Ecosystems and the stories we tell ourselves

Osbert Lancaster
Nov 21, 2013 · 2 min read

Iain Woodhouse, a colleague at the University of Edinburgh, has produced a charming short video to explain the concept of ecosystem services to his son:

It’s been tweeted pretty widely, especially with the hashtag #… which is being used for the World Forum on Natural Capital which is on in Edinburgh at the moment.

Take a look at the video, it makes some great points in only 90 seconds.

Go on, watch it now, before you read on. (It does have sound!)

In its way it’s a charming story and makes clear something that all too often is ignored or confused.

But what I find really interesting are the stories that underlies this short video. One of them is story of money:

And the problem is, because everyone gets [the goods and services of ecosystems] for free, we take it for granted. Now the [biosphere] is going a little bit wonky…

And the economic framing continues.

But what other stories could the video have picked up? Perhaps:

And the problem is, because we haven’t agreed how to share [the goods and services of ecosystems] fairly, the [biosphere] is going a little bit wonky…


And the problem is, because we’ve been ignoring where [the goods and services of ecosystems] come from, we haven’t been looking after the land and sea properly. Now the [biosphere] is going a little bit wonky…


And the problem is, because we’ve been persuaded to buy so much stuff we don’t really need, the [biosphere] can’t cope and is going a little bit wonky…

What other stories can you come up with?

Each of these stories, would I think, lead us to think about the problem and how we might solve it in very different ways.

I’m not at the Forum on Natural Capital so I don’t know if they’re discussing these alternative starting points for tackling the undoubted stress we’re putting on the rest of the natural world, and therefore on ourselves. I hope they are.

To be fair, Iain raises the issue of economics in his blog post about the video; and I think he and Sandy have done a great job! Sandy does the voiceover and signs off with:

I hope [the biosphere] is still working when I grow up.

So do I Sandy, so do I.

    Written by

    Consultant, facilitator & educator for sustainability; boatbuilder, sailor & rower for sanity. Or perhaps the other way around.

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