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.)
Here’s my link roundup from April.
The Nature in Humans (Stories Secretly about Nature)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.