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Engaging Ideas

Valuing Nature

Ecosystem services and why they count

This Engaging Idea explores the concept of valuing nature— that is, putting an economic value on the services that nature provides.


picture of Paul C Sutton

Paul C. Sutton is a professor in the department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Denver. Professor Sutton obtained his B.S. from Union College in Chemistry, and his M.A. and PhD in Statistics and Geography from University of California-Santa Barbara. Prior to his appointment at the University of Denver, Paul Sutton worked as a high school physics and math teacher and as a process engineer in the aerospace industry. He served as Director of Graduate Studies and the director of the MS in Geographic Information Science program at the University of Denver.

His research interests are in the general area of sustainability science, ecological economics, and population geography. Much of his research involves the use of nighttime satellite imagery for mapping and measuring population distribution, economic activity, anthropogenic impact on the environment, and urban sprawl. Dr. Sutton is also interested in the mapping and valuation of ecosystem services. Future research activity will involve the development of spatially explicit maps of carrying capacity at various spatial scales and developing metrics of urban metabolism to establish baseline measures in the field of urbanization science.

Professor Sutton serves on several international expert panels and working groups including the European Commission’s Human Planet Initiative, the Economics of Land Degradation Initiative, and the UN’s Global Environmental Outlook. Dr. Sutton serves as an editor for two academic journals: Sustainability and Expresion Economica Revista. Professor Sutton currently lives in the town of Morrison, Colorado and serves on the planning commission.  

 More on the Subject

  1. Changes in the global value of ecosystem services
  2. A modest proposal:  "Kill All the Bees"

Questions for personal reflection or group discussion

  1. Do you believe that Nature (e.g. Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services) is undervalued and did this conversation change your attitude about this basic question?
  2. Is there utility in attempting to make credible estimates of the value of ecosystem services in terms of dollars?
  3. What social, political, and/or economic changes will need to take place in order for nature to be valued in such a way as to achieve appropriate and effective environmental stewardship?
  4. Do you believe the economy can grow indefinitely without compromising environmental quality, resilience, and integrity?

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