The Background

Louisiana wetland - ecosystem services

Wetlands serve to maintain water levels during flooding. They are particularly valuable in coastal areas prone to hurricanes.

Ecosystems provide a valuable service to humanity that is often unrecognized. “An ecosystem service is any positive benefit that wildlife or ecosystems provide to people. The benefits can be direct or indirect – small or large.” (a) For example, bees pollinate plants and flowers, wetlands control floods, and plants prevent erosion.

Ecosystems provide regulating services like erosion and flooding control, carbon storage, decomposition and water purification. Ecosystems provide cultural services like recreation, creativity from interactions with nature like music, art, and architecture.

In addition, ecosystems provide provisioning services like drinking water, medicinal benefits, timber, plants that make clothes and materials, wood fuel and oils. Industrial hemp falls into this category. Finally, ecosystems provide supporting services, without which no life would sustain. These services include photosynthesis, nutrient cycling, the creation of soils and the water cycle.

 

Ecosystems even provide mankind with innovation in the form of biomimicry. Biomimicry mimics the natural world to provide efficiencies in engineering which lead to beneficial innovations that often reduce human impact. Examples of biomimicry innovations include wind turbines, trains, and automobiles. Wind Turbines are mimicked from the fins of Humpback Whales. Engineers found that the ridges on Humpback Whales help reduce drag, so they mimicked the ridges on wind turbines to improve energy efficiency. The Japanese mimicked a Kingfisher’s beak to improve the performance of bullet trains and overcome Japan’s strict noise pollution standards. (b) German engineers at Mercedes-Benz mimicked the Yellow Spotted Box Fish to create one of the most efficient automobiles manufactured. The diesel engine car gets 70 mpg and is efficient given the reduction in drag and designed after understanding the low coefficient of drag in the structure of the Yellow Spotted Box Fish.

 

The Problem

The problem with Ecosystem Services is that humanity does not recognize these services within economic development and gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is “a broad measurement of a nation’s overall economic activity.” (c) GDP = Private and Public Consumption + Government Expenditures + Investments + (Exports – Imports). GDP is internationally recognized as the “monetary value of all finished products and services produced within a country’s borders in a specific time period.” Nowhere in this calculation does mankind account for the services that Earth’s ecosystems do for humanity. However, these services help humanity exist and without them humanity would not survive, at all. Period.

 

GDP also doesn’t consider the negative externalities of growth. For example, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, BP was fined and forced to pay millions of dollars in lawsuits and repairs; however, the impact on the oceans that will extend for the foreseeable future remains unaccounted. These impacts include the reduction in ocean biodiversity in the region, the destruction of the coral reefs, and the ingestion of the tiny oil particles by marine life throughout the food chain and in return into humans upon ingestion of certain species.

 

The Solution

Humanity needs to begin considering ecosystems and their services within this calculation. How can one agree that a country’s GDP is high when the country just deforested their entire rainforest to export trees for a short-term gain in revenues? Once the rainforest of a country is decimated, wildlife disappears, waterways are polluted, weather patterns change, and food shortages occur causing humanity to either move to a new location or die given the harsh conditions of the land. In turn, in the long-term, the GDP of that land turns to zero because no economic development can occur without ecosystems to help it thrive.

While GDP is still considered the measurement for economic welfare, the fact that the organizations above are considering the inclusion of natural capital as an economic indicator is a step in the right direction. The conversation will likely continue for several years before a change occurs, but the more that mankind understands the impact of ecosystem services and the positive contributions that natural capital has on economic development, the more likely the world leaders will hear the voice of humanity. As humanity moves into a greener economy with products like hemp, organics and other biomaterials, we will begin accounting for ecosystems in the way that we always should – as a cherished asset.

Bee pollinating hemp - ecosystem service

Bees carry hemp pollen from male plants to female plants. This helps the plant seed.

How Can Hemp Help?

Industrial hemp absorbs 1.7-kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilogram of hemp. Hemp’s ecosystem service is acting as a carbon sink!

The crop also has long roots that benefit soil health by allowing the roots to move microbial matter through the soils. This helps the soil stay healthy!

Hemp is great for biodiversity! Bees swarm through fields dusting pollen throughout. The males pollinate the females, creating seeds. Birds then flock to the fields to feast before harvest.

 

 

 

 

 

(a) https://www.nwf.org/Wildlife/Wildlife-Conservation/Ecosystem-Services.aspx

(b) http://mi2.org/featured/biomimicry-bullet-trains-innovation

(c)  http://www.investopedia.com/terms/g/gdp.asp

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