A Time for Action

Healthy ecosystems are critical to life on Earth. A pond, a farm, a swamp or a city boulevard, anywhere that living organisms (plants, animals, fungi) interact with their surrounding environments (air, soil, water), is an ecosystem. It is through these interactions that nature provides us with “environmental goods and services,” such as air purification, water filtration, flood regulation and pollination.

Humans, and all other living things, have benefited from nature’s goods and services since life began. Yet only recently has our thinking shifted toward a deeper understanding of the value of our Earth’s natural capital. A new, more integrated and holistic way of thinking asks the question: What would it cost us to replace these services? While estimates vary, the approximate value of nature is in the order of trillions of dollars, exceeding the global GNP.

Ecosystems both support and are supported by a tremendous diversity of plant and animal species — biodiversity. Extinction is not just about losing a particular species, nor is deforestation simply about habitat loss; they are about reducing the capacity of ecosystems to function effectively and provide the natural goods and services humans, and our national and global economies, need to survive.

During the last century, the growth of human societies, increasing consumption, and the expansion of industrial and agricultural activities have led to greater incursion into natural ecosystems and disruption of biological processes. While ecosystems and the services they provide possess the ability to adapt and respond to environmental changes, the speed at which these changes are occurring place marine, coastal and terrestrial ecosystems under significant stress, inhibiting their ability to function and be resilient in the face of change.

The Earth Institute Center for Environmental Sustainability’s message is we can think better, do better and utilize better. Through science and systems thinking, we can become more informed and more capable stewards of the Earth and life upon it.