by R Constanza

Ecosystems 3: 4-10


Although ecosystems are necessary for human civilization, there still exist many questions about the extent to which they are valued, on what scales, and limits on substitution. In this article, the author argues that in addition to the traditional economic valuation of ecosystem services, ecological sustainability and social fairness must also be included. The conventional model of the economy emphasizes maximizing both the productivity and availability of the scarcest model component; meaning natural capital rather than anthropogenic substitutes, is exploited. A newer ecological economic system includes ecological services/amenities as directly influencing human well-being. In terms of ecosystem valuation, the author argues that we do not have a choice as society’s actions implicitly reflect those valuations. It follows that these valuations should be made explicit as possible, in order to make more sustainable choices about ecosystem services. Additionally, individual preferences and values combine with those of society to form the basis for society’s goals. Three large-scale goals around managing economic systems within the constraints of Earth’s biological limits are reviewed along with how they relate to ecosystem service valuation. This leads to the identification of three values (efficiency, fairness, sustainability) associated with ecosystem service valuation. The article concludes with a call for one further step, the formation of values through public discussion, which is necessary to effectively integrate the concepts of economic efficiency, social fairness, and sustainability. The next generation of ecosystem scientists will find this challenge to be an important part of their work.

Region: Global
Publication Type: Journal article
Keywords: ecosystem services, ecosystem services valuation, socioeconomics, and sustainability