Though it is easy to forget in the city-centered 21st century, human well-being is utterly dependent on the natural world. To state the obvious, we cannot survive without fresh water, food, and fuel. Yet every day, countless decisions are made whose ripple effects will degrade or destroy the vital goods and services that nature provides to people.
Asian forests are cleared to boost timber exports leading to erosion and landslides and the release of stored carbon that fuels climate change. Over-grazing by goats reared to meet overseas demand for cashmere clothing degrades grasslands in Mongolia. Intensification of farming practices in northeastern France has led to reduction of pastures and forests that had filtered water, threatening the purity of the mineral water which supplies Vittel’s global business.
Unlike the impacts of climate change, biodiversity and the ecosystem services it harbors disappear in a mostly silent, local and anonymous fashion. This may explain, in part, why the devastation of nature has triggered fewer alarm bells than a warming planet. Once felled, dug up, polluted or filled in, however, such complex systems as rainforests, wetlands, coastal estuaries and mangroves are very difficult to restore.
If the true value of ecosystems services – economic, social and spiritual – were factored into decision-making, wetlands, forests, and reefs would be viewed and treated very differently. For there is mounting evidence to show that the value of preserving ecosystems can far outweigh that of destroying them. Some companies – although too few of them – are also becoming aware that factoring biodiversity into their policies is important to their survival. The above-mentioned Vittel, for example, has launched a project to preserve water quality through the management of ecosystems and farmlands.