Review of book on "What's so Good About Biodiversity?"

Mark Vellend has made a review of the new book What's So Good about Biodiversity? A Call for Better Reasoning about Nature's Value written by moral philosopher Donald S. Maier. 
As a moral philosopher and self-described environmentalist with scientific training, Maier scrutinizes each theory in almost excruciating detail, the sum total of which is difficult to summarize in a short review. To cut to the chase, he describes being ‘stunned’ that he ‘could not find a single argument that does not have serious logical flaws, crippling qualifications, or indefensible assumptions’. Ouch.
One line of critique is to use ecosystem services as a way of articulating value for biodiversity and nature, a discussion to which I have contributed to in relation to urbanization (see here and here). In Maier's book several now well-rehearsed critiques figures according to Vellend, for instance that only one side of the equation is discussed as there is hardly any interest in ecosystem dis-services, and that the "risk of infectious disease is probably greatest in the most biodiverse places on earth (the humid tropics), perhaps because of such high biodiversity". 

Indeed, while the original political goal for ecosystem services proponents was to protect biodiversity, or nature, like lakes, salamanders, or processes like pollination, in being "logical consistent in arguing for the value of biodiversity", they can end up in somewhat awkward positions:
Why not attempt to increase local biodiversity via the importation of exotic species or genetic engineering of new ones?  If a particular service (e.g., food provisioning) is the accepted objective, why not accept alternative means of delivering this service, which may not involve any protection of biodiversity or even of nature more generally?
What Maier (and here Vellend) alludes to is that the objective of much biological and ecological research is something else entirely, something more illusive and complex onto which it is difficult to attribute value directly. In particular, value is always something inherently caught up in social and cultural processes, whereas ecosystem services, as discourse and increasingly a bureaucratic practice, gestures to be based on objective science. Vellend also has some critical remarks about Maier's treatise but ends on this broader reflective:
[T]he fact that we started with a conclusion (biodiversity is valuable), and subsequently sought scientific support for it, should prompt serious introspection concerning the degree to which our biases have colored our conclusions.
This seems to reiterate Richard Norgaard's argument that ecosystem services is blindfolding complexity, making us see less of that inherent complexity in which humans and societies are caught up in and that we sometimes call nature—or socionature. One biting edge of Norgaard's argument (because there are several) is that the call to "map" or "account" for ecosystem services also risk directing research funding away from basic ecology and biology research that does not fit what Norgaard refers to as the "stock-flow model of nature".

Here is a video lecture by Donald S. Maier.



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