Friday, November 20, 2009

Giving Thanks, or, What Has Your Ecosystem Done For You Lately?

I've been reading the book Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, and Hunter Lovins. (Given the name, it seemed only appropriate.) Much of the book is about how manufacturing processes and building practices can become much, much more efficient. But nestled within those arguments is a discussion of natural capital, and all of the things that nature does for us -- because if we don't become much more efficient, we're at risk of losing a lot of those "ecosystem services." The authors write:

Natural capital can be viewed as the sum total of the ecological systems that support life, different from human-made capital in that natural capital cannot be produced by human activity. It is easy to overlook because it is the pond in which we swim, and, like fish, we are not aware we're in the water. One can live perfectly well without ever giving a thought to the sulfur cycle, mycorrhizal formation, alleles, wetland functions, or why giant sequoia trees can't reproduce without chattering squirrels...Only when the services provided by ecosystem functions are unmistakably disrupted do we step back and reconsider.

So, let's step back and consider. Consider the things that the ecosystem you live in is doing for you today, and every day of your life:
  • Air to breathe: producing oxygen, purifying air, and regulating the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
  • Water to drink: storage, cycling, purification, and distribution of fresh water.
  • Food to eat: converting solar energy into food; recycling nutrients and maintaining soil fertility.
  • Materials to use:  converting solar energy into raw materials; providing a genetic library for food, fibers, pharmaceuticals, and other materials.
  • A place to live: managing flooding and soil erosion; regulating the local and global climate; protection against harmful cosmic radiation.
What has my ecosystem done for me lately? Only everything I need to survive. And I am thankful.

What are you thankful for? Leave us a comment!

Like the photos in this post? Mouse over for credits; a click takes you to the photographer on Flickr.