Submitted by guest blogger on Tue,01/29/2013

By James Dalton of IUCN’s Global Water Programme.

I am an engineer. I like to see how and why things work the way they do, and like to focus on how to make things work better, including projects and programmes.

I was also taught and trained in science – but I struggle with it. I struggle with the need for science to be so exact and defining. I understand why it has to be so exact but often it does not articulate itself well. The relevance of science can be questioned because it often fails to make itself understood to the audience – or ‘stakeholders’ it is trying to inform and influence.

With this in mind I looked at the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) report, and its definition of ecosystem services as “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems”. In the report ecosystem services were ‘categorised’ into supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural ‘services’ – the benefits society receives from nature in the form of security, the basic materials for a good life, health, and good social relations.

The MEA Report contains a (now famous) diagram which tries to show the link between the different categories of ecosystem services, and the benefits society receives. On the left are the ecosystem service categories, and on the right, the benefits society receives collectively as ‘human well-being’. Between the services provided and human well being there are a series of coloured arrows to demonstrate that some services society can provide in different ways through our social organisation skills, or through paying for them.

This is important to show that when an ecosystem is degraded, we have to subsidise the services through investing, or at the extremes, moving populations! For me, the easiest example is how

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