The importance of ecosystem services is often well known within natural scientists. However, communicating the value of this importance so that it resonates with the public or policy-makers can be challenging. Dr James Boyd visited CERE on 19 September 2019 to talk about how to relate nature to a broader set of human concerns. He is working on connecting knowledge between natural and social sciences through linking indicators. Linking indicators are biophysical outcomes that are directly relevant to social welfare. For instance, excess nitrogen in soils can affect the entire ecosystem in a multitude of ways. But by focusing on particular pieces of the ecosystem, such as an artic fox, the issues affecting human wellbeing become more obvious. In this example, the fox becomes a linking indicator, the biophysical outcome that is meaningful to the public and can embody the issues within an entire ecosystem.
An ecosystem service analyst like James Boyd is equipped to recognize which benefits people receive from ecosystems and thereby able to identify linking indicators. These linking indicators can then be used by natural scientists to measure, develop, use and report on how they benefit social welfare. Linking indicators function as mutual platforms for ecological and social systems and interdisciplinary analyses. Something tangible that is valuable for the public and policy-makers is more easily relatable, hence, understandable and valuable. While on the subject of value, Boyd points out his aversion to solely measuring value in money. He provided the example of a Harp seal. To a polar bear, the seal has input value as food. To humans it has a consumptive value like meat and fur and, a passive use where for instance tourists can admire its aesthetics. The seal also has an optional value, we want them to exist in the future for ourselves and our children as well as an existence value, the idea that they exist, a more philosophical value, why are species important?
During his stay, Boyd also visited the local Minerva High School for a talk with some of the students where he asked them if someone was planning on becoming an economist. No hands were raised, which gave Boyd the opportunity to dispel the myth that economics is about money - but of value. It is important to look at value in context. What is valuable and what is important? A diamond might be valuable, but is it important? A glass of water is important, especially to someone parched, but is it valuable? It all depends on context.
The Minerva students where interested in climate change, and asked him “Who’s to blame for climate change?” Boyd’s answer was immediate: We, the adults in the room, are. He also indicated companies that produce short-lived products and transportation infrastructure in the United States where people have little to no access to public transport. He has high hopes for the younger generation though. According to Boyd, youngsters do not seem to need (or value) a car to the same extent that previous generations do. They are happy to use shared and public services.
See the lecture with James Boyd, recorded on September 19th, 2019: Seminar - James Boyd
Photo, from the left: Francisco Aguilar, Erin Widmark (student at Minerva), Camilla Widmark, James Boyd and Lars Burström (teacher at Minerva).