Commentary: Pursue a dual strategy

Comment on "Economic Valuation and Payment for Ecosystem Services: Recognizing Nature's Value or Pricing Nature's Destruction?" By Jutta Kill

Many thanks to Jutta Kill for this very interesting discussion paper. I share many of the concerns raised in this paper. Especially with the ecosystem services concept there has indeed been a strong trend towards monetising nature and commodifying it, i.e. making it a tradable good. While the concept was introduced especially by conservationists with the purpose of furthering the protecting of nature, there is in fact the danger that the dynamics of the concept's usage might run in a direction which is counterproductive to this goal. We should, however, not throw out the baby with the bathwater and discard the whole idea of ecosystem services as negative to preserving nature. The ecosystem services is much broader than economic valuation. Especially on the local and regional level, the concept can be very productive, especially when used in a participatory manner as a tool for decision support, for specific situations and clearly defined, together with an array of stakeholders. Here it can help to clarify the issues, open up new perspectives on the relations between nature and people, and help to include a wide array also of non-monetary values in discourses. Such discourses can become very specific and include the experiences of local stakeholders for correcting and improving scientific knowledge, without even necessarily requiring valuation, even less monetary valuation of nature. My concern is more about the large scale approaches of mapping and valuing ecosystem services, that are now popular and even demanded (e.g. by the current EU Biodiversity Strategy). Under high political and scientific pressure, much knowledge is produced here, which at closer look has many conceptual and methodological weaknesses (e.g. in finding appropriate indicators for ecosystem services). Not the least by the power of maps and that of "exact" monetary values (which especially decision makers highly desire) it gives, as Jutta Kill emphasises in her paper, a misguiding impression of "hard facts" while often neglecting the specific contexts (e.g. by not distinguishing between forest of a timber plantation and a "natural" forest) and values. The major problem I see is not that economic valuation approaches are used, but that they tend to become the major logic of arguing, even within circles of conservation biologists, that it tends to become pervasive and all-embracing. Conservation biologists are caught in a dilemma in that on the one hand they strategically try to take up the – societally dominant – language of economics and sensitive the public for this type of values of nature, but on the other hand are in danger to devalue other important arguments. In consequence they may be lost if it turns out that economic arguments do not lead to the desired results. I think we have to pursue a dual strategy: we should not completely abandon economic arguments; but instead of hectically following and reinforcing the trend, we should lessen the prominence of these arguments by strongly fostering alternative ones, especially those which relate to the very intuitions and reasons why people protect nature: not merely because it is useful or because it has "intrinsic value", but because we cherish our relations with nature and with others as something that contributes to a flourishing and meaningful life.


Image removed.Comment on the position paper by Jutta Kill:
Valuation and Payment for Environmental Services: Recognizing Nature's Value Pricing or Nature's Destruction?"