Introduction and Comments by Calley O’Neill
The field of ecosystem services is a huge interest of mine and I hope of yours, too. The following summary of ecosystem services is excellent, describing the fundamental and often unappreciated natural functions that maintain the Earth as a healthy, beautiful and safe place to live, their value, the threats and uncertainties. (Ecological Society of America, [email protected]) I encourage you to read the entire article: and send it to every landscape designer, architect, teacher, professor and business leader that you know.
If you invest five minutes in reading this, you will be informed of the basics. This basic information must be taught to every student in every field and endeavor everywhere. On this we can all come together and create a renaissance grounded in science and wisdom, and fulfilled through imagination and love.
Every designer, architect, engineer, government, leader, developer, corporation and business must become conversant in the value of preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services, for without this knowledge, one is not even remotely qualified to begin to design, build or develop anything at all. It is the intelligent foundation for the harvesting of natural products, the use of natural resources, the development of communities and businesses, and everything else in the built environment that we invent, create or modify.
It was the basis for Design with Nature, by Ian McHarg, 1969, opening the way for regional planning based on knowledge and protection of local ecosystems. I read Design with Nature long, long ago and it rocked my world and informed my work.
For me the crux of the following article is that which the team of scientists is confident about:
- It takes an immense number of different species (biodiversity) to sustain functioning ecosystems services.
- The value of human development that destroys natural systems for short-term economic gain is dwarfed by the long-term value to humanity of the leaving the living ecosystem intact.
- This is the most important point. The functioning of many ecosystems can be restored if we act now in skillful ways.
That is the key…with all we have done to consume Mother Nature, natural resilience is such that restoration is possible in many habitats around the world. There is still time! Is that not wonderful? Think of the potential for people to contribute. It’s not too late. Around the entire world, people are awakening and their priority is growth, understanding and developing the courage to speak, to change, to love, to evolve so as to encourage the design and retrofit of the built environment to come into harmony with life. Within this single pursuit, there is enough creative, important work for everyone on Earth. There is enough room for everyone’s passion to contribute to nature and humanity. The real question is ~ what is your passion? What is your role? How can you get so creative that you can be supported for transforming your own watershed, or stream or yard or schoolyard or family?
ECOSYSTEM SERVICES: Benefits Supplied to Human Societies by Natural Ecosystems
By Gretchen C. Daily, Susan Alexander, Paul R. Ehrlich, Larry Goulder, Jane Lubchenco, Pamela A. Matson, Harold A. Mooney, Sandra Postel, Stephen H. Schneider, David Tilman, George M. Woodwell
Public Affairs Office
Human societies derive many essential goods from natural ecosystems, including seafood, game animals, fodder, fuel wood, timber, and pharmaceutical products. These goods represent important and familiar parts of the economy. What has been less appreciated until recently is that natural ecosystems also perform fundamental life-support services without which human civilizations would cease to thrive. These include the purification of air and water, detoxification and decomposition of wastes, regulation of climate, regeneration of soil fertility, and production and maintenance of biodiversity, from which key ingredients of our agricultural, pharmaceutical, and industrial enterprises are derived. This array of services is generated by a complex interplay of natural cycles powered by solar energy and operating across a wide range of space and time scales. The process of waste disposal, for example, involves the life cycles of bacteria as well as the planet-wide cycles of major chemical elements such as carbon and nitrogen. Such processes are worth many trillions of dollars annually. Yet because most of these benefits are not traded in economic markets, they carry no price tags that could alert society to changes in their supply or deterioration of underlying ecological systems that generate them. Because threats to these systems are increasing, there is a critical need for identification and monitoring of ecosystem services both locally and globally, and for the incorporation of their value into decision-making processes.
Historically, the nature and value of Earth’s life support systems have largely been ignored until their disruption or loss highlighted their importance. For example, deforestation has belatedly revealed the critical role forests serve in regulating the water cycle — in particular, in mitigating floods, droughts, the erosive forces of wind and rain, and silting of dams and irrigation canals. Today, escalating impacts of human activities on forests, wetlands, and other natural ecosystems imperil the delivery of such services. The primary threats are land use changes that cause losses in biodiversity as well as disruption of carbon, nitrogen, and other biogeochemical cycles; human-caused invasions of exotic species; releases of toxic substances; possible rapid climate change; and depletion of stratospheric ozone.
Based on available scientific evidence, we are certain that:
- Ecosystem services are essential to civilization.
- Ecosystem services operate on such a grand scale and in such intricate and little-explored ways that most could not be replaced by technology.
- Human activities are already impairing the flow of ecosystem services on a large scale.
- If current trends continue, humanity will dramatically alter virtually all of Earth’s remaining natural ecosystems within a few decades.
In addition, based on current scientific evidence,
we are confident that:
- Many of the human activities that modify or destroy natural ecosystems may cause deterioration of ecological services whose value, in the long term, dwarfs the short-term economic benefits society gains from those activities.
- Considered globally, very large numbers of species and populations are required to sustain ecosystem services.
- The functioning of many ecosystems could be restored if appropriate actions were taken in time.
We believe that land use and development policies should strive to achieve a balance between sustaining vital ecosystem services and pursuing the worthy short-term goals of economic development.
Many societies today have technological capabilities undreamed of in centuries past. Their citizens have such a global command of resources that even foods flown in fresh from all over the planet are taken for granted, and daily menus are decoupled from the limitations of regional growing seasons and soils. These developments have focused so much attention upon human-engineered and exotic sources of fulfillment that they divert attention from the local biological underpinnings that remain essential to economic prosperity and other aspects of our well-being.
These biological underpinnings are encompassed in the phrase ecosystem services, which refers to a wide range of conditions and processes through which natural ecosystems, and the species that are part of them, help sustain and fulfill human life. These services maintain biodiversity and the production of ecosystem goods, such as seafood, wild game, forage, timber, biomass fuels, natural fibers, and many pharmaceuticals, industrial products, and their precursors. The harvest and trade of these goods represent important and familiar parts of the human economy.
List of Specific Examples of Ecosystem Services
In addition to the production of goods, ecosystem services support life through (Holdren and Ehrlich 1974; Ehrlich and Ehrlich 1981) the following:
- purification of air and water
- mitigation of droughts and floods
- generation and preservation of soils and renewal of their fertility
- detoxification and decomposition of wastes
- pollination of crops and natural vegetation
- dispersal of seeds
- cycling and movement of nutrients
- control of the vast majority of potential agricultural pests
- maintenance of biodiversity
- protection of coastal shores from erosion by waves
- protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays
- partial stabilization of climate
- moderation of weather extremes and their impacts
- provision of aesthetic beauty and intellectual stimulation that lift the human spirit
Valuation of Ecosystem Services
Often a qualitative comparison of relative values is sufficient— that is, which is greater, the economic benefits of a particular development project or the benefits supplied by the ecosystem that would be destroyed, measured over a time period of interest to people concerned about the well-being of their grandchildren?
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