Researchers analyze 'the environmentalist's paradox'

Sep 01, 2010

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 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 .

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More information: www.aibs.org/bioscience/current_issue.html

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Ravenrant
5 / 5 (2) Sep 01, 2010
"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"

Guess we need new "accepted measures of well being".
questioner
not rated yet Sep 01, 2010
erhh like realise oneness and harmonisation with ones environment and learn sustanability .. erhh or believe its all in the christian version of gods hands LOL
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Sep 01, 2010
Hmmm, there was an article here just yesterday describing an application of Simpson's Paradox (Yule - Simpson effect) in statistics. Here's another.
A_Paradox
5 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2010
This is all rather hard to reconcile. But then maybe what it recognises is that the basic life style and life expectancy of people closest to a "state of nature" is not the Garden of Eden type idyll that romanticised rear view vision would have you believe.

As I see it, we are just into the fifth century of the modern era and all power to it! This doesn't mean we can afford to abuse each other, or other species [except mozzies and a few others] but there is vast scope to improve the lives of virtually everyone on the planet as long as we see ourselves as custodians rather than masters of this planet. For us Earth is a space ship and if we don't manage it correctly we will find it turns into a Titanic rather than a Queen Elizabeth [or whatever].
jscroft
5 / 5 (1) Sep 01, 2010
The facts don't fit the hypothesis, and we call it a "paradox"? Have we lost our minds?
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 04, 2010
A facile end-around interpretation to avoid facing the interplay between the two concepts, head-on.

I condemn this sophistry!

One only needs to note that a fractional increase in the quality of life in a few regions in no way justifies the degradation in quality of life in others, or the accelerated degradation of our life support system, aka the environment.

What is paradoxical here is that these clowns are paid to discover the source of, and explain/quantify the discrepancy between human wellbeing vs environmental wellbeing, and yet they avoid doing so.