The benefits of green spaces and natural settings are becoming more apparent all the time: reduced stress, depression and feelings of aggressiveness; an increase in overall happiness; faster post-operative recovery; a decline in ADHD symptoms in children — all of these outcomes have been verified when people spend time in nature. The outdoors make us happier, cause us to be kinder and can even give us bigger brains.
While you could say these kinds of benefits are priceless, there’s a new trend afoot. By assigning a monetary value to natural elements in a healthy environment, it is hoped that governments, businesses and others in positions of power will come to see that protecting nature makes good financial sense.
This concept of pricing ecosystem services and natural features — and allowing them to be bought and sold — is gaining wide acceptance among conservationists. But could this approach end up obscuring the unquantifiable, soul-restoring advantages of natural places and put them at even greater risk?
In the environmental world, it’s characterized as the classic battle: Should wild areas be preserved for their intrinsic qualities or conserved for their resources? In other words, should nature be used for “the greatest good for the greatest number of people for the longest time,” as nineteenth-century progressive environmentalist Gifford Pinchot put it; or should the wilderness be protected and revered without human intrusions, a view espoused by romantic environmentalist John Muir?
Today, with a burgeoning population encroaching on our remaining wild areas and economic help scarce, many would say that Pinchot’s beliefs are more realistic for the modern world. In fact, there are even those, such as Peter Kareiva, The Nature Conservancy’s chief scientist, who would take Pinchot’s notion a step further: Natural areas must be managed to benefit humans, if they are to survive at all.
Did you know that the average American is responsible for the use of 751,777 gallons of water a year? (That’s enough water to fill more than 15 thousand bathtubs!) Or that depleting the water in rivers and streams can actually lead to flooding?
Sure, we could tell you all the facts about water use, but we’d rather show you, courtesy of this infographic from The Nature Conservancy and The Water Footprint Network.
Our bodies are made of it (up to 70 percent) and we can’t survive without it for more than a few days. However, water, one of our most precious resources, is something most of us take for granted.
I count myself lucky on the “water front.” As a New Yorker, I was thrilled to learn that my city’s water supply is considered one of the best and that NYC is one of the five large cities not required to filter its drinking water. That’s pretty radical considering most of the world’s pure water supply is scarce.