The Challenges of Incorporating Cultural Ecosystem Services into Environmental Assessment

Abstract

The ecosystem services concept is used to make explicit the diverse benefits ecosystems provide to people, with the goal of improving assessment and, ultimately, decision-making. Alongside material benefits such as natural resources (e.g., clean water, timber), this concept includes—through the ‘cultural’ category of ecosystem services—diverse non-material benefits that people obtain through interactions with ecosystems (e.g., spiritual inspiration, cultural identity, recreation). Despite the longstanding focus of ecosystem services research on measurement, most cultural ecosystem services have defined measurement and inclusion alongside other more ‘material’ services. This gap in measurement of cultural ecosystem services is a product of several perceived problems, some of which are not real problems and some of which can be mitigated or even solved without undue difficulty. Because of the fractured nature of the literature, these problems continue to plague the discussion of cultural services. In this paper we discuss several such problems, which although they have been addressed singly, have not been brought together in a single discussion. There is a need for a single, accessible treatment of the importance and feasibility of integrating cultural ecosystem services alongside others.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), which supported the meetings of our Working Group on Cultural Ecosystem Services. We are also indebted for the reflection on this essay’s contents contributed by members of the NCEAS Working Group who are not authors on this paper: P. Balavanera, A. Bostrom, R. Chuenpagdee, G. Daily, M. Ruckelshaus, R. Russell, and G. Bratman. Finally, we thank two helpful anonymous reviewers for this journal.

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Correspondence to Debra Satz.

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Satz, D., Gould, R.K., Chan, K.M.A. et al. The Challenges of Incorporating Cultural Ecosystem Services into Environmental Assessment. AMBIO 42, 675–684 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-013-0386-6

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Keywords

  • Culture
  • Environmental assessment
  • Ecosystem services
  • Decision-making
  • Interdisciplinary social science
  • Value pluralism