By Joern Fischer
More than a decade ago, Daniel Janzen advocated the ‘gardenification of nature‘ in an essay in Science. Janzen argues that our genes predispose us to looking after our reproduction and finding shelter and food. He reasons that the goal of conserving ‘wildlands’ is problematic because such land doesn’t serve any purpose for us with respect to these three fundamental needs — hence, we are likely to destroy such land. The solution then, according to Janzen is to stop thinking of wildlands as wild, and instead, treat nature like a garden — which we derive benefits from (such as food), and which therefore, we need to look after. This does seem to work in some cases. For example, Kristoffer Hylander found that coffee gardens in Ethiopia (directly next to people’s houses) support a variety of plants and mosses, and also birds.
At first glance, the idea of the gardenification of nature sounds very similar to an appeal to value the world’s ecosystem services. Especially the idea of provisioning services is very similar to the idea of a ‘garden’. Indeed, the ‘techno garden‘ scenario in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment even uses the word garden. So if anything, it appears, the concept of ecosystem services is broader than the notion of the gardenification of nature.
But in one subtle way, Janzen’s essay goes beyond much of what current literature on ecosystem services does — or at least to me, it feels between the lines, like Janzen’s work goes further. And that is that he very explicitly recognises the underlying values and drivers of why people may or may not maintain nature. He basically argues against a separation of humans and nature; and he argues for understanding what we value and why. Much current literature on ecosystem services takes this stuff as given. It is often taken as given that ‘market values’ would solve the problems of ecosystem abuse — since such abuse is mainly seen as ‘market failure’. If only ecosystem services had a proper value, we would look after them. So utilitarianism is taken as given in ecosystem services, but made explicit in Janzen’s essay.
So what? First, it seems important to me to be explicit about the underlying framework of how we value the world. Utilitarianism seems to describe many of the present trends somewhat well. But second, it also seems important to me to recognise that this is not the only way to think about the ethics of how humans do or ought to behave towards the natural environment. What I’d like to see more of in the literature then is (1) a more explicit acknowledgement of the value framework underpinning a given paper, and (2) a more common acknowledgement that being human can be more than just meeting one’s needs for food, shelter and a mate. Given our capacity for reflection and conscious action, is it reasonable to assume the only way we will be able to solve conservation problems is to appeal to our basic instincts?
Maybe. Maybe not.