As essentially an anthropocentrist I am entirely comfortable with the notions of useful and harmful species (which correspond with ecosystem services and disservices, respectively). However, I fiercely oppose the notion of “(invasive) alien” species, which is quite popular in the conservation discourse. Notwithstanding its obvious popularity, I think that it is flawed in being xenophobic and arbitrary. Continue reading
Some months ago, I wrote a post here about the concept of ecosystem disservices. My conclusion was the following:
Ecosystem services are of tremendous importance and benefit to humanity. But, seen from the human perspective, these same ecosystems also generate disservices. This is something that is not accounted for in economic valuation efforts going by the name of “ecosystem services valuation”. However, it should be. If we count all the positive services Nature provides us with, we should be realistic and honest enough to count the numerous disservices against them.
Recently, however, I engaged in a discussion of this concept (under this blog post by Joern Fischer), which made clear to me that the matter is much more complicated than I initially thought. I would like to reflect on that point a bit today. Continue reading
As an environmental economist, I in a sense build my work upon the work of others. So, its foundations are provided mainly by ecology and related (sub-)disciplines such as conservation biology. However, while diving into some aspects of these disciplines and interacting with biologists who actually work in the field, I have realised that in many cases, reality is much more messy than a superficial look into the respective literature might suggest. Continue reading
Sometimes, there are books you wish you wouldn’t have read. Mostly, these are bad books. Recently, I read a quite good book that I nevertheless first wished had escaped my attention. It’s Donald S. Maier’s What’s So Good About Biodiversity: A Call for Better Reasoning About Nature’s Value. It’s shaken up my view of why biodiversity is valuable (although not as much as initially thought). As I had to think a lot about Maier’s provocative and very polemic argumentation, for it has posed a challenge to the core of my PhD thesis, I would like to attempt a “self-therapeutic” review of his book’s first part, in which he attacks the status of biodiversity as carrier of nature’s value (I haven’t yet read his exposition of an own account why nature is valuable). Continue reading
In the discussions and debates covered in my blog, buzzwords abound. Sustainability, capitalism, developed countries, consumer society, biodiversity… Because of the subject of my PhD thesis, I have had to deal with biodiversity the most recently. It is a great word, invoked by many in many different contexts and… lacking a specific, agreed upon definition. We love buzzwords, so we love biodiversity. The problem, however, with such words is that they hinder discussions, since everyone assumes that others understand it as one oneself does – which is not always the case. What is biodiversity? Continue reading
Within a few days, Yale e360 published two extremely interesting analyses of China’s recent environmental and social problems: China’s Great Dam Boom by Charlton Lewis and China at Crossroads by Ed Grumbine. Both fascinating in their own right, these articles show that if you want to save the world from a looming environmental catastrophe, you have to start in China. Continue reading
A quite interesting article by Fred Pearce on Yale 360, offering a fresh perspective on the issues of invasive species, ecosystem stability and Man being an integral part of Nature. See here.
Ecosystems begin to look a lot more accidental, random, and transient than niche theory would suggest. They are constantly being remade by fire and flood, disease, and the arrival of new species. They are a hodgepodge of native and alien species. This fits a rival model for how ecosystems work called “ecological fitting,” first articulated by the legendary U.S. ecologist Daniel Janzen of the University of Pennsylvania. He said that co-evolution is a bit-part player in ecosystems; most of the time, species muddle along and fit in as best they can. […] The good news from all this is that nature emerges as resilient and adaptable, able to bounce back from the worst we can throw at it. And that raises a final heretical question. In an era of coming rapid climate change, if any species are going to thrive surely it will be the desperadoes, stowaways, and vagabonds that have been hitching a ride around the world with humans — species that, in some respects, closely resemble us. So if novel is the new normal, should we be encouraging their travels, rather than stopping them at the border?
There is much talk in ecological and environmental economics about ecosystem services – all the things Nature contributes to human well-being, such as pollination, climate regulation, aesthetic values or food. Indeed, my own master’s thesis dealt with the ecosystem services approach to valuation of Nature. Even though I wrote about the problems generated by this approach (and there are many), I still am rather a proponent of it. Recently, however, I realized that there exists an important flaw in the way ecosystem services are valued. I owe this insight partly to Bjørn Lomborg and Douglas McCauley. Particularly the latter mentions explicitly the fact that not all Nature “does” is good for human beings. Indeed, along with ecosystem services, Nature provides us with many disservices, too. Continue reading
The right answer to the question I (somewhat provocatively) posed above is: this is the wrong question. Alas, most of the debate around genetically engineered crops (particularly GE foods) is based on this flawed formulation. In what follows, I shall try to show why the right question should be: “Can agriculture that is based on (or includes) transgenic crops be sustainable?”, and that the right answer is a conditional “It depends”. Continue reading