Ecosystem Disservices Revisited

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

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On Economic Valuation and Sick Mothers

I have spent most time this week at the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, which takes place in Leipzig. In one of the sessions today, my doctoral father had the pleasure(?) to defend the economic (valuation) approach to environmental problems in a panel discussion. Most arguments used in this discussion against the economic approach were, I say it frankly, nonsense. Either they resulted from misunderstanding or from confusion or they just didn’t have anything to do with the issue. The only two valid arguments I was able to filter out were: a) that economists often treat ecosystems atomistically in that they value single ecosystem services and then just “add them up”, which is a practice I am very concerned about, too, and b) that the economic approach hasn’t achieved anything so far (which is debatable, but still a valid critique, as there is no systematic assessment of this issue to be checked against). Today, however, I would like to respond to one of the misconception-based arguments, for I think that it shows in an impressive way what economics is (not) and why we need economic analysis. Continue reading

What’s So Good About Biodiversity?

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

Is Economic Valuation a “Neoliberal Road to Ruin”? A Response to George Monbiot

George Monbiot is actually an environmental journalist I esteem highly. But I do not agree with his aggressive criticism of what he calls a “neoliberal road to ruin”, which I would prefer calling economic valuation of environmental goods and services [the linked article is a transcript of Monbiot’s talk, which you can see below]. While he does make important points, I see his criticism as mistaken in many respects. In what follows, I would like to respond to some of the points he made. Continue reading

Ecosystem Services or The Downsides of Choosing the Wrong Namesake

Just a few days ago I published a post in which, among other things, I criticised economists for using the term “value of a statistical life”, as it begs to be misinterpreted and opens up space for criticism that is actually based on misconception. Today, I realised that often I must deal with a similar issue in my own research field. “Ecosystem services”, while arguably originally an eye-opening metaphor, seen from today’s perspective was a badly chosen term. It invites criticisms of the approach that are at odds with its essence, but are suggested by its name. Continue reading

Some key areas of “group think” among scientists

Another insightful post by Jörn Fischer. In my work I encounter most of the “group think” phenomena mentioned here, and I can only confirm that they do exist and that they constitute serious problems in the area of sustainability research.

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

Researchers operate within networks, and people within those networks tend to share certain worldviews. None of us are free of this — different researchers see the world through different analytical lenses, which one might also call “paradigms”. My sense is that we’d get a lot further in terms of insight if relatively less research energy was put into developing sophistication within paradigms, instead focusing on the differences between paradigms and ways to learn from multiple paradigms. One might also call this “epistemological pluralism“, or less technically, it would be nice if scientists were a little more open-minded.

This phenomenon of “group think” amongst different sets of research groups is something I have found fascinating for a long time, and I think it exists in various topic areas. I list some of those areas here where “group think” appears quite strong, and potentially this causes some problems. These topic…

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Putting a Price on Nature’s Beauty

In a recent Guardian piece George Monbiot was quite hard on my profession–or rather, on the issue of how politicians use the ideas behind the concept of economic valuation of ecosystems:

As Ronald Reagan remarked, when contemplating the destruction of California’s giant redwoods, “a tree is a tree”. Who, for that matter, would care if the old masters in the National Gallery were replaced by the prints being sold in its shop? In swapping our ancient places for generic clusters of chainstores and generic lines of saplings, the offsetters would also destroy our stories.

While I do not think that economic valuation is useless, an important question implicitly posed by Monbiot is: even if economists know what they’re doing and where the limits of their work are, is it justified to expect that politicians do? To price or not to price: That is the question…