social scientists—all were needed. As the chair of the conference steering committee put it, “The only prerequisite was brilliance.”
IDR Team 1 explored the many ways in which human health requires healthy ecosystems and the services they provide. In response to their challenge, “How do ecosystem services affect infectious and chronic diseases?,” the team boldly stated that all diseases have links to the health of ecosystems. Though in general, infectious diseases have stronger links than chronic diseases. Seeking the physical and biological processes that connect ecosystem changes to health-related outcomes would be the critical first task, once any relationship is uncovered. Team 1 was one of many to recognize the huge numbers of interconnections between human and ecological systems, coining the phrase “webs of causation” to best reflect their dazzling complexity. The team observed that some diseases, like malaria, had already been well-mapped by other interdisciplinary scientists, who may not realize that their research fits into an ecosystem services framework. This led the team to devise a “call to arms” bringing together researchers from specific fields, such as epidemiology, urban planning, and atmospheric sciences to work on this challenge under a common framework of health-supportive ecosystem services.
Three teams under the IDR 6 banner explored ways to estimate the overall value of the inventory of human dependencies on natural capital. These teams recognized that the price currently paid for products, such as food, does not include the values to society of the services provided by nature. A “shadow price” would incorporate a full accounting of the social costs and benefits of products and policies, and would most likely inflate prices. However, this would require that economists grapple with a fundamentally different framework for pricing, one that can precisely reflect the worth of hard-to-pin-down social, cultural, and ecological values. One team memorably called the difficult-to-value end of the spectrum, “squishy.” Economists do have well-developed methods to value things that don’t fit into a traditional market framework. Two teams recommended applying revealed preference analysis measurements to the task of comprehensively valuing ecosystem services. Another said interactive social games could expose the way any person values intangible ecosystem services by tracking their choices among actions that create tradeoffs between different competing values.
Food demand will double this century, and agriculture already has the biggest impact on the environment, by far. Three IDR 4 Teams tackled this problem. One team set out several achievements that