Obscuring Ecosystem Function with Application of the Ecosystem Services Concept

Peterson, M. J., D. M. Hall, A. M. Feldpausch-Parker, and A. T. R. Peterson. 2010. Obscuring Ecosystem Function with Application of the Ecosystem Services Concept. Conservation Biology24:113-119.

In a comment on a discussion post couple of weeks ago, Mark Zimrig suggested that “Economics simply cannot function in isolation from other systems [and that] We are only beginning to understand the complexity of large social and natural systems--and they are constantly changing.” In response I suggested that recognition of this complexity, while important, is actually anathema to the political process of commodifying ecosystem services. Peterson et al. (2010) pick up on Mark’s comment and my response by arguing that the application of the ecosystem services concept in ecological economics and science obscures scientific and lay understandings of ecosystem functions. They suggest the shift from ecosystem services as a heuristic tool to a part of neoliberal environmentalism has created the conditions for, as Filoso and Palmer point out, situations where the allure of the market is overshadowing many of the shortcomings in ecological and economic theory and in turn, creating situations where ecosystem service markets (ex. monocropping trees for CO2 sequestration) can end up degrading ecosystem function. Until scientists take to heart that ecosystem services, as marketable commodities, must operate within certain legal, economic, and political logics, the conflation between ecosystem function and ecosystem service will remain counter productive at best. It is time we recognize the political role that ecology as a practice and science plays in commodifying ecosystem services and how this political process feeds into the great compromise of neoliberal environmentalism.

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