of non-​monetary val­ues of nature, such as local com­mu­ni­ties that seek to empha­sise the intrin­sic value of nature.

Dr Potschin added: “The debate has often become polarised between oppo­site view­points — the nar­row per­spec­tive dri­ven by con­ven­tional eco­nomic analy­sis ver­sus one which takes into account eco­log­i­cal con­cerns. How­ever, our research is less about the nar­row finan­cial out­look but rather draw­ing out the numer­ous issues which need to be addressed in using the Ecosys­tem Ser­vice Approach, to ensure that the trad­ing off of con­flict­ing val­ues and ben­e­fits is done equi­tably and takes into con­sid­er­a­tion the true val­ues, beliefs and inter­ests of all par­ties includ­ing local com­mu­ni­ties, future gen­er­a­tions and human­ity in gen­eral in addi­tion to those who may gain or lose out finan­cially.”

Eth­i­cal con­cerns
Among those eth­i­cal con­cerns is the approach to the use of resources from the nat­ural world by dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions — either by giv­ing up poten­tial cur­rent income for the ben­e­fit of our chil­dren or grand­chil­dren or by exploit­ing resources now at the expense of future gen­er­a­tions.

The study con­cluded that using ecosys­tem ser­vices to sim­ply attach a mon­e­tary value to the ecosys­tem does not need to be cen­tral to the way we analyse the con­tri­bu­tion that nature makes to humankind.

The researchers argued that it is essen­tial to acknowl­edge the legit­i­macy of alter­na­tive approaches and val­u­a­tion lan­guages such as the eco­nomic metaphor of ‘ecosys­tem ser­vices’ for con­serv­ing nature.

(Source: The Uni­ver­sity of Not­ting­ham press release, 24.01.2013)
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