In addition to the individual efforts of a growing number of academics and practitioners, innovative programs are emerging to tackle these twin challenges at large scales. The Natural Capital Project is an international collaboration involving Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy, and the World Wildlife Fund that aims to integrate ecosystem-service values into land-use and policy decisions (Aldhous and Holmes, 2007). By developing new decision-support tools—including software to quantify and map the value of ecosystem services across landscapes and seascapes—and applying them in several demonstration sites across the world, the project hopes to promote more forward-thinking land-use decisions.
In some cases, protecting ecosystem services (or even engineering them) may not enhance biodiversity conservation (Chan et al., 2006; Turner et al., 2007), but it may be useful for other anthropocentric reasons. We should be frank about that when pondering how to justify and finance our operations. We should also think about how increased valuation of ecosystem services might spill over into other sectors of the economy: If we rely on an ecosystem to do a job, are we putting a human being out of work, and might that person retaliate against the service-providing ecosystem?
Finally, we must recognize that, for whatever reason, demand for particular ecosystem services will wax and wane, but that the sources of the services must not be allowed to wax and wane in sync. As proponents and critics of market-based conservation approaches both point out, complete commodification of ecosystems is not the goal. Yes, ecosystem services have enormous value in traditional economic terms for their role in sustaining and enriching human life, and efforts to ascertain these values are important. No, ecosystems and their biodiversity cannot compete on the open market as service providers alone (Chan et al., 2007). To subject ecosystems to all of the same demands and risks that commodities and corporations face in capitalist economies would be to ensure their eventual diminution and demise.
Globalization intensifies this hazard. In a globalized, demodularized world, goods and services can often be imported and outsourced more cheaply than they can be obtained locally—and this includes goods and services provided by ecosystems. “Endemic” ecosystem services, which cannot be supplanted by goods and services from distant sources, will likely be the most effective allies to biodiversity in the future.
Experience has shown not only that science can inform more rapid, more effective restoration of local habitats (Young et al., 2005), but also that contiguous ecosystems can be built from scattered pieces at large scales