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UHERO’s Project Environment has received funding from the National Science Foundation to participate in an interdisciplinary, international project that spans the natural and social sciences as well as the terrestrial and marine spheres. UHERO is partnering with scientists, resource managers, cultural practitioners and private landowners in Hawaii and Fiji. The project has two distinct parts; the first examines the relationship between local ecological knowledge and social, economic, and ecological outcomes across twenty rural villages in Fiji. The second part of the project explores the effects of different management and climate change scenarios on ecosystem services and indicators of resilience in three Pacific island watersheds.
For Part 1 of the project, we will focus on twenty rural coastal communities across four districts in Fiji. The team will collect household and village-level data within each of the four districts on ecological knowledge, customary skills and intergenerational knowledge. This will be matched to new and existing data collected from nearby forests and reefs. The goal is to develop an index of local ecological knowledge, as well as an index of social-ecological resilience, and examine relationships between these new indices and other ecological, social and economic outcomes. Of particular interest is the influence of local ecological knowledge on our indicators of resilience.
In Part 2 we will conduct three in-depth case studies at the watershed level, focused on quantifying ecological, cultural, and economic values of various land/ocean uses and covers, and their implications for resilience to climate change. The three watersheds were chosen where collaborators have long-term studies to leverage strong existing relationships with landowners, resource managers and users. The watersheds include Kaupulehu on the leeward coast of Hawaii Island, Haena on the north shore of Kauai, and Kubulau on southwestern Vanua Levu.
In each watershed we will collect new terrestrial data on vegetative composition, canopy cover, and indicators of habitat connectivity. Marine ecological surveys will include reef fish assemblages, benthic cover, species composition, biomass, and trophic structure. Ecosystem and cultural services for land and ocean uses will be calculated based on existing data, ecological characteristics, participatory mapping, and interviews.
To understand what combination of land-use practices best enhance social-ecological resilience under different climate change scenarios, we will evaluate the levels and resilience of ecosystem services under multiple future scenarios of climate change and management. These scenarios will represent a range of likely future climates crossed with a range of possible management decisions for each of the three watersheds. After developing an understanding of the ecological, cultural, and economic benefits of each of the management scenarios, we will then assess the costs of various management regimes under different climate change scenarios. The team can then identify a series of “optimum” scenarios – those that appear to maximize resilience indicators and emphasize the cultural, economic and ecological values identified to be of interest to the community members, land managers, and other stakeholders.
Our dual focus on Hawaii and Fiji provides a spectrum of cultural values and land and ocean uses, from functional agroforestry and traditional subsistence fishing in Fiji, to systematic habitat conservation and restoration in Hawaii. As a result, we can capture a wide spectrum of land management paradigms and their potential outcomes under different climate change scenarios, and our results can inform decision making elsewhere in Hawaii, in the Pacific, and throughout coastal areas more broadly.
-Kim Burnett and Cheryl Geslani
The Earth’s environment is divided into different combinations of living organisms and their nonliving surroundings: air, water and soil. These different organic communities are called ecosystems. Humans receive benefits from these ecosystems in the form of “ecosystem services”, a term that covers a range of benefits from artistic inspiration to soil detoxification. (See below for a list of example ecosystem services)*
In 1997 Robert Costanza and 12 other authors wrote an eye-opening article in Nature called “The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital” (Costanza et al. 1997). It stoked interest in environmental valuation because of the $46 trillion/year value (in 2007 US dollars) it placed on the planet’s services. After factoring land use change the value of Earth's services in 2011 was updated to $125 trillion/year (in 2007 US dollars) (Costanza et al. 2014). The goal of Costanza et al. (1997) was not to commodify the environment, but more so to raise awareness to what these environmental benefits are worth in a capitalist market economy. The methods for arriving at these dollar figures were questioned and the valuation was controversial because some people are naturally inclined to ask…
How can you put a dollar value on the environment?
Putting aside the ethical question of assigning dollar values to experiences and connectivity with other people and nature, the below table sums up how previous academic research has addressed environmental valuation:
Prices of goods and services sold in markets can be used to arrive at a dollar value for certain aspects of the environment, but in the case that market values are not available, non-market based methodologies have been used to arrive at a value. Ecosystem service valuation is a relatively new field and researchers are collecting results from previous studies to help future researchers confirm what valuation methods work best for different ecosystem services (Ecosystem Services Valuation Database). A paper was written by De Groot et al. (2002) which includes a table of ecosystem functions and their compatibility with different valuation techniques to help guide in assigning a dollar value to ecosystem services. With some ecosystem services there are intrinsic values (such as existence values) that are hard to put into dollar terms. It doesn’t always have to be about money....
There is more than one way to value the environment
Ecosystem services do not have to be valued in terms of dollars. Any unit can be the common denominator such as time, energy, or freshwater, for example. Environmental valuation differs from financial valuation in that it is rarely done to account for an entity’s profit, it is done to account for alterations humans have made on the environment, or to help decision makers evaluate consequences of their actions. Farber et al. (2002) defines valuation as an assessment of trade-offs toward achieving a goal such as reduced carbon emission, increased habitat or improved water quality.
An important concept to keep in mind is that people do not directly benefit from ecosystems without human, social and built capital. The valuation of the environment’s natural capital must be parsed out from the entire interaction between people, communities and their built environment. It is only through institutions as well as human management and invention that we extract benefit from nature (Costanza et al. 2014). The scope, precision, techniques and units used in an environmental valuation depend on the purpose. Ecosystem service valuations are done at different spatial scales to suit different objectives such as raising awareness, national income and well-being accounts, specific policy analyses, land use planning, payment for ecosystem services, full cost accounting and common asset trusts. For more information on the field of ecosystem service valuation check out references below:
Costanza, Robert, Rudolf de Groot, Paul Sutton, Sander van der Ploeg, Sharolyn J. Anderson,
Ida Kubiszewski, Stephen Farber, and R. Kerry Turner. 2014. “Changes in the Global
Value of Ecosystem Services.” Global Environmental Change 26 (May): 152–58. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.04.002.
De Groot, Rudolf S., Matthew A. Wilson, and Roelof MJ Boumans. 2002. “A Typology for
the Classification, Description and Valuation of Ecosystem Functions, Goods and Services.” Ecological Economics 41 (3): 393–408.
Robert Costanza, Ralph D’arge, Rudolf de Groot, Stephen Farber, Monica Grasso, Bruce
Hannon, Karin Limburg, Shahid Naeem, Rpbert V. O’Neill, Jose Paruelo Robert G.
Raskin, Paul Sutton & Marjan van den Belt. 1997. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital.” Nature 387 (May): 253 – 260.
- Cheryl Geslani
|Air quality regulation||Fish||Pollination of crops|
|Animal genetic resources||Flood prevention||Prevention of extreme events [unspecified]|
|Artistic inspiration||Fodder||Provisioning values [unspecified]|
|Attractive landscapes||Food [unspecified]||Raw materials [unspecified]|
|Biochemicals||Fuel wood and charcoal||Recreation|
|Biodiversity protection||Gas regulation||Refugia for migratory and resident species|
|Biological control [unspecified]||Genetic resources [unspecified]||Regulating [unspecified]|
|Biomass fuels||Hunting / fishing||River discharge|
|Bioprospecting||Hydro-electricity||Sand, rock, gravel. Coral|
|C-sequestration||Industrial water||Science / research|
|Capturing fine dust||Inspiration [unspecified]||Seed dispersal|
|Climate regulation [unspecified]||Irrigation water [unnatural]||Soil detoxification|
|Cultural use||Maintenance of soil structure||Soil formation|
|Cultural values [unspecified]||Meat||Solar energy|
|Decorations / Handicrafts|| |
|Spiritual / Religious use|
|Deposition of nutrients||Natural irrigation||Storm protection|
|Disease control||NTFPs [food only!]||TEV|
|Drinking water||Nutrient cycling||Tourism|
Dyes, oils, cosmetics (Natural raw
|Ecotourism||Other Raw||Waste treatment [unspecified]|
|Education||Pest control||Water [unspecified]|
|Energy other||Pets and captive animals||Water Other|
|Erosion prevention||Plants / vegetable food||Water purification|
|Fibers||Pollination [unspecified]||Water regulation [unspecified]|