Pink River Sky by Tiffany Lynch is invisible to our eyes. For example: • generations-old social practices that allow traditional people to coexist with the land • the integrity of sacred sites • complex ecological dependencies that we have not yet learned to see or measure And there is another, deeper problem. Underlying ecosystem services valuation is the belief that everything has a price; that there is a finite measure of the value of all things. There is no room for the infinite, the sacred, that which is beyond price.
This is not a mere philosophical quibble; it has profound practical consequences. If we value a certain forest at $1 billion, then if we can make $1.1 billion by chopping it down, the implication is that we should do it. If we value the survival of a given species at $5 billion, then if we can make $6 billion by exterminating that species, we should do it. And if the value of all ecosystem services is $100 trillion, then if we can earn $200 trillion by liquidating Earth, we should do it.
Does that sound preposterous? It would be, except that it is what we are doing already (though not purposely), abetted by the ideology of value. Monstrous consequences result whenever we put a price tag on life – especially when those assigning that price stand to gain financially from deciding what that price should be. Putting a price on Nature is a form of ‘othering’. It implies that Nature, first and foremost, exists for human use,
that the ecosystem’s purpose is indeed ‘service’.
This view of Nature is rapidly becoming obsolete. We are turning away from the Cartesian ambition to become the lords and masters of Nature. Less and less do we see Nature as a pile of instrumental stuff, generic building blocks to manipulate with blithe indifference to the consequences for other beings. We are instead recovering a sense of the sacredness of all life. Indeed, I am sure that it is this biophilia that motivates the well-meaning attempts to monetise ecosystem services. Unfortunately, by putting a finite number on these ‘services’ we reduce the infinite value of the sacred to a quantity.
Invocations of ‘the sacred’ or ‘the infinite’ leave many people feeling uncomfortable and asking, shouldn’t we be making public policy based on science and not nebulous, quasi-religious notions like these?
Indeed it is true: appeals to the sacred over the measurable are unscientific. Science has, at least since the time of Galileo, concerned itself with the measurable. Qualitative properties, said Galileo, are secondary, less real and not the province of science. David Hume articulated it thus: “Let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames; for it contains nothing but sophistry and illusion.”
The goal of science and anything (such as
34 Resurgence & Ecologist
Januar y/Februar y 2013