[The following is an edited synopsis of part of our longer official response on March 12 in Science about nature's contributions to people (NCP). Re: the original article, see this IPBES news item.]
Given that the Inuit have over 50 words for snow, how does an Inuit person translate a white skier’s question, “How’s the snow?” Without a precise mapping of terms, the translation is likely to include other dimensions of meaning, including the ‘positionality’ of the questioner (a white outsider) and the underlying purpose (recreating on Inuit territory). There is no way for any outsider’s language and concepts--e.g., about ecosystem services--not to suffer the same fate: they will both lose meaning that is crucial to locals, while also accruing conceptual baggage that may alienate them. A key point of the NCP approach is to explicitly recognize the legitimacy of a context-specific understanding, which defies the predetermined categorization that is so central to the ecosystem-services approach. And thus NCP is not merely political compromise but rather a broadening of epistemologies.
The snow allegory illustrates elements of the statement that “ecosystem services are NCP”: yes, ‘ecosystem services’ represents an important subset of ways of understanding nature’s diverse contributions to people. For some—including many social scientists and humanities scholars—there is hesitation or resistance to engage with ‘ecosystem services’, since the term comes with a conceptual baggage regarding the implicit assumptions and intended purpose. Not only is there the troubling connotation in the analogy of ecosystems as service-providers like factories (Norgaard 2010), but ‘ecosystem services’ has become associated at least partly with the notion of pricing nature so as to save it (Spash 2008; Dempsey & Robertson 2012; Crouzat 2018; Castree 2017). NCP represents a response, to broaden the tent by broadening the term.
Our promotion of NCP is no battle for territory: ecosystem services researchers should keep using that term, and we will too—in appropriate contexts. It remains in IPBES’ name, our job titles, and our explanations of who we are and what we do. It is perfectly functional for some audiences, and preferable for others—but not all (Fairbank 2010). In some other contexts, we will use NCP in order to intentionally signal an approach that explicitly invites and embraces diverse conceptions of nature and our relationships with it. This conceptual broadening is especially important when stakeholders do not accept the stock-flow metaphor associated with narrowing down nature to natural capital and all of its contributions as services (Chan et al. 2016; Pollini 2016; Pascual et al. 2017).
The issue is not whether the social sciences and humanities are represented in the field, but how visible and comfortable they are, whether there could be more, and if it would be productive. There are important social-science and humanities contributions in ecosystem services, and we have all intentionally strived to make more space for these (Chan et al. 2012; Martín-López et al. 2014; Pascual et al., 2014; Díaz et al. 2015; Berbés-Blázquez et al., 2016; Stenseke & Larigauderie 2017). But many review papers have found a narrow engagement of ecosystem services research with the social sciences (Liquete et al. 2013; Haase et al. 2014; Nieto-Romero et al. 2014; Chaudhary et al. 2015; Luederitz et al. 2015; Fagerholm et al. 2016). We know of many excellent social scholars who have been turned off by the term, and some who have engaged and have contributed importantly report a persistent queasiness (Satterfield et al. 2013; Satz et al. 2013).
We favour a big tent for this party that is research on nature’s contributions, and terms aren’t one-size-fit-all. Since many scholars report continued chafing with ‘ecosystem services’, despite our efforts to stretch it, we simply intend to provide a new term to invite a broader range of scholars and knowledge holders.
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