Making the Links: April 2015

This is my fourth post in “Making the Links,” a monthly blog series in which I attempt to connect the dots between nature and people in some recent news stories. (To learn more about the goal of the series, read the first post.)

Bogotá, Colombia

Bogotá, Colombia. The city’s 8 million residents rely on surrounding forest and páramo ecosystems for most of their freshwater supply. (© Andres Rueda)

Here’s my link roundup from April.

The Nature in Humans (Stories Secretly about Nature)

  1. You Aren’t Spending Enough to Boost Economy

This CNN Money article reports that consumer spending in the U.S. had a small rebound in March after three months of declining retail sales. Among other things, the month saw an increase in American spending on cars, building materials and eating out.

The link: This story understandably views economic health through the lens of our current global economic system, which values the continuous purchase of new goods and services. What it doesn’t take into account is the ultimate price of overconsumption: the degradation of the lands and waters that provide these materials and other benefits for all of humanity.

In his 2011 TED Talk, environmental economist and CI board member Pavan Sukhdev called this disconnection the “economic invisibility of nature” — and urged that the value of ecosystems be incorporated into economic measurements to ensure long-term sustainability.

  1. Want to Save the Planet? Say Bye-bye to Nature: Column

The authors of this op-ed published in USA Today discuss many of the ways living in more urban areas is good for the Earth, from falling birthrates to dense housing that leaves more room for open land.

The link: While this article makes some interesting points, it doesn’t acknowledge that thriving societies depend on healthy ecosystems, claiming “In the United States and Europe, by contrast [with developing countries], we depend far less on nature anymore for our material well-being.”

In fact, ecosystems across the globe provide raw materials and other services that all societies — including the U.S. and Europe — depend on. In today’s modern world, these materials are often imported from other continents, but that doesn’t change the fact that nature is providing them. For example: more than one-third of large cities get a significant portion of their drinking water from forests; over 1 billion people get essential nutrients from seafood; and the concrete, glass and steel that make up our buildings are all derived from the natural world.

The Humans in Nature (Stories Secretly about People)

  1. Groups Decry Record Number of Whale Entanglements Off U.S. West Coast

Last year, a record number of gray and humpback whales became entangled in fishing gear off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. Some conservationists suggest entanglements could be reduced if requirements are put in place to retrieve old, abandoned fishing gear.

The link: Not only are whale entanglements bad for the whales, they’re also not great for people. A recent study found that whale-based tourism generated US$ 2 billion in 2009 and provided jobs for 13,000 people worldwide. This industry could increase up to 10% per year — unless the whales disappear. In addition, whales play an important role in marine ecosystems, and their decline could disrupt the ocean’s food web and carbon cycle.

  1. Africa’s Incredible Wetland Oasis

This story in the BBC’s travel section uses gorgeous imagery to showcase Botswana’s Okavango Delta, a sprawling wetland in the middle of the Kalahari Desert that supports large concentrations of wildlife, including many endangered species. The article also applauds recent conservation efforts led by President Ian Khama.

The link: Not only does the Okavango Delta support animal populations, it’s also home to communities that depend on the wetlands and seasonally flooded grasslands to graze their cattle, fish during the wet season and grow crops. This crucial freshwater system — one of the world’s largest — is threatened by development, including dams planned upstream in Angola and Namibia. In addition, illegal poaching of elephants and other species could not only erode the health of the ecosystem by removing its major “ecosystem engineers,” it could also negatively impact the growing tourism sector.

  1. Research Suggests Pesticide Is Alluring and Harmful to Bees

This New York Times article shares the results of a new study on the impact of a specific class of pesticides on bees. The research found that wild bees and honeybees were less prominent and less likely to reproduce in crop areas that had been treated with the pesticide.

The link: This study’s conclusions are the latest evidence of a disturbing decline in bee populations. This is worrying precisely because of the crucial role bees and other pollinators play in maintaining the crops that feed the world. In fact, you have a pollinator to thank for one in three bites of food you eat — and as Whole Foods demonstrated, our supermarkets would look very different without them.

Editor’s Note:

My intention is not to call out these articles for their omissions; I know the authors have word counts to stick to, and sometimes the links I’m making are hidden several layers deep. However, the more we can train ourselves to put the pieces together and see the whole picture, the more aware we’ll all be of nature’s central role in our lives — and the importance of doing more to protect it to secure our future.

Stay tuned at the end of May for my next “Making the Links” post — and in the meantime, keep an eye out for these “missing links” as you peruse the news.

Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature. 


  1. Phil Allsopp says

    Thought I’d chip in a few comments based on my own research and my company’s work in human habitats, wellbeing and health.

    I bet that if I asked any of the CI team – especially its scientists – what makes for a successful species, many of them would mention “Habitat” as a key ingredient. Yet what we see – including in places like Bogota, almost every urban area in the US and many other countries – is that the very habitats that are supposed to shelter and enable a huge range of human needs and endeavors, are treated by the global economy as mere real estate commodities to be built on the cheap and sold for the highest price possible.

    The price our species pays for this approach to our own habitat is steep, growing and drives much of the gigantic costs of chronic diseases, many of which are exacerbated by the poor quality and poor performance of the place we inhabit. And I’m not just talking about the favelas, the slums and the shanty towns. I’m also talking about the style-du-jour sprawl that surrounds most of our cities and that consigns otherwise fairly healthy populations into a lifetime of inactivity and depression.

    I don’t know whether there are connection points between what Smart Pad Living™ does and what CI does and its focus. However, it seems to me that redressing the balance of human activity in favor of the biosphere on which all species and forms of life depend also requires a totally new look at human habitats, settlement patterns and the incentives that create the sub-par living conditions among which millions if not billions of people and communities are expected to thrive.

    Happy to chat about this and connection points if CI has an interest

    Thanks for all that you do…its vitally important.

    Phil Allsopp, D.Arch., MS(Public Health), RIBA, FRSA
    Smart Pad Living, LLC
    Senior Sustainability Scientist
    Julie-Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability
    Arizona State University
    Tempe, AZ

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