By Joern Fischer
Here is a work in progress report on the symposium on cultural ecosystem services, happening right now!
Anne Guerry started the session with a broad overview and showed that the classic notion of looking at total economic value for ecosystem services doesn’t work in practice. Anne went to great lengths to argue that the concept of ES is still useful, but that we have to get beyond dollars.
Anne then discussed several case studies (e.g. here), which basically used the INVEST method developed by the natural capital project. More strongly re-focusing on cultural services, Anne then reported on how the working group at NCEAS had tried to bring CES into decision making and into the dialogue about ES:
- By cataloguing and addressing issues that hamper their inclusion – e.g.
- Many challenges are exaggereated or misunderstood (e.g. $ valuation);
- Many different metrics could be used;
- By trying to develop a framework to operationalise CES;
- By testing that framework;
- And by synthesizing literature connecting non-material benefits and wellbeing.
Picking things up pretty much at this point, Kai Chan then spoke about integrating cultural ES into decision making. He observed that CES were “everywhere and nowhere” – aesthetics and recreation seem to always be considered, but most other CES rarely appear to be considered in as much detail as they deserve.
Presenting a fisheries examples, Kai showed that the monetary value of a particular fishery had increased, and also overfishing went down. Traditionally, this would be considered a win-win solution for ecology and the economy. However, through the cultural changes that went hand in hand with these changes, many local fishermen and indigenous people had suffered; their culture, their traditions, social cohesion, identity, and so on. So just dollars and fish were unable to capture the complexity of the situation. Social and ecological changes co-occur and cannot be meaningfully separated in this example.
Kai concluded by summarizing a framework how cultural ecosystem services might be better included in decision making in the future. This framework will be published this month in BioScience – so keep an eye out for that one! The framework involves steps such as:
- Get consent by people to engage;
- Figure out who is deciding and why?
- Characterize social-ecological context;
- Look at benefits, ecosystem services and values;
- Determine influence diagrams and feed that back to decision makers.
One problem I have with this, and with much other “natural capital project” work on ecosystem services is that it all seems very top-down. Who are these all-powerful decision makers that must be informed? Is this how societies actually operate? I feel something here is lacking. Despite attempts to empower local people (somehow), in the end, it seems to boil down to these all-powerful decision makers, who rationally compare scenarios and make informed decisions. I am just not sure that this is how the world works…. Thoughts on this, anyone?