Same words but different meanings* – applied to ecosystem services

by Tibor Hartel


Recently I had an inspiring talk with a colleague studying symbols. The talk was in Romanian – because she is (a Saxon) from Romania. We talked about the meaning of words and about the fact that people often may forget to reflect about what they actually say.

In this respect I brought the term ‘ecosystem service’ into discussion. She smiled. In her interpretation a service comes from somebody paid to provide those services. The ‘ecosystem services’ concept is certainly successful – if not in any other way than its fast transition into many different languages. In Romanian for example, its translation is ‘servicii ecosistemice’ while in Hungarian it is ‘ökoszisztéma szolgáltatás’. In both translations the first thing that the word ‘service’ suggests is paid work of someone and can even have a subordinating connotation. You may need someone’s services or not (anymore), they are disposable. In this context, to me ‘we are dependent on nature’ is not similar to ‘nature provides us with various services’. This is probably a similar ethical problem that the great Hungarian ecologist and thinker Juhász-Nagy Pál highlighted: it is not the same when we say ‘people and nature’ as ‘nature and people’ (analogous with ‘me and my mother’ or ‘my mother and me’). It is good to know the healthy order of things, who was here first, and who depends on whom. Maybe most people don’t reflect about these things – e.g. because they are too busy (e.g. with research) to do that. These hidden / latent / slow things which go unnoticed, unobserved and often unjudged by most people, may have important roles in shaping our perception about nature and us, and our right place in the biosphere.


*source of idea: Friedrich Nietzsche


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