Ethical Considerations in On-Ground Applications of the Ecosystem Services Concept

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Abstract

The ecosystem services (ES) concept is one of the main avenues for conveying society’s dependence on natural ecosystems. On-ground applica- tions of the concept are now widespread and diverse and include its use as a communication tool, for policy guidance and priority setting, and for designing economic instruments for conservation. Each application raises ethical considerations beyond traditional controversies related to the monetary valuation of nature. We review ethical considerations across major on-ground applications and group them into the following categories: anthropocentric framing, economic metaphor, monetary valuation, commodification, sociocultural impact, changes in motivations, and equity implications. Different applications of the ES concept raise different suites of ethical issues, and we propose methods to address the issues most relevant to each application. We conclude that the ES concept should be considered as only one among various alternative approaches to valuing nature and that reliance on economic metaphors can exclude other motivations for protecting ecosystems.

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