Systems Science Friday Noon Seminar Series



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Ecosystem services (ES) are the direct and indirect contributions of ecosystems (in combination with other inputs) to human well-being. An ES-based approach can assess the trade-offs inherent in managing humans embedded in ecological systems. Evaluating trade-offs requires both an understanding of the biophysical magnitudes of ES changes that result from human actions, as well as an understanding of their impact on human well-being, broadly conceived. This talk discusses the state of the art of ES assessment, valuation, and modeling, including the potential of integrated ecological economic modeling. Valuation is about assessing trade-offs – not necessarily about trades (exchanges) in markets for money. Since ecosystem services are largely public goods, market exchanges are not (and should not be) present. This does not mean that trade-offs are not present. Conversely, expressing trade-offs in money does not imply that market exchanges are possible or desirable. Finally, the appropriate uses of economic incentives in managing ecosystem services are discussed. Because many ecosystem services are public goods (non-rival and non-excludable) they cannot (or should not) be privatized – a prerequisite for trading in conventional markets. The solution is to recognize the value of these public goods and modify market and other incentives to communicate that value to private decision-makers. Systems such as ecological taxes and subsidies, government mediated systems of payment for ecosystem services (PES - like the system in Costa Rica), and common asset trusts are some of the tools that are useful for incorporating the value of ecosystem services into private decision-making.

Biographical Information

Dr. Costanza's research has focused on the interface between ecological and economic systems, particularly at larger temporal and spatial scales. This includes landscape-level spatial simulation modeling; analysis of energy and material flows through economic and ecological systems; valuation of ecosystem services, biodiversity, and natural capital; and the analysis and correction of dysfunctional incentive systems.

He is the author or co-author of over 400 scientific papers and 22 books; and his work has been cited in more than 6,000 scientific articles. Reports on his work have appeared in several outlets including Newsweek, Time, The Economist, The New York Times, Science, Nature, National Geographic, and National Public Radio.


Ecosystem services -- Simulation methods, Ecosystem services -- Economic aspects, Ecosystem services -- Valuation, Payments for ecosystem services


Natural Resource Economics | Sustainability

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Understanding, Modeling and Valuing Ecosystem Services