All you need is love: on the Beatles and Ecosystem Services

By Henrik von Wehrden

Recently, I was listening to The Beatles while reading about ecosystem services, and suddenly I was struck by the parallels of the band and the concept.
A common division of ecosystem services arrives at four groups: Provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural services. The Beatles consisted of four members, so there is a start towards a link.


John Lennon was the provisioning service in the band, offering raw and creative energy. Provisioning services are straightforward to understand to non-scientists, since e.g. food and water are vital for humans. Likewise Lennon’s driving force was vital and easily tracked by fans and audiences. After all, he was the walrus. His power dominated all other member at times, and to many people he was the overall most important figure. On the other hand many people would wonder while one would have to put these simple dynamics into a complicated concept such as ecosystem services, and likewise Lennon was a shining figure who continued the steady rise even after the Beatles broke up. His power challenges all other services, yet is basically simple and intuitive. He wrote Nowhere man for himself, believing hat his creative energy was useless at times.

Paul McCartney was the regulating service, giving his decompositional, detoxification and purification services to the band. The vital power of these services is difficult to grasp, yet provisioning services are often useless without regulating services. Just as the song Yesterday, regulating services reach their prime in times of need, and thus are vital — yet often their importance is not readily comprehensible. The creative power of Paul as well as regulating services often demand repeated loops, such as in Hey Jude, Ob-La-Di, Let it be etc. … so cycling appears a common trait here.

George Harrison was the supporting services. While e.g. nutrient cycling is clearly of key importance it’s complicated to measure and quantify. No one will doubt the importance of supporting services, yet primary production is considered by many as too simple a concept, even though many other ecosystem services demand the power of precisely such supporting services. At times their contribution can be remarkably simple, such as in Here comes the sun, and primary production is illustrated by the vital contribution of a Sitar in Norwegian wood. Peak importance is reached in songs such as While my guitar geently weeps, which interestingly enough relied on the creative power (or let’s say provisioning services) of George’s friend Eric Clapton.

Ringo Starr was the cultural services. Everybody states that these are really important, but they are difficult to graps and even and even harder to put a quantative label on. While critics often stated that Ringo was for sure the least gifted musician of the Fab Four, which he frequently stated as well, he is living proof that technique is not everything. He and cultural services are living proof that there is more than meets the eye. Besides singing Yellow submarine or writing Octopus’s garden, his creative talent is easily overlooked, yet without his culture everything else was futile, and his driving and slightly off beat style got and kept the Beatles going early on.

People often state that the Beatles would have been nothing without Brian Epstein, who motivated them into some sort of organized concept. I think that role is matched by Biodiversity, the conservation of which was one key motivation for developing the Ecosystem service concept. Mr Epstein was already a made man when he started managing the Beatles, he paid for first gigs, made test recording sessions and developed their breakthrough style on stage. Sadly, Epstein died of an overdose of 6 sleeping pills, which were believed to be a common dose to him, yet in combination with alcohol were deadly. Let’s hope that planetary diversity may not meet a similiar fate by being intoxicated…

George Martin produced all albums of the Beatles. He put the whole and often raw parts into a coherent concept, and made necessary orchestrations and adaptations to generate an overall working concept. This could be matched by the Millenium assessment and the work of some few motivated individuals, such as Gretchen Daily.

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” — To me no one but Steve Jobs ever summarized better not only the Beatles, but also the importance and overall idea of ecosystem services. According to a recent poll, one of the most improbable statements for anyone to make is: “I do not like the Beatles”. They changed to world to the better. Let’s hope and work together that the ecosystem service concept also changes the face of the planet for the better.

All you need is love.

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