The Faith-in-Scholarship working group on ecosystem services is starting to have an impact! Twelve of us started meeting back in February to work on a challenge in conservation science (read about the basic rationale). Now we’ve presented some of our work at an ecological conference in Rome and are working on journal articles. We want to substitute ‘ecosystem services’ with ‘ecosystem values’: read on to find out why.

Two of the themes being pursued are now bearing fruit. The first was a theological one that involved writing an ecological reflection on Psalm 104: this has been done, and we hope to publish it soon on another blog (watch this space for news!). The second theme is more ambitious and philosophical: to critique and enrich the ecosystem services framework. And this is the work that took us to Rome last week.

Environmental conservation is intrinsically an ethical concern: people believe that the destruction of wild places, species and ecosystems by the activities of humans is a bad thing and we want to find ways to minimise these losses. All scientific work has normative foundations – despite the tradition of pretending otherwise – but in conservation science and much of ecology these are sometimes more obvious. So we’re proposing to replace the idea of ecosystem services – an economic metaphor – with that of “ecosystem values”.

We’re offering a scheme for identifying different kinds of ways in which people value wild places, together with some ideas for measuring them. This scheme is based on the non-reductive framework for Christian philosophy that motivates FiSch. I won’t say more while we’re still writing up our work, but we have had interest from a prominent journal in publishing our proposal. Again – watch this space for news!

So what happened in Rome? I had the privilege of representing our group at the conference of the European Ecological Federation, and although I’ve attended many ecological conferences before, this was the first time I’d had “West Yorkshire School of Christian Studies” on my name badge.

The overall theme was “Ecology at the Interface”, meaning an emphasis on interdisciplinarity – which our approach suited well. The conference attracted perhaps 600 delegates from all around Europe and beyond, with nearly this many presentations crammed in to six parallel tracks. Most of these were 15-minute talks – such as ours. When I stood up to speak in one of the final sessions of the week some 35 people were present, and at the end of my talk there were a number of appreciative and helpful questions and comments. I came back with plenty of additional ideas and quite a few useful connections. The next challenge is to explore a virtue ethics approach to our ideas.

Overall, our working group has been tremendously encouraged by this. The work we presented wasn’t explicitly Christian; rather, it draws upon our Christian background (and we represent a broad church). While it will be for each reader of our work to see whether this foundation is evident, we’re confident in our objective of showing that a Christian starting-point can lead to good fruit – even in the sciences.

Thanks to the Marsh Christian Trust and Yeadon IP for funding

Richard Gunton
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Richard Gunton

Richard is the Director of Faith-in-Scholarship at Thinking Faith Network. He also teaches statistics at the University of Winchester. His current passions include Reformational philosophy, history of sciences, ordination (the statistical sort), and wildlife gardening. He worships, and occasionally preaches, at St Mary's Church in Portchester. [Views expressed here are his own.]