They call them ecological services. These are things the environment produce that we use and in many cases, our lives depend on. Oh, you know...things like...oxygen, clean water, a stable viral and bacteriological ecoystem that doesn't kill every man, woman and child alive. Things like that.
Busy as we are, though, we forget, from time to time, about the important services nature provides. Wetlands are a wonderful example. While we think of wetlands as neat places to visit and enjoy, down in New Orleans, many think of them as the most important line of defense between human civilization and destruction at the hands of a hurricane.
Time magazine usually is a pretty tepid slog through mainstream opinion, however, the August 1st issue has a no-holds-barred article that pretty much calls the New Orleans rebuild what it is: a pathetic misguided, mismanaged boondoggle...that won't do much to protect the city's residents from future storms.
The article is particularly strong in its articulation of the importance of wetlands to shielding New Orleans and coastal residents from future storms. Wetlands have a variety of very important functions we depend on; it's hard to argue with the primacy of the role of storm defense.
One New Orleans comments on the destruction of coastal wetlands as a key factor in New Orleans demise.
"I look at this, and I think of the shortsighted people who crippled a great city," She says. She knows that city needs better hospitals and more jobs. But first, better levees and more wetlands. Otherwise, it's going to need an obituary.
Another important ecological service that should not be underestimated or forgotten is something I like to call food. Although most of us in the US are not vegetarians, we still depend on a plant-based economy to feed us and feed our food animals. Some people are rather concerned about the sheer rate of species extinction going on - under pressures from habitat loss, invasive species invasions, global climate change, etc. The Millenium Seed Bank Project is trying to collect seed types of 10% of all the plant species in the world before they go extinct, so that, one day, if needed, we can bring back rice, say, or soybeans.
It's a great project. It's just a sad statement that we need it...and if you doubt the need, the Associated Press reports on a 22-year long study that shows that trees in the Sierra Nevada are dying at double the natural rate, likely due to increased temperatures.