Ecosystem Services: Nature’s free life-support systems

“When you find people who believe that man and nature are indivisible, that survival and health are contingent upon an understanding of nature and her processes, these societies will be very different from ours, as will their towns, cities and landscapes”, Ian MacHarg.

In today’s society we decide what we want to cook, and innately pop to the store and buy all the ingredients we need. And if we happen not to find what we are looking for, we become irritated and disappointed. This is because our daily demands call for everything to be available to us at any time. Our oblivious attitude towards what nature provides in our literal or metaphorical plate, is an accurate description of how we have developed a habit of mindlessly consuming, indifferent to the processes that allow as to enjoy all that we have. As a consequence, not knowing how we get to have food in our plate, makes us unaware of the effects that these consumption patterns have.

Making a cup of tea or a hot chocolate, washing our fruits and vegetables, preparing dinner, all these are things that we do almost instinctively. We mechanically throw our rubbish out, and forget all about it, being under the spell that they will just magically disappear from the sight of the planet. Our summer vacation is planned, based on surety that the weather will be warm and that the sea will be there waiting for us. And in our minds it is undisputable, that this is how it is and how it is going to be. It is unquestionable. All these processes, are yields of what has been termed ‘Ecosystem Services’, i.e. the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. We depend on them for our own survival, so we may as well get familiarized with them.

These are made up of four categories. Provisioning services provide us with all the products on which we depend. Water and all of the food we eat, be it grown like tomatoes or gathered like fish, as well as things we often fail to recall they come from nature; like the plant oils that make up our soaps, the plant fibers that make up our clothes, the fuels that give us energy or even the metals and stones that make up our precious jewelry. Regulating services include the benefits we obtain from the regulation of ecosystem processes. These include processes we never consciously remember that they happen, like pollination, without which there can’t be any fruits, vegetables or seeds or waste decomposition without which we would be buried in our own unwanted items. Moderation of extreme weather events is also a regulating service. Cultural services are also provided from nature. Things like going for a swim, playing in the park or enjoying the view are all products of functioning ecosystems which support physical and mental health, art, culture, spirituality or even things you can more easily put your money on, like tourism. Supporting services include the mechanisms that keep all the other ecosystem services up and running, like nutrient recycling or soil formation.

And while plants stabilize slopes, feed, clothe, cure all of us and have everyone on a natural respirator, we go on with our daily lives taking it all for granted, and for free, while at the same time destroying it for the fast profit of the few. The term ‘Ecosystem Services’ may be only a couple decades old, but the concept of man’s dependence on the Earth is as old as man itself. The role of education to remind to young people what has been forgotten during the last century has never been more important. Only in societies in which this notion will be so deeply resonated within people, where one who carries these thoughts is not distinguished to be ‘green’ because our dependency on nature becomes general knowledge that everyone is aware of, will there be responsible citizens and a sustainable future for all. And the draw falls on the next generation.

Written by CARDET