By the advent of their senior year, Sterling students have spent the majority of their time enjoying, absorbing, studying, wrestling with, and getting muddy in, a wide variety of ecosystems. Whether hiking through Bear Swamp, cutting fence posts in the wood lot, weeding vegetables, travelling to the Sierras, eating supper, or carrying compost to farm chores, our daily lives here bring us into contact with a wide variety of systems, from which we derive an equally diverse range of services—health, sustenance, learning, recreation, relaxation, inspiration, and so much more. Ecosystem services encompass the array of goods and processes that the natural environment provides human societies. Some goods and services have readily quantifiable economic value within our culture. For example, we tap sugar maple sap each year and produce the commodity of maple syrup which has a known market value. Other ecosystem services do not have direct economic value, but nonetheless allow human societies to survive, or thrive, in a place. What are these services? Do they have value? How do we value them? Could they be valued economically? Should they be valued economically?
In 2005, the United Nations formalized the definition of these "Ecosystem Services" to include four categories: provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural. Working within these broad categories, and across disciplines, this seminar course will explore the many goods and services the natural world supplies to humans and the different ways we might value these.