In this article, I’m going to talk about some things that are incredibly important to me, you, and the rest of the planet. It’s vital, in order to create a sustainable future, that we recognise these terms and are able to discuss them:
EcoSystem Services are the benefits that humans derive from the environment. I always say in the training that I deliver, and when I set targets with companies, that fundamentally there are only 3 things that people need to survive: clean air, clean food, clean water. The way the world has evolved and the way that ecosystems operate is essentially what keeps us alive. EcoSystem Services provides us with an opportunity to link the ecosystem and the benefits of nature to human rights because it’s in our own interests to protect them.
Commonly being made up of agroecosystems, forest ecosystems, grassland ecosystems, and aquatic ecosystems, the EcoSystem Services are highly influential on human well-being. There are certain things beyond air, food, and water that we also rely on nature for, such as housing materials, clothing, health products, fuel, travel, and protection (such as flood defences), to give a few examples.
The problem is that people often fail to recognise that their relationship with resources and ecosystems can be harmful to the planet. The interactions that people have are constantly evolving, as a society, and as the human way of life ebbs and flows. Economics, culture, social interactions, whilst all seemingly separate from the natural world, all, in fact, are closely related to it.
Natural Capital and EcoSystem Services are often interchangeable, however, Natural Capital is trying to assign a value towards the benefits that humans derive from nature. The problem with how this planet serves us is that it’s not necessarily quantifiable. Natural Capital is the new phrase on the block that acts as a mechanism for quantifying how this planet supports us.
In a sense, you could say that Natural Capital is the ‘stock’ of Earth’s natural resources, including water, animals, soil, minerals, and air. Air and water, of course, make life on Earth possible, and so should never be taken for granted. One reason we should not take these things for granted is that they are under threat due to the massive strain that human activities place on them, and, whilst we may seem to be fine now, future generations may not be so privileged.
Natural Capital is an interesting term for another reason. When we think of capital, we think of money, and what happens when we spend all of our money? We run up debts and we can get into real problems that harm our quality of life. With Natural Capital, when we take too much from the environment, and we aren’t able to pay it back, we create deficits that in turn create issues.
If we don’t reforest, then we have lost the forests forever. If we don’t clean the air we’ve made dirty, it will only get dirtier. It’s vital that we see sustainability as a way of paying back the environment or natural world for all it has given us so that it can try to recover. By poorly managing our Natural Capital, the deficits spread not only into ecological liabilities but also into social and economic liabilities too. If we engineer a drought or a flood by taking too many resources from a region, the people may starve. If we overstress a region and deplete its resources, conflicts can arise.
In the UK, our last wall of defence is the Natural Capital Committee, which aims to address all of these issues and push for a great balance.
I’m quite fond of this explanation from Mike O’Connor
“Natural capital refers to those parameters of ecosystems that act as ecosystem functions and can provide ecosystem services to society. Ecosystem functions relate to the ability of ecosystems, in view of the characteristics of their internal structure and interconnections, to provide services aimed at improving human well-being. Ecosystem services are the benefits that humanity receives from functioning ecosystems: the ecological characteristics, functions, or processes that directly or indirectly contribute to human well-being.”
Rewilding means attempting to put nature back to the way it once was, by giving pockets of land or space to nature and letting it do what it does best. This planet has an incredible ability to heal itself. Nothing that we’ve done to it is undoable, because of EcoSystem services, and because there are structures and functions to the way this planet works with itself. Rewilding is giving it time and space to do that.
In a sense, rewilding is an attempt at conservation on a global scale, in order to restore and/or protect natural systems and vital wilderness areas. This could occur for many reasons, such as habitat loss, threats to biodiversity, or a lack of natural process activity. Whilst it seems paradoxical to think that natural self-regulating processes require human intervention and management, it is now a requirement of our ongoing relationship with nature.
Over time, the management of rewilding should diminish, if the work is effective and good. Sadly, there are very few rewilding projects and organisations, with little data or evidence to suggest that their efforts are working. As well as this, the Government has not set out any particular rewilding objectives, so it remains an afterthought for the meantime.
Biodiversity is really important, you need species diversity to get the full impact and benefit of the EcoSystem Services I have described above, so all of the different levels in the ecosystem work together and do what they’re supposed to do. They need to fulfil their job and function in order to provide the services that keep humans alive. You need species diversity to meet those functions.
This quote from Ian Boyd is poignant:
“Biodiversity is fundamentally about variety, the richness of flora and fauna that exists and interacts in a place and at a time. This isn’t a very different definition to the more general applications, but it does focus attention on the ideas of species richness and habitat complexity, tools to build more sustainable spaces for people and wildlife alike. Managing for biodiversity IS managing for sustainability and yet there are few examples of corporate strategy that treat the subject in this way.”
I don’t expect you to go and plant a forest, clean the oceans, or depollute the air, it’s a team effort for all of humanity. However, if you are a change-maker in your business and want to see things be done more sustainably in order to support the things discussed in this article, please get in touch right away.