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Changing the way we think about nature to inform policies

What do we appreciate from nature? Most people would likely answer the food we eat, water we drink, and air we breathe. But this type of thinking is what has led to the potentially shortsighted idea that nature is solely a source of services or commodities.

In a new publication in the journal Science, thirty international experts associated with the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), present a new approach to our thinking. They outline the idea of using all of nature’s contributions to people in order to inform policies and decisions.

“For more than a decade, policies about nature have been dominated by knowledge from the natural sciences and economics,” says Professor Sandra Diaz. “The vibrant research developed from this ‘ecosystem services’ approach – popularized by the landmark 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment – has advanced sustainability, but largely excluded insights and tools from the social sciences, humanities and other key worldviews.”

Diax believes that by broadening our notion of nature’s contributions to our society, we see that culture is the consistent factor linked to people and nature. Thinking in this manner also allows us to recognize other “knowledge systems,” like those of local communities and indigenous peoples.

In both developed and developing countries, people rely on nature’s contributions – whether they’re rich or poor. But in order to ensure that we are using our natural resources sustainably, we need to change the way we value nature.

This new inclusive framework demonstrates that while nature provides a bounty of essential goods and services, such as food, flood protection and many more, it also has rich social, cultural, spiritual and religious significance – which needs to be valued in policymaking as well,” says Sir Robert Watson, IPBES Chair and former co-chair of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.

One example of this new way of thinking revolves around food. Obviously, food comes from nature and food security is an important part of any nation, with policies implemented and contested around the world. But food is also a major factor in cultural identities, art, and basic human festivities. This new approach to thinking would better represent these more abstract concepts.

While this all sounds slightly abstract, one concrete application for this approach is its uptake in large-scale expert assessments and how they are conducted. Overall, the researchers believe it will increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of policies and decisions about nature. “This inclusiveness and equity among knowledge systems and perspectives will not only make assessment processes more legitimate; it will also lead to better policy results because we will be drawing from a much richer and wider information base,” the authors say.

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

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