Natures Services: Ecosystems are more than Wildlife Habitat, is the name of the article assigned for reading and discussion this week.
First and foremost, the reading makes evident that no technology we devise will take the place of services provided by nature. Yes, humans are intelligent and a lot of the time our technology blows my mind. However, I am not as mesmerized, nor do I respect human technology, like I do the workings of nature’s services. With that out of the way, I’ll break down the article.
The article defines ecosystem services as such – “the processes through which natural ecosystems, and the plants, animals and microbes that live in those environments, sustain human life.” It sounds like the plants, animals and microbes are really doing us a favor, I mean after all they are sustaining our lives! Moreover, ecosystems produce a lot of things we like – paper, fuel, drugs, etc, and it doesn’t stop there, ecosystems also purify air and water and recycle wastes. Wow, ecosystems sure are handy. Too bad we are destroying them via agriculture, mining (No Pebble Mine), population disbursement (land clearing/development) and other various industries.
The article breaks down the different services by wetlands, forests, pollination and finally the value of these services.
A large portion of our wetlands are tied in with our ground water and surface supplies of water. At the turn of the century 80% of the surface inland water was controlled artificially and half the fish population struggled with high water temperatures and pollution. Even though these wetlands are in peril, these ecosystems still help us. How kind! Services these wetlands provide: filtration and conservation of water, flood control, shelter and food for wildlife and fish, maintaining the carbon, methane, nitrogen and sulfur cycles. To me, this sounds like some pretty important processes, processes which we should be concerned with maintaining, if not improving, right? The article notes that “preservation and restoration of wetlands and natural waterways may be a more cost effective way of maintaining drinking water quality than expensive water treatment technologies.” You think? As smart as humans are, I think nature has us beat on the best way to sustain life…Cities on both coasts have opted for natural services rather than expensive water treatment options. NYC chose a watershed approach to keep their drinking water safe. Arcata, CA chose a wetland ecosystem as the method to treat the city’s waste water. Ingenious!
Next up, forests. We all know that deforestation is a real problem. I don’t think that is any secret. However, why is this a problem? What do forests really do for us? Forests, even though they cover half of what they used to cover, still provide important services. For instance, forests are the best places for carbon storage, nutrient cycling and even help to moderate climate via rainfall. When the article was wrote the earth’s “boreal, tropical and temperate forests stored 1200 giga tons (billion tons) of carbon in their plants and soils.” Keep in mind the atmosphere stores 750 giga tons. Chicago, not a place that gives a person a version of a deciduous oasis, but the city’s 50.8 million trees store 155k tons of carbon per year. That is a lot of storage space! Clear cutting forests also cause problems with the soil. Soil is lost and erosion occurs at a larger rate. Nepal may dump 240 million cubic meters of soil per year into India’s lowlands and waterways. This is due to the cut down of trees needed to stabilize the steep slopes. By reducing forests by 7% in Ethiopia, top soil pours into the Blue Nile River and silts up the damn miles and miles down river in Sudan. Trees also soak up the rain, which helps regulate the water cycle. This we all learned in elementary school. What some of us don’t think about is that biodiversity relies on these intact, healthy forests. Who cares about biodiversity? It doesn’t impact us! Yes, it does. Human health relies on biodiversity. Medicines are derived from plant compounds, redistribution and resurgence of diseases can occur when the ecosystem process is no longer able to control pests effectively, South American Malaria is a good example. What do we do to help curb deforestation?
Pollination, another thing that I know I don’t think much about when I am scarfing down a meal, but perhaps I should. One out of every 3 bites tickles my taste buds because of a pollinator, now that is food for thought. Pollinators are birds, insects and even bats. These animals pollinate by getting pollen on their bodies when they are feasting on a flower’s nectar. Two thirds of the crops grown worldwide need assistance from animal pollinators. Since 1947 North America has lost 50% of its bee colonies. While the exact monetary value is hard to pinpoint, it can be estimated that between 5.7 –8.3 billion dollars are lost per year due to declining animal pollination. Insecticides, herbicides, habitat destruction and introduction of exotic plant species effect pollinator populations. Even though the dollar amount is hard to determine, a world without the pollinators is within our mind’s grasp. Imagine no plants, imagine no food, imagine no survival of human life. The bad news, technology can’t help us here either. No tech fix exists.
What monetary value do you put on a natural resource? For me, natural resources go so far beyond monetary value. Yes, of course money is important, I’m not discounting monetary value, but I am highlighting all the intangibles of natural resources. As outdoor lovers, think for a minute all the solace you find while enjoying our natural resources. That is worth more than money can buy, at least to me. For those that aren’t outdoors people, can you put a price on being able to eat whatever you want, whenever you want? Can you put a price on clean drinking water? Can you put a price on the air you breathe?
All information quoted and referenced is from http://www.rand.org/scitech/stpi/ourfuture/NaturesServi.html courtesy of CSU FW104.
Photo via http://serconline.org