Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Environmentalist's paradox

Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade?

Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, Garry D. Peterson, Maria Tengö, Elena M. Bennett, Tim Holland, Karina Benessaiah, Graham K. MacDonald, and Laura Pfeifer has published an interesting article with that title in Bioscience. And hand on your heart, if you are a person engaged in environmental issues, isn't a devastating collapse one of the best arguments for changes? But on the other hand we who would wish that to happen. Anyway, if you are too lazy to read the whole article. They write:

"Environmentalists have argued that ecological degradation will lead to declines in the well-being of people dependent on ecosystem services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment paradoxically found that human well-being has increased despite large global declines in most ecosystem services. We assess four explanations of these divergent trends: (1) We have measured well-being incorrectly; (2) well-being is dependent on food services, which are increasing, and not on other services that are declining; (3) technology has decoupled well-being from nature; (4) time lags may lead to future declines in well-being."

In the article they come to the conclusion that evidence is very weak for 1) ; fairly strong for 2); not convincing for 3) and for 4) they say there is mixed evidence but strong theoretical support. I find the article interesting and well reasoned, but I don't understand how 4) can have only "weak emperical" support. I believe that climate change is a good example and that soil degradation in many parts of the world is another example. And there are certainly many local cases of environmental degradation reducing peoples' wellbeing, such as water and air pollution, noise in cities etc.

In the conclusions they say:
"Evidence presented here suggests that the growth of human well-being despite losses of ecosystem services can be partially explained, but not completely resolved, using available data. Trying to untangle why measures of human well-being are on the rise while ecosystem conditions decline is critical to improving ecosystem management. This conclusion highlights an important but often blurred distinction between human impacts on the biosphere and the biosphere’s impact on human well-being (my italics). These are clearly two different things, and although we have a good understanding of the negative impacts of much of human action on biodiversity, natural capital, and the biosphere, we have only a weak understanding of the consequences of changes in the Earth system for human well-being."

read it!

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