Doug McCauley on Ecosystem Services

Claire and I interviewed ecologist Doug McCauley to talk about how to value ecosystems.  Should we value them based on the ecological services they provide?  If natural systems are economically useful and valuable in their natural state, we might have a better chance at preserving them.  Can we conserve nature by putting a dollar value on it?

Have a listen.

Here are my takeaways from the conversation:

  • If we as individuals find nature to be valuable for non-economic reasons, we should expect our political discourse to refer explicitly to such values too.
  • We can avoid framing the discussion in terms of intrinsic vs. extrinsic values by focusing instead on nature’s non-economic value to us.  Conservation can be valuable to us for non-economic reasons: it is aesthetically important, we enjoy being in it, it links us to the past, to other species, etc.
  • Conserving the natural environment has historical value. We too often forget that the built environment is a very recent one.  We’ve lived in it for only a sliver of our evolutionary history. By conserving natural areas, we preserve a link to the past.  History can be empowering.  By remembering that the way things are is not the way they’ve always been – and therefore not the way they must be in the future – we remember that we have the power to change the present.  This environment that we find ourselves in isn’t necessarily “the best of all possible worlds.”  It’s one possible world among many.

Claire says:

  • The best way to ensure that our society values nature and wildspaces for their intrinsic, aesthetic, or joy-making possibilities is to imbue our youth through education and real experience in the outdoors. While this may seem like a simple idea, it is a necessary element that needs to find a place in our current academic community.