Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ecosystem services: if they are so important, why did no one notice them before?

Claire Wansbury and Veronica Lawrie, from consultancy firm Atkins, in Blue & Green Tomorrow: Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from the natural environment. There is growing recognition by policymakers and businesses that natural capital, which provides these ecosystem services, is the ‘missing link’ in classical economics. For many ecosystem services, the value that they provide and the costs that result from damage to natural capital from which they derive are not captured in economic analysis.

You may wonder why we did not notice ecosystem services before. In reality, while the term is new, the importance of these ecosystem services and the need to protect the natural capital that supports them has been recognised for far longer by forward-looking businesses and thought leaders.

...Thought leaders recognised the issues, although they used different terms. American ecologist Aldo Leopold called out for a ‘land ethic’, saying, “If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

...What has changed in the last few years? Suddenly, powerful voices in economics, the environment and business leaders have begun to point out that the economy is not something for which the natural environment must, sadly, be sacrificed, but is really the basis on which most economic development actually depends.

The international Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity study was launched in 2007 and the UK Treasury’s natural capital committee is now at the forefront of bringing natural capital into national accounting. What Leopold called a ‘land ethic’ in the 1930s is now becoming recognised as good business, and critical to economic development....

Alfred Bierstadt's 1873 "Campfire Site"

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