Global degradation of ecosystems is widely believed to threaten human welfare, yet accepted measures of well-being show that it is on average improving globally, both in poor countries and rich ones.
A team of authors writing in the September issue of BioScience dissects explanations for this "environmentalist's paradox." Noting that understanding the paradox is "critical to guiding future management of ecosystem services," Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne and her colleagues confirm that improvements in aggregate well-being are real, despite convincing evidence of ecosystem decline.
Three likely reasons they identify—past increases in food production, technological innovations that decouple people from ecosystems, and time lags before well-being is affected—provide few grounds for complacency, however.
Raudsepp-Hearne and her coauthors accept the findings of the influential Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that the capacity of ecosystems to produce many services for humans is now low. Yet they uncover no fault with the composite Human Development Index, a widely used metric that incorporates measures of literacy, life expectancy, and income, and has improved markedly since the mid-1970s. Although some measures of personal security buck the upward trend, the overall improvement in well-being seems robust.
The researchers resolve the paradox partly by pointing to evidence that food production (which has increased globally over past decades) is more important for human well-being than are other ecosystem services. They also establish support for two other explanations: that technology and innovation have decoupled human well-being from ecosystem degradation, and that there is a time lag after ecosystem service degradation before human well-being will be affected.
Raudsepp-Hearne and her colleagues find little reassurance about human well-being in coming decades in these conclusions, because observable effects threaten future gains in food production, and events such as floods and droughts clearly harm people within restricted areas. In general, technology provides only limited and local decoupling from ecosystem services, and "there is mixed evidence" on whether humans will become more or less able to adapt to ecosystem degradation. One factor arguing against complacency is growing evidence of "ecosystem brittleness." Raudsepp-Hearne and her colleagues urge researchers to pay more attention to how ecosystem services affect multiple aspects of well-being, ecosystem service synergies and trade-offs, technology for enhancing ecosystem services, and better forecasting of the provision of and demand for ecosystem services.
By noon EST on 1 September 2010 and until early October, the full text of the article will be available for free download through the copy of this press release available at www.aibs.org/bioscience-press-releases/.
BioScience, published 11 times per year, is the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS). BioScience publishes commentary and peer-reviewed articles covering a wide range of biological fields, with a focus on "Organisms from Molecules to the Environment." The journal has been published since 1964. AIBS is an umbrella organization for professional scientific societies and organizations that are involved with biology. It represents some 200 member societies and organizations with a combined membership of about 250,000.
The complete list of peer-reviewed articles in the September 2010 issue of BioScience is as follows:
Untangling the Environmentalist's Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing As Ecosystem Services Degrade? by Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, Garry D. Peterson, Maria Tengö, Elena M. Bennett, Tim Holland, Karina Benessaiah, Graham K. MacDonald, and Laura Pfeifer
Direct and Terrestrial Vegetation-mediated Effects of Environmental Change on Aquatic Ecosystem Processes by Becky A. Ball, John S. Kominoski, Heather E. Adams, Stuart E. Jones, Evan S. Kane, Terrance D. Loecke, Wendy M. Mahaney, Jason P. Martina, Chelse M. Prather, Todd M. P. Robinson, and Christopher T. Solomon
Climate Change and Bark Beetles of the Western United States and Canada: Direct and Indirect Effects by Barbara J. Bentz, Jacques Régnière, Christopher J. Fettig, E. Matthew Hansen, Jane L. Hayes, Jeffrey A. Hicke, Rick G. Kelsey, Jose F. Negrón, and Steven J. Seybold
The Jungle of Methods for Evaluating Phenotypic and Phylogenetic Structure of Communities by Juli G. Pausas and Miguel Verdú
The Culture of Conservation Biologists: Show Me the Hope! by Ronald R. Swaisgood and James K. Sheppard
The Crossroads between Biology and Mathematics: The Scientific Method as the Basics of Scientific Literacy by Istvan Karsai and George Kampis
Jennifer Williams | EurekAlert!
Immune Defense Without Collateral Damage
23.01.2017 | Universität Basel
The interactome of infected neural cells reveals new therapeutic targets for Zika
23.01.2017 | D'Or Institute for Research and Education
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine
23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
23.01.2017 | Process Engineering