Payments for ecosystem services as commodity fetishism
Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) economically reward resource managers for the provision of ecosystem services and are thus characterised by (i) an ecological function subject to trade; (ii) the establishment of a standard unit of exchange; (iii) and supply, demand and intermediation flows between those who sell and buy ecosystem services. This paper departs from the term commodity fetishism, broadly understood as the masking of the social relationships underlying the process of production, to illuminate three invisibilities in the commodification of ecosystem services. Firstly, we argue that narrowing down the complexity of ecosystems to a single service has serious technical difficulties and ethical implications on the way we relate to and perceive nature. Secondly, the commodification of ecosystem services denies the multiplicity of values which can be attributed to these services, since it requires that a single exchange-value is adopted for trading. Finally, we suggest that the process of production, exchange and consumption of ecosystem services is characterised by power asymmetries which may contribute to reproducing rather than addressing existing inequalities in the access to natural resources and services.
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