What we talk about when we talk about ‘ecosystem services’

I have to post this excellent synopsis of what ecosystem services are, and how we affect their functioning – including the definition of “externalities”. The article is from the Vancouver Sun, but applies to anyone.

Next time a flood occurs, think of the cost of prevention as an investment, the disaster costs as a penalty for using our natural capital unwisely…. Not unlike that of the recent bank failures.

Here’s a snippet:
People often talk about “nature’s bounty,” especially during this harvest month. But how much is it really worth?

Well, humanity’s failure to figure out and charge a fair price for Earth’s natural assets costs trillions in the long run, according to a new UN report released today. And Canada’s share of that loss is substantial.

It’s much more than just the obvious forest products, fish catches and that sort of thing. In addition to these — the report calls them provisioning services — it identifies:

– Regulating services such as filtration of pollutants by wetlands, climate regulation through carbon storage, water cycling, pollination and protection from disasters.

– Cultural services such as recreation areas and spiritual and esthetic retreats.

– Supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis and nutrient cycling.

A number of factors make it difficult to put a value on these things, let along to collect an appropriate payment from those who use up such resources or who monopolize the benefits. But the numbers at stake are huge.

The report estimates, for example, that 3,000 large companies in the world are responsible for “externalities” — that is, net costs foisted onto the public — of $2 trillion.

These companies got this astounding benefit — seven per cent of their combined revenues, or as much as a third of their profits — by not paying for greenhouse-gas emissions, overuse or pollution of water, air emissions, waste and unsustainable use of fish or timber.

How do they get away with it, year after year and in jurisdiction after jurisdiction?  more…

Endangered Species

Well, this is not one of them. However, this Silvery Blue butterfly (Glaucopsyche lygdamus) looks very similar to the endangered Fender’s Blue (Icaricia icarioides fenderi).  But Fender’s blue has a row of faint markings, at the edge of the hindwing, like ghosts of the dark spots.

I was ecstatic the first time I saw a Silvery Blue until I learned about the second row of spots. I still am very enamored of these guys though. You have to wonder why the flamboyant STRIPED antennae? Such wonderful details!

Our oak savanna and woodland project probably would not have been supported were it not for the Fender’s Blue. Support for habitat improvement often comes in the form of money for the management of endangered species. Once a species is on the endangered list, the agencies responsible for watching out for them are required to come up with a plan to bulk up the population – plant or animal – and try to make it possible for them to reproduce and expand on their own (the official term is “recovery”).

Our project is providing more habitat close to existing Fender’s Blue populations, and I have planted the preferred food plant of the larvae – Kincaid’s Lupine. Kincaid’s Lupine is a plant that needs an upland prairie or savanna habitat, and is one of those species that is disappearing with the oak habitat – it is designated as threatened in some areas, endangered in others. My lupines are still small, but here are some of the current crop I am still trying to establish (not as fantastic looking as the butterfly, I know).