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A Conservation Paradigm

Anirban Ganguly

Edited by Pushpam Kumar and Roldan Muradian
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2009, pp. 308, Rs. 695.00


You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows (Bob Dylan).   Or do you? Seasons change, so do thoughts, deeds, ideas. Thought leaders—and cheerleaders—rediscover themselves, and turn old notions on their heads. New buzzwords get coined, new coalitions emerge. Chimney smoke does not symbolize progress any more. Economists broaden their horizons and orthodox academic traditions face challenges by the hour. Ecological economics is one of those, stemming from the realization that ecological goods and services must enter the mainstream of economic thinking or be condemned to the periphery of thought for good. The greening of the dismal discipline must augur well for the lonely planet.   The International Society of Ecological Economics (ISEE) was perhaps a logical corollary of the greening process. Set up in 1989, ISEE has emerged as a meeting point of some of the world’s leading ecologists, economists and social scientists, all eager to transgress their disciplinary boundaries. The biennial conferences of ISEE have attained pilgrimage status. The 2006 New Delhi event, comprising numerous symposia and parallel sessions, carried the pregnant byline ‘Ecological Sustainability and Human Well-being’.   A glance through the conference agenda will reveal that as many as 10 sessions at the event directly focused on ‘Valuation (and Payment for) Ecosystem Services’ and a large number of other sessions addressed the issue indirectly. Indeed, the spurt of interest in valuation, stemming perhaps from Robert Costanza’s classic paper in Nature (1997) that pegged the value of 17 ecosystem services at a whopping US $33 trillion, almost double that of the global Gross National Product (GNP), has come to stay. ‘Ecosystem services’ have emerged as a rallying point, much like sustainable development and biodiversity. The idea that ecosystems provide not just goods, but an entire range of services like climate regulation, water supply and regulation, pollination, nutrient cycling, is arguably not new, but their formal integration into the dominant economics and policy discourses is certainly of recent origin. But the discourse is maturing, ambitiously putting to test the frontiers of economic theory.   The volume under review—an edited collection of papers presented at the 2006 ISEE conference—is a valuable addition to the exponentially growing literature on Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES). PES is a mechanism through which ecosystem services could be traded, passing on to their providers (or custodians) their due rewards for maintaining and nurturing resources that generate these services. There are several variants of this ...

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