Other Environmental Themes

Nature's Services

Astronauts on a space station are dependent on finely-tuned engineered systems to maintain the air they breathe, regulate the temperature, provide food and water, dispose of their waste products and protect them from deadly radiation. Here on Earth, humans are also dependent on an elaborate life-support system that sustains the biosphere which all organisms inhabit. This system, provided free-of-charge by nature, offers a broad array of critical services: purifying the air and water, maintaining soil fertility, decomposing and detoxifying wastes, recycling essential nutrients, stabilizing the climate, protecting us from the sun's ultraviolet rays, mitigating floods and droughts, pollinating our crops and controlling agricultural pests.

In contemporary society, nature's services are often taken for granted. Although the services contribute greatly to the wealth reflected in the Gross National Product and other economic indicators, they are not accounted for in any formal way. With little value attached to these services, there's been a correspondingly modest effort to protect them.

Elaborate and complex life supporting ecosystems services; air and water purification, soil fertility, decomposing and detoxifying wastes, recycling essential nutrients, stabilizing the climate, and many more are provided by nature free of charge however these essential services are not accounted for in any formal way in the business world.—almost twice the combined gross domestic product of all the world's nations. Some said the estimate was too low; others claimed it was too high; the actual value of this complex life-support system is probably incalculable. For without clean water to drink, clean air to breathe and adequate food to eat—as well as a number of less conspicuous jobs performed by nature—humans would not survive.

One should bear in mind, of course, that nature does not carry out these tasks solely for the benefit of humans. In fact, life on Earth would flourish without us, just as it survived the disappearance of the dinosaurs and woolly mammoths. But terrestrial life could not get by without the innumerable services provided by lowly microbes, which permeate the land and water, acting as critical links in biogeochemical processes throughout the globe.

We can continue to neglect nature's services at our peril, or we can try to understand the essential tasks that nature performs and then determine what we need to do to ensure their continued functioning in the future.