Wednesday, January 18, 2012

All Your Ecosystem Services Are Belong to Us

 Just noticed this from the USGS:
"Beyond simple carbon markets and satellite images, we envision a sophisticated worldwide system that accounts for ecosystem service outputs using online database (for example, Google ecosystem services)."
Of course, it's only a matter of time before SkyNet achieves consciousness and takes environmental conservation into its own hands.

Ok, aside from the obvious one-world-government, black-helicopter, panopticon jokes this inspires, it's also obviously the implicit goal of most ecosystem service accounting work.  It's rarely stated in such clear, techno-topian terms, but it underlies a lot of current policy talk.  It's worth thinking about the kind of knowledge requirements and institutional capacities this would involve, and the kind of society that this consistent datalink to nature would shape.

I think a lot of folks in the ecosystem services world might have a hard time seeing what, exactly, is wrong with USGS's vision here.  The basic critique from the other side is that one person's ecosystem services are another person's conditions of biological existence, and to have them continuously monitored, valued and recorded is... unsettling.  At the very least -- regardless of the merits of the conservation actions -- it unavoidably creates an unequal power relationship (or, more likely, reinforces an already-existing one) between the monitor and the monitored.

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