Nature is an invaluable gift that we are so bad at protecting and restoring. The authors of the ‘Limits to Growth’ report in 1972 (Meadows et al, 1972) have warned us that not dealing with just three important elements: namely availability of resources, pollution and population growth will lead us to a severe crisis. Isn’t it exactly what is happening right now? Hoards of economists are trying to persuade us that the price of nature is also equivalent to its value. But is it actually true?

The world of environmentalists is divided on the subject of the value of nature. One camp, which thinks that they have the final word, considers it appropriate to add all the complex things that nature does in monetary terms using a simple sum of financial value of drinking water, food, fiber, a financial estimate of a value of oxygen production, carbon sequestration, but also inspiration and social relations. The other group simply thinks that using money as a measuring rod is inappropriate.

As a matter of fact, there is a solution, which I proposed to International Union for Conservation of Nature acting as a consultant in 2008 and what some of its staff welcomed as ‘but this is exactly what we need!’. My proposal was to treat all complexity of so called ‘ecosystem services’ with the help of multi-criteria decision aid tools, the methods developed by mathematicians in 1960s that can deal with diverse units of measurements and don’t have to bring everything to ‘the least common denominator’ (Shmelev, 2012).

The whole plethora of researchers later supported my views, including Joachim Spangenberg, Peter Soderbaum, Erik Gomez-Baggethun, Joan Martinez-Alier, but it has already been too late. The world has been going steady on its course to add up all the birds and the bees.

My photographic practice evolved under the influence of critical theories of ecological economics, emphasized by thinkers as Hermann Daly, who was one of the first to offer an integrated economy-environment model (Daly, 1968) and wrote extensively on the subject of the differences of sustainability from pure economic growth and the dangers that the latter brings manifested in environmental pollution, resource depletion and the destruction of biodiversity.

Right now I am working for a new photobook that will present the whole complexity of ecosystem services using the visual language of photography. I am collaborating with several people, including graphic designers from University of Reading and we really hope that the project will be able to reach the hearts and minds of more people that would read a thorough scientific volume published by Springer.

Each chapter is designed to start with a headline image and an introductory text, kindly written by Dr Joachim Spangenberg especially for this volume. A little map will illustrate the country where the image has been made. One can see how the chapters will look like from an image below.

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 12.24.05.png
Source: Shmelev, S. (2018) Ecosystems, work in progress

Every month I am photographing new locations to be featured in the photobook. One of most recent sets include Austrian landscapes I was fortunate to photograph near Innsbruck. These works feature a phenomenon of “alpenglow” or the last/first beam of sunlight hitting the tops of the mountains in the Alpine range. Inspired by the work of Claude Monet currently on display at the National Gallery in London, this series has focused on the study of sight variations in the quality of light in the Alpine context: ALPENGLOW

We have found amazing printers who will be in a good position to print the “Ecosystems” book. To bring this project to fruition, we will need to raise around £5000. You are most welcome to contribute anything from £100 (which will entitle you to a copy of a book the moment it is available) to £1000 (which will get you a stunning limited edition print on aluminium under acrylic glass, 60×40 cm, that will delight you and your guests for years to come). If you would like to support this project, please click the ‘donate’ button on our website: DONATE


Meadows, D.M., Meadows, D.L., Randers, J., Behrens III, W. W. (1972) Limits to Growth, Universe Books

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


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