By Tracy Stanton

It has been over 20 years since the publication of two seminal works that introduced the idea that our natural environment provides us ecosystem services and that those services are highly valuable.

This article walks us through these past 20 years highlighting important progress in this new era of research, policy and application of the valuation of our natural resources and using that value to help drive more investment into environmental protection. The article addresses efforts to develop methods for accounting for the value of natural resources and highlights that while the methods are not perfect, they provide a vital tool to make the case for protecting and investing in our valuable ecological systems along with the need for further efforts to reform our mainstream economic approach for measuring growth, development and human well being.

Here is an excerpt underscoring this point:

“Even without any subsequent valuation, the very process of listing all the services derived from an ecosystem can help ensure their recognition in public policy. This makes the analysis of ecological systems more transparent and can help inform decision-makers of the relative merits of different options. However, valuation is often useful, because many decisions involve trade-offs between ranges of things that affect human well-being differently. In these cases, we do not really have a choice. The decisions we make as a society about ecosystems imply valuations (although not necessarily expressed in monetary terms). We can choose to make these valuations explicit or not; we can do them with an explicit acknowledgment of the huge uncertainties involved or not; but as long as we are forced to make choices, we are going through the process of valuation (Costanza et al., 1997, pp. 255).”

Find the full article here.