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…
Although a couple of years old now (and, as a result, I am aware of a few other examples which would make useful additions to the list)- this collection, Visualising Sustainability, of sustainability/ sustainable development visuals/ diagrams/ models/ figures from a range of external sources is one of the most extensive and impressive I have come across (bringing together nearly 300 examples…)
As discussed before in my blog, environmental issues are inherently complex and interconnected, and visualisations can be extremely useful to conceptualise and communicate them to a wider audience. This list of diagrams, sourced from across a range of groups and disciplines, can be useful to develop understanding of relatively simple/fundamental issues in the field (such as the three aspects of sustainability), to more complex relationships/concepts (such as ecosystem services, ecological footprinting, and interconnections with wider policy).
“That which is not good for the beehive cannot be good for the bee”
I like this quote. It alludes to the increasingly recognised scientific consensus that the damage and degradation of our natural environment, and the vital ecosystems that exist on our planet, will be (and is) detrimental to the long term economic prosperity, social development, and environmental sustainability of humanity.
It was written over 1800 years ago.
‘Terra Sacra’ is a stunning short time-lapse video by photographer/ film-maker Sean White- which depicts some of the planet’s most impressive ancient monuments, sacred sites, and cultural places.
Such locations, built and natural, have a variety of non-material meanings and uses to people- spiritual, inspirational, aesthetic, psychological. However, they all relate and depend on a common factor- the beauty of each location’s surrounding natural environment and landscapes. The sites can be seen as a physical embodiment of these cultural ecosystem benefits that society derives from the natural environment.
In the run up to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development WWF are compiling an ‘Earth Book’- a collection of photos, stories and electronic drawings uploaded by individuals to convey the things they love about nature, and want to preserve for the future (I’ve uploaded some of my own images/stories too). I’ve discussed in various posts the power of photography to convey the beauty of the environment, and furthermore the cultural ecosystem benefits of nature. A project like WWF’s Earth Book is a beautiful collection of examples and people’s stories which are evidence of this.
‘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.
Give a man a fish…
The phrase ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime’ is a familiar adage used to convey the longer term benefits achieved through knowledge sharing and education- compared to the short-termism of simple alms ‘giving’.
It’s a maxim that is used by charities and NGOs to support development programs that are not simply focused on providing short term aid, such as food and medical supplies, but to seek to improve and enhance the fundamental conditions that are often at the root of the need to provide aid in the first instance. This can be done by investing in and enhancing strong and resilient resources of built (e.g. technology and infrastructure), human (e.g. health and knowledge) and social (e.g. relationships and co-operation) capital- all of which contribute to the positive functioning of societies.
As such, wide scale knowledge sharing and education is at the crux of developing the human and social capital within societies- and ‘teaching a man how to catch a fish’ (rather than simply giving him one), will, in a the context of a society, instil the knowledge required for individuals to utilise and consume available natural capital (e.g. natural resources and ecological processes) to provide a community’s on-going fundamental practical needs.
However, with increasing pressures on, demands for, and consumption of, such natural capital (both in a local, and global sense) many of our learned (and increasingly industrialised) practices of how we ‘catch fish’ (both in a literal sense, and furthermore in relation to global resource consumption in general) are unsustainable- and are degrading these sources of natural capital on which we rely. From polluting, and inefficient utilisation, of our water supply; the removal of nutrients from soil; the elimination of natural pollinators; the over farming/fishing of food stocks leading to their collapse…. we are negatively impacting the planet’s capacity to provide us these goods and services it offers us for free- and on which we fundamentally rely for our survival.
This is not to say that we should stop consuming nature- I am no advocate of some kind of ‘environmental resource abstinence’- and that humanity should not benefit from what nature provides. It is, in fact, because I believe humanity- both those alive just now, and those who are to live in the future- should be allowed the opportunity to benefit from such goods and services provided by nature, that I support the notion that we should protect and conserve it.
How we deliver aid and international development, develop our national and international economies, run our businesses and corporations, control our communities and public services, and, fundamentally, live our individual lifestyles- will all contribute to the levels of natural capital available for our use. Establishing levels of sustainable consumption, as well as practices and behaviours to meet them, are in our interests now, and in the future.
It could be said that we need extend our understanding and application of the ‘fish adage’ to something along the lines:
‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; show him how to catch fish, and you feed him for a lifetime; implement sustainable fishing practices and you will allow him to feed himself, his family, his community, and his future generations for years to come’
Like all good sayings and maxims, this is relevant in a literal sense in relation to how one man consumes a fish, but furthermore true in a wider, more universal, context in relation to global economic, social and environmental development.
‘A Bigger Picture’, and the benefits of cultural ecosystem services
I have discussed a number of times in this blog the impact of photography, as well as other forms of visual art, in communicating the value of nature- conveying the intrinsic beauty and emotional impact of the environment on us, as humans.
This week I visited the brilliant ‘A Bigger Picture’ exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, a collection of (mostly) recent works by David Hockney- regarded by many as Britain’s greatest living artist. Hockney’s work in the exhibition centres on depictions of landscapes- with a specific focus on the Yorkshire Wolds, an area of low hills and shallow valleys in the north of England, close to where he was born.
The exhibition, in itself, consists of a stunning array of beautiful and joyful expressions of the beauty of nature- portraying the splendour and wonder of the advancing seasons, capturing both the subtle, and sudden, transformations of the landscape through the growth and death of plants, and changes in weather and sunlight.
However, what really struck me was the vast number of people who were visiting the exhibition- with lengthy queues to get in, and throngs of crowds passing through the gallery. Furthermore, I noted a lot of smiling faces, and animated discussions about the paintings- more so than at any other gallery showing I have been at. It was quite apparent that Hockney, through his works, had captured something that emotively connected with the viewers- with their (and my) experience of his artwork being a significantly beneficial experience. In effect, the public (though their experience), the artist and the economy (through the not insignificant entrance fee, as well as the number of prints and other products being purchased at the gift shop) were gaining benefit from the primary source of the works on show- the intrinsic beauty of the natural world.
The inspiration derived from nature, which is pervasive across almost all of the arts, is one of the ‘cultural benefits’ of the environment- which, in turn, is one of the categories of ‘ecosystem services’ that the natural environment provides humanity. (While focused on the importance such services are for the economy- the World Resources Institute detail an excellent guide to these ecosystem services in their recently updated report ‘Corporate ecosystem services review’- see page 4/table 2).
Considering the range of ecosystem services that nature affords society and our economy, it is quite apparent that there is significant tangible value in the environment- and that conserving the natural resources and systems on which we depend is fundamental to our long term survival as a species. The importance of protecting the environment to provide for our basic needs like food, clean water, and air quality are probably quite apparent and obvious. However, it is also worthy to note that the environment’s benefits extend into the more abstract and intangible aspects of our lives- culture, art, spirituality, happiness- something that the popularity and impact of David Hockney’s current exhibition of landscape works seems to support.