This is an interesting take on helping our environment help us. I
found it on truthout.org
Designer Ecosystems are Now in Vogue
By David Suzuki
Environmental News Network
Tuesday 08 June 2004
We have designer clothes and designer perfumes. Now we need
designer ecosystems - at least according to a group of scientists
writing a report in the journal Science.
The authors argue that humans have so monumentally interfered with
the planet's natural systems that we have to stop focusing on the fewer
and fewer remaining undisturbed ecosystems on Earth. Instead, they say,
we need to focus a lot more on the services nature provides and how to
modify ecosystems to make sure they can continue to provide these
services in a human-dominated world.
It's an interesting idea. Natural services are essential for human
survival. Even with all our ingenuity, we cannot artificially recreate
the systems that have evolved over 4 billion years on this planet to
build the very conditions necessary for life to exist.
As far as we know, ours is the only planet in the entire universe
to have accomplished this monumental task. From water filtration to
climate stability and soil fertility, there is an intelligence embedded
in these natural systems that we are only just beginning to fathom.
At the same time, human activities are pushing the capacity of
these systems to their limits. And with a projected population of 9
billion by 2050, we cannot afford to continue with business as usual.
With this in mind, the authors bring up two very important points.
First, the knowledge that we do have about ecosystem services is not
widely disseminated, and it is certainly not being acted upon.
For example, we have known for some time about the importance of
city green spaces for water filtration. Plants and soil are essential
in helping remove impurities from our water. Yet, rarely is this
knowledge incorporated into urban design. Instead, we funnel rainwater
from our roads and rooftops into concrete drainage systems that empty
directly into our lakes and rivers - causing tremendous pollution.
Second, as the authors point out, all the scientific knowledge in
the world won't protect natural services unless the public understands
that they are vital to our health and well being. Without the public
bringing sufficient pressure to bear on our political and business
leaders, those leaders are unlikely to make the policy changes needed
to ensure the protection of ecosystem services.
But for all its value, the report does miss some key points. First,
the analysis provides barely any sense of how little we actually know.
We are only just beginning to understand how our complicated natural
We don't even have an adequate grasp of how many species there are
on the planet or what they do.
Also missing is the crucial point that there are still intact
ecosystems providing important services to humanity. Large parts of the
Amazon basin and Canada's boreal forest are still fairly pristine.
These forests are extremely important resources for life diversity and
Removal of their forest cover would have profound repercussions in
terms of global weather patterns and climate change. Even small patches
of relatively undisturbed ecosystems in or near our cities are
extremely valuable in terms of providing refuge for wildlife.
Extreme caution is also necessary around the very idea of designing
ecosystems. Generally, minimal interference has proven to be the best
policy. In fact, whenever humans have tried to design or modify
ecosystems in the past, it has usually resulted in disaster. Ecosystems
are incredibly complicated. We barely know how parts of these systems
function, let alone the whole. For example, when we have introduced
alien species, we have inadvertently caused a host of other unexpected
Still, any discussion of natural services is very important. The
value of these services is largely ignored in our current economic and
political systems. We treat them as though they are free and limitless,
when in fact they are invaluable and irreplaceable.
And although designer ecosystems may be necessary one day, more
important are thoughtfully designed human systems, from our cities to
our energy sources and our agriculture. It's much easier to learn to
live within the natural systems we have now than to try to desperately
redesign the ones we have left later.