Three Ecologies

‘The Three Ecologies’ by Felix Guattari originally published in 1989 is a rich and complex post-modernist piece devoted to the search of the true reasons of contemporary ecological crisis. ‘Despite having recently initiated a partial realization of the most obvious dangers that threaten the natural environment of our societies, they are naturally content to simply tackle industrial pollution and then from a purely technocratic perspective, whereas only an ethno-political articulation – which I call ecosophy – between the three ecological registers (the environment, social relations and human subjectivity) would be likely to clarify these questions’ (p. 18) – writes Guattari on his perspective about what it takes to address the global sustainability challenges. In it he is anticipating the emergence of a new interdisciplinary field of ‘ecological economics’, which emerged the same year ‘The Three Ecologies’ were published with the first issue of a journal, ‘Ecologcal Economics’: now widely read in the economic and policy circles.

One particular thought discussed by Guattari seems to me particularly relevant for exploring one of the most important problems of our time – the destruction of ecosystems and biodiversity and the ecosystem services discourse currently occupying the minds of politicians at all levels. ‘In all these examples it is the same dominant modes of valorizing human activities that are implicated… That is to say: those of the imperum [Latin: ‘authority’] of the global market that destroys specific value systems and puts on the same plane of equivalence: material assets, cultural assets, wildlife areas, etc.’ (p. 18).

Guattari later refers to the ‘unidimensionalizing values systems of the West’, which seems to be exactly what is at play in the current discourse on ecosystem services. Here disregarding the value pluralism and multiple languages of valuation, we are led to believe that all complexity of ecosystems could be reduced to a single number in dollars or pounds representing it’s ‘value’. But how could one justify an attempt to ‘add the birds to the bees’, disregarding the non-linear nature of ecological processes, the complex feedback loops and possible bifurcations leading to chaotic states?

This is exactly why in my work for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and later on in my involvement in the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) report: I have been advocating for a new and multi-dimensional approach for the assessment of the ecosystems and biodiversity. Back in 2007 it was clear for me that value of ecosystems is a multidimensional phenomenon, which can only be assessed using ordinal (not cardinal) scales of measurement, cannot be reduced to a single number and should be assess with the help of Multi-Criteria Decision Aid tools. This has been explored in some detail in my book ‘Ecological Economics: Sustainability in Practice’ (2012), published by Springer:


Guattari F. (1989) The Three Ecologies, Bloomsbury Academic Edition, 2014

Shmelev S.E. (2012) Ecological Economics: Sustainability in Practice, Springer



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