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Nature beyond the material: its cultural and social value

Nature beyond the material: its cultural and social value


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Plentiful food, clean water, and healthy air are among the most valuable and visible benefits that nature brings to people. This has reinforced the widespread but controversial belief that nature is primarily a source of services.

Unai Pascual, researcher at the Basque Center for Climate Change, leads the United Nations Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, which has just published an article in the magazineScienceon how to evaluate and use the contributions of nature for people as a whole.

Research developed from the ‘ecosystem services’ approach, popularized by the historic Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005, in which thousands of scientists from around the world participated, have made progress on sustainability. However, these studies have largely excluded knowledge and tools from the social sciences, humanities, and other important worldviews, such as indigenous views.

A new perspective, collected by thirty world experts associated with the United Nations Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), led by Unai Pascual, Ikerbasque researcher at BC3 (Basque Center for Climate Change) and Sandra Díaz, Researcher at the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research of Argentina, present an innovative idea: evaluate and use the contributions of nature for the people as a whole, and thus determine public policies and decisions on their use and management. His work has been collected in a magazine articleScienceand suggests a broader vision, focused on the concept of “nature's contributions to people”.

“This vision emphasizes the importance of culture in all the links between people and nature, and recognizes other systems of knowledge, in addition to scientific ones, such as traditional knowledge, which has evolved over centuries, including among others that of local communities and indigenous peoples, which in turn conserve a large part of the planet's biodiversity, ”explains Pascual.

Food as a cultural identity

“Nature's contributions to people are crucial for everyone, both in developed and developing countries. Nature ensures the well-being and needs of all people, from health and happiness to prosperity, and food and energy security. People must better understand what nature's contributions are, beyond what commodity markets can inform the economy, in order to better ensure their protection and sustainable use. Food is a good example ”, adds the researcher.

We all receive food from nature and food safety is a key aspect that is typically included in policies and decisions around the world, often measured in terms of health and biological processes, as well as its economic value, for example. But we know that food and nutrition are much more. They are at the center of the cultural identity of many societies, art and basic human enjoyment.

It is this type of immaterial contributions of nature that seeks to integrate the new approach presented by this group of scientists and include them in evaluations of the benefits that nature provides on a day-to-day basis to people, in order to better focus the decision-making process. decisions about how we should relate to nature.

“The example of food can be generalized to all areas of nature, for example, its role in the natural cycles of water and air. A forest is more than a place to spread out and contemplate the trees. A forest or a tree can house the identity of a people, of a culture. These relational values ​​with nature are basic but are normally made invisible when material and economic benefits are at stake ”, he adds.

According to Pascual, those who have the responsibility to formulate all kinds of public policies “must be aware that it is essential to use scientific knowledge and traditional and local knowledge to achieve a healthy, respectful and sustainable relationship with nature and therefore with ourselves. Society must understand that nature is not only a supplier of materials for economic progress ”.

Understanding in a broad way the contributions of nature to people is fundamental to understand the vital link that unites us, with history and with our cultural identity. “Nature - concludes the scientist - is an indispensable part of the relationships between people, between current generations and those that have already passed and even those that have not yet arrived. Nature must be understood, not as an object but as something inherent to human beings and the progress of society ”.

Unai Pascual He is an Ikerbasque researcher at the Basque Center for Climate Change (BC3). He leads the United Nations Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.


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