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From a pure monetary point of view, a puppy is worth more than a spider. However, which one offers the most benefit to humans and in what way? Which contributes more to human survival and which would have the greater impact if it became extinct? We can answer these questions by considering the benefits that the puppy and the spider offer.
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report of 2005 defined the Ecosystem Services Framework as a way of recognising the benefits that mankind derives from nature. It is not based upon a monetary value, but rather on the value of benefits that we receive directly or indirectly. Ecosystem services originate from an aspect of the environment that may be a single animal or plant, or a collection of “things” such as a wetland, forest or mountain range.
Jochen Zeitz, executive chairman of Puma and chief sustainability officer, said “The unprecedented Puma Environmental Profit and Loss Account has been indispensable for us to realize the immense value of nature’s services that are currently being taken for granted but without which companies could not sustain themselves.”
To help us understand ecosystem services and the value that they offer, they can be grouped into the following four categories:
Supporting services are necessary for all other ecosystem services. Due to the connectedness of nature, many aspects fall into this category. Water for example, provides vital supporting services to all life on Earth as it is consumed by all plants and animals. Without it, life as we know it, would not exist.
Provisioning services are those resources that we receive from nature. Fish provide food, trees provide building materials and metals from the earth provide the raw materials.
Regulating services maintain the world as we know it. Predators such as snakes, crocodiles, spiders and scorpions prey upon other animals and, in doing so, remove sick, old or dying animals from the environment. They keep animal populations in check and ensure their genetic fitness.
The last group of services are cultural services – those intangible aspects that provide recreation, spiritual and historical benefits.
When we compare the ecological services that a puppy and spider provide, we may feel that the spider offers the most benefits. However, the services that we gain from both the puppy and spider add value, but in different ways. Ecologically speaking, spiders are important middle tier predators. If we left them alone in our house, they would provide a free and natural pest control service. However, a puppy also provides ecosystem services, but in its own unique way.
Valuing of aspects of nature should never be calculated in terms of profit and loss. We need to broaden our gaze and realise that the human race has by no means the capacity and understanding to rate one aspect of the environment over another. Mankind has been fully dependant on ecosystem services since the beginning of its existence. Eroding these services through short sighted mechanisms of greed and ego creates a long term ecosystem service deficit, resulting in social and environmental degradation.