Ecosystem services: from eye-opening metaphor to complexity blinder

Norgaard, R. 2010. Ecosystem services: from eye-opening metaphor to complexity blinder. Ecological Economics. 69 1219-1227.

I found this article very interesting and would highly recommend it to anyone wanting a broader perspective on the problems surrounding the valuation of ecosystem services and the structural problems of the market system in dealing with the complex ecological problems the world is facing. One of the more interesting topics of the paper is how the existing stock-flow model of valuing ecosystem services is really just one of many ways of understanding ecosystems and ecosystem function, and because it is only a single way, it leaves out other ways of understanding ecology that are just as valuable and essential. In this sense, the method of valuing ecosystems in the context of our current economic institutions tends to fail in the same way as when ecosystem services were not even considered at all in valuation assessments (although not as badly).

Other topics addressed are the shortcomings of using a partial-equilibrium framework (i.e. holding all other things equal), in the valuation of ecosystem services. Part of his reasoning being that, if you are holding all other things equal in the context of an economic and social system that is inadequate in dealing with these types of problems, then you are bound for failure. He discusses ecological valuation in a general equilibrium context as an alternative.

I suppose if one were a staunch free-market capitalist there would be ample things in this article to criticize--the author clearly believes that the economic policies stemming from this philosophy are both the cause and by nature inadequate to address the environmental and social justice problems facing the world today. But, I find it hard to argue with many of the points he raises.

Also, many of the solutions he proposes, or rather, the changes that he feels are necessary to truly begin to address the scope of the problem, are the kinds of things that just don't happen very quickly (at least not without some sort of civil war or something).

Overall, I highly recommend this paper.

1 comment:

  1. As a bit if background that you may find interesting given the school's history and focus, Norgaard has his Phd in economics from U of Chicago.