Pretty useful ‘node diagram’ from research paper by Isaksson and Steimle mapping some of the interconnections and interdependencies, and complex relationships, between environmental, social and economic issues.
I would suggest ‘loss of biodiversity’ node could be linked back to/ create reinforcing loops with a number of the other issues presented- specifically resource scarcity, loss of food production…
There are a number of cross-cutting social and environmental risks that face urban areas around the world- and it is cities in the developing world that are likely to bear the greatest impact. Produced by the ‘Future Proofing Cities’ project, the above info-graphic highlights some of these risks- while the project’s website provides a number of other insightful resources and information on the topic.
‘Beautiful Life’ by Martin Roth
Nice tune. Nice cinematography. Nice portrayal of the aesthetic beauty and value of some of our planet’s ecosystems, and biodiversity they support.
The beauty of our environment is one of the range of benefits it offers. As discussed in the posts ‘A bigger picture, and the benefits of cultural ecosystem services’ and ‘To value nature, is in our very nature’, protecting, conserving, and sustaining it doesn’t only have significant scientific, social and economic justifications- but its inherent beauty and sublimity provides/enhances human happiness and joy. Considering we celebrate, and spend so much money and effort, in trading and maintaining the material depictions of our natural environment, it seems we should do our utmost to preserve the very inspiration for these works.
Our environment’s ecosystems and biodiversity, which underpin all life on our planet, is something that we, as humanity, are inextricably linked to, part of, and dependent upon. It truly is a ‘beautiful life’, because life is, intrinsically, beautiful.
EarthSky is a website that I’ve recently started visiting- and also following through social media channels. With a focus on the natural sciences, but also touching on social sciences and the humanities, it is a fantastic resource of clear and engaging scientific information and knowledge. With contributions from experts and scientists, presented in a simple format (including excellent podcasts and visualisations)- it strikes the balance of trusted information with engaging presentation.
Through its breadth of content coverage- from the micro level, via its material discussing biodiversity on Earth, to the infinitely macro, in its information on space and astronomy- it infers and demonstrates the interdependence and interconnectivity of so many of these issues. Its objective
“To bring the ideas, strategies, and research results of scientists to people around the world, with the goal of illuminating pathways to a sustainable future”
is something that I really admire, and, in some small way, try to aspire to in the content of my blog (particularly from an environmental perspective).
I definitely recommend having a look around the site- and signing up for its facebook/ twitter/ email updates.
(Guardian datablog, while you may have been pushed into second place in my list of favourite websites, I’ll still, nonetheless, come visit you too…)
The hidden dangers of environmental mitigation programs
The article ”Green desert’ monoculture forests spreading in Africa and South America’ in The Guardian highlights the potential social and environmental negative consequences of the large mono-culture tree plantations which are being financed by organisations which aim to offset, and mitigate, their environmentally damaging/consuming behaviour through afforestation and reforestation programs.
Environmental mitigation, as a concept, is a positive thing. It is a way of using our current systems of trade and finance to develop environmental projects that can have an overall positive effect, by compensating for the negative impacts of other environmentally damaging activities. We are all aware of organisations who, through their marketing and advertising, inform us that they undertake/finance environmentally positive projects to ‘offset’ their activities. They may be primary producers of a product that consumes or damages the environment (e.g. paper manufacturers or oil extraction companies), or service sector organisations who rely upon these primary and secondary sector products. In either case, they may either directly, or indirectly, run or finance programs which, in theory, will have a positive environmental or social effect- and help to counter their consuming activities.
Of these, tree planting projects are probably the most obvious- and one of the most popular. By planting replacement trees, primary and secondary industries (e.g. furniture makers, packaging manufacturers) may offset their initial consumption of this form of natural resource, and service industries (e.g. offices in which paper, and other timber derived products, are used) compensate for their utilisation of products that come from trees. Additionally, trees are a vital ‘carbon sink’ for the planet, removing carbon from the atmosphere, and are a way of organisations offsetting their carbon output.
This scenario, has led to a significant growth in developing large tree plantations for afforestation or reforestation projects around the world, in which large multinationals have invested capital to offset their consumption of the natural resource. As the lead article points out, while there may be an increase/replacement in overall tree numbers generated through such programs, the large mono-cultures of non-native trees that they generally consist of can cause significant problems for biodiversity, native ecosystems, and soil systems- as well as displacing local communities and indigenous people- in areas of South America and Africa in which there are increasingly focused. (On a side note- this issue directly links to a previous blog post on the potential benefits of urban green space for pollination, compared to rural areas in the UK).
I believe that offsetting and environmental mitigation using such techniques as investing in afforestation and social development programs is, in essence, a good thing- and is a way of using our current systems and methods of globalised finance and trade (which, whether we fundamentally agree with, or not, cannot be ignored) to have an overall positive effect on the environment. However, as this article highlights, there are very specific dangers when such programs are undertaken without fully understanding their impact- and it is crucial that such programs are developed so that their wider, and longer term, environmental and social consequences are taken into account.
Measuring the extent of the tree of life…
This week a study has been reported widely in the media (examples being this BBC article and this from the Independent) that sets the most accurate and authoritative estimate to date of the number of species that exist in the natural world- a figure of 8.7 million. To this point we have formally described/accounted for 1.2 million of these- which works out, according to these estimates, to be around 14% of the total (a figure which is broken down nicely into the more general kingdoms of lifeforms in this link from the Independent article).
The study establishes the estimate of total species based on relationships between ‘branches’ and ‘leaves’ on the ‘tree of life’ (the representation of the genealogical relationship between all species on the planet based on evolutionary principles). The tree of life, the history behind it, and why it such an important tool is presented in a great piece of multimedia resource from the BBC, featuring the peerless David Attenborough, at this page on BBC Nature website (note that the introductory content needs a little updating to account for this latest research on species estimates…).
It does seem a bit surprising and ignorant, that despite all our [apparent] social, technological and scientific progress and developments, that we still only really know around 1 out of every 7 of the organisms that live on our planet. According to the researchers, learning and cataloguing all these species could take many hundred of years- and, on a somewhat melancholic note, may mean that many could become extinct before they are even discovered. As Camilo Mora of the University of Hawaii and Dalhousie University in Canada, (one of the lead authors in the study), is quoted in the Independent piece:
“Many species may vanish before we even know of their existence, of their unique niche and function in ecosystems, and of their potential contribution to improved human well-being.”
As has been discussed elsewhere in this blog, there is an intrinsic link between humans, other species, and the environment- and there are many benefits that we receive from them, and rely upon, for our existence. Having established a number of how many species are on our planet, which consequently demonstrates how proportionally little we know of the total, might help focus our efforts to learn and understand about the other forms of life that we share our planet with- and the interrelationship and interdependence we have with them.