Understanding Sustainability Science via Tradeoffs in Ecosystem Services

Meeting human needs while sustaining the planet’s life support systems is the fundamental challenge of our time. While theoretical notions of the goals of sustainability science seek a unified path forward, realities on the ground present challenges.  Too often, strategies that appear to be “win-win” in theory end up generating conflicts and losses as well.  Our working group sought to synthesize the relevant ecological and welfare economics literature to present a simple analytical framework for understanding the constraints and challenges arising from tradeoffs in ecosystem services.

This led to a recent Special Feature in the journal Ecology and Society, which presents the analytical framework, explores its practical utility in navigating conflicts, and provides a series of case studies to illuminate impediments posed to sustainability by contrasting biophysical constraints and human values.  Our goal is to provide novel insights on how sustainability can be achieved internationally through exploration of constraints, trade-offs, and human values examined at multiple scales, and across geographic regions from a range of cultural perspectives.

Read more by visiting the Special Feature in Ecology and Society (open access journal)

Collaborators:  Jeannine Cavender-Bares [College of Biological Sciences, University of Minnesota], Steve Polasky [Department of Applied Economics, University of Minnesota], Patty Balvanera [CIECO, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México], and Tuyeni Mwampamba [CIECO, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México]

This project arose through an NCEAS-supported Working Group.