Three Stories About Nature: Property, the Environment, and Ecosystem Services
65 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2011 Last revised: 13 Oct 2012
Date Written: April 13, 2011
The relationship between our understanding of nature and how we allocate rights to property is a necessary but indeterminate one. This article explores three different approaches to this understanding – Property, Environment, and Ecosystem Services – to illustrate different resolutions to an otherwise basic controversy over competing claims to property in natural things. Ultimately, this analysis reveals the conceptual commitments and legal consequences involved in ‘ecosystem services,’ and how the ecosystem services story attempts to converge economics and ecology in property. Ecosystem services casts the character of nature as ecosystem functionality, the value of nature as economic value in goods and services, and the use of nature’s goods and services as a benefit to human well-being.
By looking at the ways the ecosystem services approach diverges from other descriptions of nature, this article also explores how property may react and adapt to the values embodied in ecosystem services. The ecosystem services approach provides an articulation of property value’s dependence on ecosystem influences, and as a result, deflates the importance of property boundaries; challenges to ecosystem services will invariably arise where property value is contingent on ecosystems processes occurring on another’s property. This article argues that the ecosystem services approach results in property without boundaries, in which boundaries become less relevant not just for the process of identifying nature, but also for identifying property interests.
Keywords: nature, property, environment, ecosystem
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