Knowledge Gap of How We 'Fit In' is Greatest Threat to Environment

photo nicholas_t @ flickr

We know that trees can increase the thickness of clouds with terpenes, and lizards can drink water from wet sand with their feet, but we have very little understanding of how we fit into the environment and how the environment fits with us. The 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA) found that 60% of the ecosystem services (you know those things that provide clean air, water, and food) are being degraded or used unsustainably. But an even bigger problem is that we don't understand how these systems work, or why they are failing.

"In only a few cases are the abilities of ecosystems to provide human well-being holding steady, and in almost every case we're seeing declines in ecosystems underpinning human well-being," said Thomas Dietz, director of the MSU Environmental Science and Policy Program and professor in sociology and crop and soil sciences, who was involved in the original MEA.

While that is scary enough, when looking at the MEA, Dietz found that one of the biggest gaps was in "really thinking seriously about the interaction between humans and ecosystems, back and forth. How are we changing ecosystems and how are ecosystems affecting us?" Dietz stressed that these challenges can't be tackled by one discipline, and further will require long-term funding to ensure success. We are part of nature after all, and it is becoming clear that we have the ability greatly change the world we live in. Now we just need to figure out how to fit in with the rest of the world.

We recently covered a story reporting on the serendipity of a 42-year time span between field tests that ended up showing the critical importance of global warming on species migration. Unfortunately these types of studies are uncommon, and we need many more of them before we can start to unravel our impact on the environment, and it's impact on us. Maybe it is time to look back through the ecological journals, or even the notebooks of people all over the world of 50 or 100 years ago and start comparing notes with today. Do you remember what it was like 50 years ago? How have things changed?

At the end of the day we are talking about the very foundation of life, and how we fit in with our environment. I would like to think we live in a society that is able to build a healthy, well-balanced lifestyle, but first we need to know what a healthy ecosystem looks like, and where we can fit in.

Via Michigan State University
More on Ecosystem Services
Ecosystem Services Priced in Dollars
More Corn = $58 Million in Lost Ecosystem Services, More Aphids, Fewer Ladybugs
Responding to Ecosystem Degradation

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