Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sustainability's Ecosystem Service Matrix

The concept of a tool for designing, creating, executing and maintaining a sustainable landscape involves the integration of several wicked problems among which, but not limited to, are climate change, invasive species, biodiversity, and social engineering. Because of the inherent complexities of nested hierarchies and issues of scale, discussions about sustainability begin with the classic challenge of wicked problems: “Every problem interacts with other problems and is therefore part of a set of interrelated problems, a system of problems…. such a system [is called] a mess (Ackoff).” The results of the system of systems, that is outcomes of a wicked problem, bring stakeholders together with preconceived solutions as the preliminary basis for their proposed definitions, classically blinding them to the definitional possibilities of other stakeholders. For example, a stakeholder approaching sustainability through the definitional matrix of climate change (regulating services) and its impacts will seek to weigh rules and outcomes heavily that favor carbon neutrality or negation. At the same meeting, while recognizing the importance of climate change’s impact on ecosystems, urban land development planners may tend to weigh transportation and housing factors (informing services) more heavily. At the same time, traditional gardeners and natural area managers will be focused on their turf war in the invasive species arena (provisioning versus providing services). Each of the four stakeholders will acknowledge the other’s concerns, but will be focused on issues which seem to directly impact their pre-definitional-outcome expectations which color the individual interpretations and expectations of the proceedings.

A broad consolidated definition of sustainability is offered by the School of Architecture at Washington State giving us: “Sustainable developments are those which fulfill present and future needs (WECD, 1987) while [only] using and not harming renewable resources and unique human-environmental systems of a site: [air], water, land, energy, and human ecology and/or those of other [off-site] sustainable systems (Rosenbaum 1993 and Vieria 1993).” The “future needs” in the consolidated definition of sustainability may be understood as the outputs of ecosystem services, where an ecosystem is defined as “… an area that contains organisms (e.g., plants, animals, bacteria) interacting with one another and their non-living environment. Ecosystems can be of any size (e.g., forest, meadow, and log).”

At work in the discussion are two assumptions, one completely wrong which assumes natural resources to be infinite, and the other which at a high level presumes linear solutions for non-linear problems. The first function , a type of group integration of resource expectations, is the foundation for the at best absent stakeholders who see not need for a sustainable solution because their operation model predicts no longer problem; their absence is a major stumbling block because wicked problems require all stakeholder to be equally right and at the table. The second problematic function looks towards a linear solution model of the type: first do this then to that and a goal will be met. Ban all non natives is a linear solution to a wicked problem’s non linear complexities.

Bearing in mind the two problematic models, we begin to assemble a list of services provided by an ecosystem. The services can be arranged in four nest hierarchies. The foundation is the regulating and supporting services which provide the mechanism for the next group which are the provisioning and preserving services, followed by providing and then informing services . The actual individual services can be expressed either by Constanza et al or deGroot et al but either way need some a priori agreement.

This system is based on an anthropomorphic view point which drives the two part dynamics of the matrix and serves to further confuse initial conversations. The first two services regulating/supporting and provisioning/preserving function with or without Home sapiens. At the same time human activity can wreak havoc on the function of these two levels of ecosystem services. In other words, while we are not necessary to the workings of the services therein, we are fully dependent, and fully engaged, and completely able to become a very large determinant variable with in the system altering the system’s ability to sustain itself in historic and predictable ways. Our human technological abilities give rise to the providing services whereby we manipulate the ecosystem for resources such as food, fuel, fiber, feed, flowers, and forest. At this point human cultural needs are expressed by the informing services completing the four part system.

The next consideration is related to the problem of scale. Regulating/supporting services operate at micro scale levels with macro scale effects. The regulation of atmospheric gases is on a molecular and cellular levels (small/fast operations) which when taken together over time have a large/slow effect on climate. The aggregation of many small/fast operations over a non delimited area accounts for the impact of the services at this end of the continuum. Intuitively attempting to establish a metric for these aggregated services by delimiting artificial boundaries seems inadequate. The scale is one of micro to macro and may be thought of as without bound or limit; that is unconstrained by human artifice.

The scale reverses as we move up the system to the informing system which fits very nicely with in human constructs and is defined at least in bard by boundaries which give context to the informing nature of the ecosystem services. We rather expect a delimitation of the soccer field garden or sacred space. Here the efforts of human endeavor attempt to reduce the fast small and slow large functions to human time scale, and in doing so reduce the immediate effects to an artificial boundary with the reverse functionality of the regulating services. That is we have one operation/operator at a time on many distinct bounded areas. And thus we use macro operations which have micro effects such as planting an alien exotic species which is a macro event with micro effects.

To this we now bring the economic valuation component expressed in terms of public value. This matrix places the regulating and provision services within the realm of public goods and the providing and informing within the realm of private goods, and demonstrates the natural fault lines of initial sustainable conversations. The tension between large interests groups splits in the expected private property, market preference versus common good and public value. In addition, the artifices of boundaries overlay neatly with the implications of the matrix.



regulatingnaturalunboundednon excludablenon rivalrous
provisioningnaturalunboundednon excludablerivalrous
informingculturalboundedexcludablenon rivalrous

1 comment:

Alison Kerr said...

It so happens that yesterday I was pondering the lack inherent in linear thinking and linear solutions.