Environmentalists generally argue that ecological damage will (eventually) lead to declines in human well-being. From this perspective, the recent introduction of the “environmentalist's paradox” in BioScience by Raudsepp-Hearne and colleagues (2010) is particularly significant. In essence, Raudsepp-Hearne and colleagues (2010) claimed that although ecosystem services have been degraded, human well-being—paradoxically—has increased. In this article, we show that this debate is in fact rooted in a broader discussion on weak sustainability versus strong sustainability (the substitutability of human-made capital for natural capital). We warn against the reductive nature of focusing only on a stock—flow framework in which a natural-capital stock produces ecosystem services. Concretely, we recommend a holistic approach in which the complexity, irreversibility, uncertainty, and ethical predicaments intrinsic to the natural environment and its connections to humanity are also considered.
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