The concept of ecosystem services (the benefits people derive from functioning ecosystems) is beginning to change the way we view the relationship between humans and the rest of nature. To the extent that we view humanity as embedded in and interdependent with the rest of nature, rather than viewing nature as separate from people or even as an adversary, our whole approach to environmental research, governance and management changes. These ongoing changes are discussed with reference to the evolving situations in China and the United States. The most significant effects on governance are the needs to shift to a more transparent and participatory approach and a broader recognition of the public goods/common property characteristics of ecosystems and their services. The main questions are: (i) to what extent do prevailing governance arrangements in China and the United States facilitate and/or hinder efforts to effectively manage ecosystem services?; and (ii) are there adjustments that are both politically feasible and likely to make a difference in these terms? We conclude that while China and the United States represent two almost polar opposite starting points, especially as concerns property rights, there is significant convergence, and the concept of ecosystem services can help accelerate this positive trend.