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How should society pay for services ecosystems provide?
Date:11/4/2011

Over the past 50 years, 60 percent of all ecosystem services have declined as a direct result of the conversion of land to the production of foods, fuels and fibers.

This should come as no surprise, say seven of the world's leading environmental scientists, who met to collectively study the pitfalls of utilizing markets to induce people to take account of the environmental costs of their behavior and solutions. We are getting what we pay for.

"The best things in life are free, including nature", says author Stephen Polasky, professor of applied economics and ecology, evolution and behavior. "But without a price for nature's services we don't maintain the environment in ways necessary to sustain these valuable services." Polasky is also a resident fellow in the university's Institute on the Environment (IonE).

Their report, "Paying for Ecosystem Services: Promise and Peril," is published in the Nov. 4 issue of the journal Science.

Society pays for the products of agriculture, aquaculture and forestry, and has developed well-functioning markets for these products, these experts say

However, author David Tilman, Regents Professor in the College of Biological Sciences and IonE fellow, notes "We also need market mechanisms that reward farmers for the quality of the water that leaves their lands, and for other important ecosystem services." These services include watershed protection, habitat provision, pest and disease regulation, climate regulation and storm buffering.

The problem is that many ecosystem services are public goods. Some lie outside the control of any one government, and the science for others is still only poorly understood. There is no one-size payment mechanism that fits all cases. And bad payment mechanisms can be worse than no payment mechanisms at all, the study's authors warn, pointing to the lessons learned from four decades of agricultural subsidies. Subsidies encouraged the overuse
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Contact: Jeff Falk
jfalk@umn.edu
612-626-1720
University of Minnesota
Source:Eurekalert

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