Changing the paradigm?

I am a great fan of Thomas S. Khun. I genuinely believe that to advancing science, paradigmatic changes are fundamental. We certainly need to revolutionise our conceptual foundations to deepen our understanding of a complex reality in a challenging world. This is a key to face the current ecological crisis.

I am a great fan of Leopold as well. I profess that living organisms have the right to live, to exist, regardless their capacity or potential to benefit humans. They have the ethical right to exist. To my understanding, we humans do not have any tuition/safekeeping on living things or nature, to master and thrive, as old prophets claimed. I dream of a future where all living organisms, especially animals, would not be treated as commodities anymore, and traded like any ware. In the past, even humans were sold and traded, for thousand years on the justification that it was fundamental for the economy, or just “the natural order of things”, based on racial differences. Abolition of slavery needed a tremendous paradigmatic change. I dream of achieving such clear understanding of animals as well.

I am a great admirer of Epicurus, Darwin, Prigogine, Georgescu-Roentgen and of course Odum. I choose to see everything as a flux in space and time, following non-linear and complex processes where everything belongs to nature, and, therefore, obey its laws. Indeed, the economy cannot escape the laws of thermodynamics. Even capital can and must be seen as a natural force, following the laws of nature. What it does not mean that we have to agree with the current predicaments of capitalism, based on uneven development and accumulation. On the contrary, what we urgently need is to understand how capital it works, for what the current neoliberal paradigm has been insufficient. Is not able to anticipate its crisis even the day before they happen.

Change the paradigm, the foundations of our conceptualisation of man in nature, it is fundamental to achieve an ecologically and socially better future. But this is a profound task “considering the current dominance of economic forces”. Implementing a new paradigm requires profound social changes. Therefore, the current paradigm won’t be changed by only modifying the manner we call things, or by including some missing aspects, like indigenous knowledge, in contemporary scientific assessments. That path won’t take us anywhere. It cannot help us to achieve a substantial enhancement of our critical environmental and social situation, which poses humanity in a shifting point, eventually towards collapse. Therefore, until the time for radical reforms arrives to dramatically and profoundly change our paradigm for a new better one, the best way forward is to continue systematically developing, fostering and fundamentally applying, the tremendous available body of scientific knowledge we have at hand.

The ecosystem services (ES) framework has provided empirical evidence, acknowledge and measures of the enormous benefits flowing from the healthy functioning of ecosystems towards society. Such contribution has been proposed in a robust and straightforward conceptual apparatus possible to track back to Odum. The benefits coming from nature, regardless the name we want to give them, remain still underestimated, avoided, hidden or neglected in most of the everyday actions of human life. But this systematic neglection it does not come from the ES framework itself, as can be misunderstood. It comes from the current definition of value, a 19th-century definition, still valid in economics, where value is equal to utility, and therefore equal to price. Indeed, the inception of the ES concept took place in a particular context, one dominated by the neoliberal economic paradigm, under which the ES framework has successfully provided knowledge to acknowledge the tremendous contribution of ecosystems towards society. In this context, to value or not is not the point. The question is how to advance in the integration of ecosystem functions and services, within the overall function of society in an ecologically coherent manner, which respects the boundary limits imposed by thermodynamics. To make evident the complex, non-linear and entangled relationships between ecosystems functions and society, as unitary bodies evolving coupled in space and time. To advance in such biophysical integration of ecosystems and society’s fluxes, a simple change in our agreed wording it won’t help much. Furthermore, it is of particular relevance that essential agencies like The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) concentrate all the existing energies and efforts in the adequate translation of the tremendous body of knowledge of the ES framework into policy-making, focusing on successful implementations. Fostering the development of better policy implementations where is urgently needed. Such knowledge translation is what scientist and citizens expect from IPBES.

I hope that time won’t be wasted in unnecessary abstract discussions on how to call what we all acknowledge: the fundamental flux of benefits we receive systematically from ecosystems. The way we call them, whether services or contributions, is not the point. Is not even relevant. The urgent need is to mobilise existing scientific knowledge towards practical applications. To change the unsustainable path today, because tomorrow might be too late.

I also hope that in the future, sooner rather than later, we will be able to change our current paradigm for a better one. A new paradigm which it does not separate humans or society from nature anymore. A paradigm which it does not see society out of nature as an external negative force acting from outside. A paradigm which accepts that there is a nature in history and a history in nature. A paradigm which does not draw arbitrary lines to separate scientific disciplines, because it will be only one science. A paradigm where it would not be possible to understand nature in the absence of humans because we are nature ourselves.