Journal Title/Source

Ecological Economics

Publication Date




Page Numbers


Document Type

Journal Article


Sociology and Anthropology


Ecosystem service valuation (ESV) attempts to transform the opposition of human economic necessity and ecological conservation by valuing the latter in terms of the services rendered by the former. However, despite a number of ESV-inspired sustainability initiatives since the 1990s, global ecological degradation continues to accelerate. This suggests that ESV has fallen far short of its goals of sustainable social transformation—a failure which has generated considerable criticism. This paper reviews three prominent lines of ESV criticism: 1) the neo-Marxist criticism, which emphasizes the “fictitious” character of ecosystem commodities; 2) the liberal criticism through Friedrich Hayek's concept “scientistic objectivism”; and 3) the pragmatist criticism of “value monism”. Although each form of criticism provides insight into the limitations of ESV, all share ESV's inability to discern what kind of social transformation is possible. Unable to provide an account of their own immersion in social and historical context, these approaches operate in the hypothetical. In light of these shortcomings, this paper advances a critical theory approach, which we contend provides conceptual tools uniquely well-suited to more adequately address the question of social transformation.