Environmental and Resource Economics

, Volume 55, Issue 4, pp 513–524

Are Ecosystem Services Replaceable by Technology?


DOI: 10.1007/s10640-013-9676-5

Cite this article as:
Fitter, A.H. Environ Resource Econ (2013) 55: 513. doi:10.1007/s10640-013-9676-5


This paper assesses the evidence for and against the view that the processes that deliver ecosystem services are so fundamental within ecosystems that neither the services themselves nor the goods that they deliver to humans could be replaced technologically. I consider cases where the natural processes have been replaced and also the probably more common and usually less invasive cases where they have been enhanced by technological interventions. Supporting services are probably least amenable to technology, with the major exception of nutrient cycling, which has been extensively replaced by the use of chemical fertilizers. Final services offer more examples of actual or potential replacement, including the highly controversial example of geoengineering for climate regulation. Finally, there are numerous examples of replacement technologies for environmental goods, especially in the case of energy (fossil and many renewable fuels), fibres (artificial fibres) and biochemicals (industrial pharmaceuticals). The full economic costs of replacement technologies have rarely been explored, and in some cases it appears that the replacement is more expensive than the natural service. Enhancement technologies, in contrast, supplement the output of ecosystem services and are probably in most cases more benign. The doubts about true costs and the fact that many supporting and final services seem either irreplaceable or only replaceable at huge cost adds to the need to protect them.


EcosystemsGoodsSupporting servicesTechnologyReplacementEnhancement

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of YorkYorkUK