Biodiversity and “ecosystem services”

Global biodiversity loss is increasingly identified as at least as serious an environmental threat as climate change. The two are also intertwined, but by nature there are two different types of phenomena, because, unlike the atmosphere, the diversity of the biosphere is not evenly distributed on Earth but, for example, tropical rainforests make up a hot spot in which, according to some estimates, as much as 70-90 % of all species on Earth live.

In environmental economics, “ecosystem services” refers to an attempt to bring the value of a priceless natural resource quantitatively (in money) to be measured, commensurate with other human activities, so that the benefits and harms of policy decisions can be directly compared. In practice, for example, it is estimated in euros how much it would cost to produce clean water, air, or sunlight that people need industrially (if theoretically possible). Of course, this easily leads to astronomical sums of money, so many policy decisions appear in a very different light than in the context of traditional economics, where the carrying capacity of the earth has been ignored in calculations, i.e. the supposed contributions of nature are infinitely plentiful and ecosystem services are free.

The concept of ecosystem services was introduced to wider awareness and use by the United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2001-2005. In addition to material benefits, services are classified as cultural and recreational services received by humans from nature. Despite its apparent usefulness, the basic idea of ecosystem services is, in an environmental philosophical sense, at odds with the indivisible intrinsic value of nature, and can be seen as part of the prevailing discourse of trying to translate ‘everything’ into the language of the economy.

Ville Kivekäs

TYK’s Equality and Environment Officer

Posted 4th of October 2023, translated 1st of March 2024

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