Research over recent decades has aided in developing a clearer understanding of the importance of ecosystem services, broadly defined as the benefits humans derive from ecosystems. Often these services are not prioritized, or even well understood, in human decision-making. The history and evolution of environmental law itself is based in large part on government intervening in “free market” transactions because of harm being caused to ecosystem services. The smog in Los Angeles, the Cuyahoga River igniting on fire, and the loss of songbirds described by Rachel Carson in Silent Spring all highlighted the issue of markets failing to account for and prioritize ecosystem services. The smog in Los Angeles helped lead to the development of the Clean Water Act; Cuyahoga the Clean Water Act; and Silent Spring the Endangered Species Act: all federal laws enacted to account for the ecosystem services that clean our air, purify our water, and provide the background conditions for biodiversity.
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