Valuing ecosystem services in a time of austerity and rampant disinformation
It helps to think of value as a verb rather than a bright shiny object, because ecosystem services only have value if people actually value them. From this perspective, valuation is a process of learning and reconsidering one's values in light of new information and lessons learned from previous experience, in the context of multiple and often conflicting rights and objectives.
Once upon a time, I believed that this process of overhauling values to include ecosystem services would occur in the face of threats and that stakeholders might recognize a mutual interest in resolving conflicts. I also used to expect more regular weather cycles and a full counting of votes in US elections. What I had not factored into the equation was rampant denial, reinforced by scientific disinformation (think "climate wars"), nor the escalation of congressional budget battles. In this new context of austerity, the case for spending on ecosystem services can sound almost quaint when faced with cuts for basics like weather satellites and foundational research demystifying ecological threats.
In spite of the explosion of information about ecosystem services, many people outside the bubble of conservation practitioners are still not even familiar with the term. And the climate wars have taught us it’s not enough to present the facts as they are unlikely to persuade anyone not already persuaded. Although markets provide a familiar frame of reference for ecosystem services, and in many cases may even be the most cost effective way to protect them, it has also led to obscure technical discussions about quantifying them, that has left behind the familiar discussions on rights and stewardship, and what is at stake.
The implication? It’s time to consider what we have learned from all of this, and ask how we might broaden the frame of reference. How can we manage knowledge so as to better communicate about trade-offs and enable stakeholder learning in this rapidly shifting context?
Can you point to good examples of stakeholder learning processes in the context of ecosystem services initiatives?