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Sydni Rucks

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What are ecosystem services that you rely on everyday? Are you willing to pay for them?

Ecosystem services are what we gain from an ecosystem, be it medicines, clean water, or any cultural and spiritual benefits we get from nature. Ecosystem services are not specific to the science realm and they are open to interpretation based on our individual views. What ecosystem services do you value?

Although ecosystem services have monetary value, determining pricing has proven challenging. For example, every time you shop for produce, you can choose to support the ecosystem services offered by organic farming. There has been a boom in the organic foods market due to the ever-growing assumption that organic farming methods contribute to ecosystem services including increased pollination (bee populations are higher due to larger production of flowers on organic farms), increased biodiversity, natural pest control, and natural soil fertility. Are these methods worth the extra cost at the grocery store? What factors do you consider when making your choice between conventionally and organically grown produce? What are ways to promote organic farming, or more generally the valuation of ecosystem services, so that more people will be inspired to pay for the benefits?

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  • Apr 26 2012: I don't think people buy organic because they believe it promotes ecosystem services but rather that it isn't harming them. In my day to day life I am likely to think of declining biodiversity and ecosystem destruction but not ecosystem services. Ecosystem services is a concept that is not commonly taught outside of higher level biology classes, and as such would be a very esoteric way to promote organic foods. And even then, promoting organic foods isn't necessarily the best option. Organic means very little, and the label is easy to earn. It doesn't mean pesticide free, local, or free trade. In fact the FDA doesn't even have a definition for "organic" (check it out: http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Transparency/Basics/ucm214869.htm). There's nothing to say that the organic bananas are better than the regular bananas except for a basic capitalist assumption that if it costs more it must be better.
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      Apr 29 2012: I agree, "organic" can be a very misleading term that companies use just to get a little bit more money out of their customers, and I think it does need established guidelines as to what makes a food organic and what does not. However, I always appreciate it when I'm shopping for groceries and companies take the time to tell you exactly what makes their organic product different from non-organic ones. Cage-free eggs are a good example. When I pay the extra 30 cents or so to buy cage-free eggs, I am supporting animal rights and more humane treatment of the chickens that lay those eggs. I think more companies should do things like this, because items like these are never piling up on the shelf. People want to know what their extra money is being spent on, and I don't mind spending it knowing that the company I'm buying from is making a decision I support.
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        Apr 30 2012: Andrew, I really like that you brought up cage-free eggs and how the purchase of them supports a more humane treatment of the animals. Something that I thought was interesting, and also related to chickens, was that the definition of free-range chickens is that there are no fences to keep them in. This was particularly interesting because you can use fencing to keep them out of areas, but not to constrict. There are still kinks that need to be worked out and there are better methods than the ones that are being employed, but, it is a step in the right direction. I'm in the same boat as you, knowing that the extra money goes to a more humane and possibly better product.
      • May 1 2012: Andrew, I think you bring up an excellent point about the need to define "organic." This is something I have been interested in for quite some time. I had heard that in order to be certified "organic," a product only had to be a certain % organic. However, I have done a little bit of research on this topic, and although it is true that foods only have to be 95% organic to be certified, this is better than it has been in the past, and it seems like we are heading in the right direction. That doesn't necessarily mean that what we think of as "organic" is exactly what we want, but at least it is getting harder for companies to claim that their products are organic without any kind of regulation.
        That being said, for those who are interested in this topic, I would urge you to look into labels such as "all natural" on the USDA website. It's a little scary.
        I personally buy cage free eggs in support of better treatment for animals, but for those who need a different kind of motivation, research shows that cage-free eggs contain a higher concentration of nutrients. So by buying cage free, you may be spending a little more, but you are also getting more in return.
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        May 1 2012: While it is nice that the chickens are treated in a humane manner. Could this lead to the expansion of farms? If the farms are surrounded by areas containing native wildlife and needed to be destroyed to allow for more free range chickens, would this be worth it? Also the problem I have with the term organic, while it is better for people, and contains less pollutants, still can destroy ecosystems.
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      May 2 2012: Have a fun hands experiment for anyone on their next visit to the supermarket (one that sells both conventional and organic produce). Get a conventional cucumber and feel the skin with your hands. Then grab an organic one- notice any difference? Being predominantly an organic supporter 80-90% of the time, I had always wondered what this unfamiliar residue after feeling was when unable to purchase an organic counterpart.

      I am not a pessimist, but I naturally assumed the worst- pesticides and/or herbicides. Yet upon research the waxy feeling experienced from many conventional store purchased vegetables is in fact- wax. The FDA has approved various waxes that are applied to a variety of produce to preserve moisture and prolong the products shelf life. The FDA asserts that these waxes are non-toxic and innocuous to humans. Yet many of these waxes are petroleum based and while may be safe to humans, what impacts might they have on other life and ecosystems that are subjected to such practices?

      Organic practices are not regulated by the federal government as suggest earlier but rather by individual states. And while wax spraying is not banned in the state of Oregon for conventional or organic farming, it is clearly prevalent in conventional farming and rare to isolated in organics. This evidence easily observable to the scientist and nonscientist alike and is just a fingertip away- your next visit to the supermarket.

      Final food for thought: If petroleum derived contaminants are to blame for the Earth's largest environmental and ecological services degradation since the industrial revolution, why support anyone willing to spray it on the food we eat and problems our children may have to reap.
  • May 2 2012: I believe that protecting many ecosystem services should be regulated at an increased rate by the government. An example of ecosystem services that they protect would be clean waterways and mangrove forests. I think that organically grown food is good to support but also often times very difficult. Also, organically grown food is a very small step when you put it into the perspective of the huge fields which grow food that is distributed worldwide in the conventional manner. In essence, I believe that dwelling on organically grown food is a good step but ultimately will do very little to solve the greater issue.
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    May 1 2012: I agree with Amanda's comment that it is very easy to take advantage of the booming availability of organically grown food here in Eugene. We have farmers markets, specialty markets that only sell organic foods, and my personal favorite - Sundance, which is only 3 blocks from my house. But it is difficult on a student budget to buy all your groceries all organic every time. But Eugene offers many other ecosystem services that I do take advantage of almost every single day. Amazon Park is a great place to run and just hang out, in a natural environment. It makes me feel like I don't live in a city, and keeps me connected to nature.
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    Apr 29 2012: When it comes to ecosystem services I think as humans we focus on the ones that benefit us personally. You use the example of buying organic. When I am deciding what food to buy I am thinking of the benefits to me more than the benefits to the environment. I choose organic over conventional because I know what chemicals are on our food, and the harm they cause. For me the benefits greatly outweigh the price difference. Secondarily I think of the benefits to the environment, which are important as well. I think transparency in the food industry is the most important factor that would help more people buy organic. The whole "pink slime" issue that was in the news recently is a good example of this. Meat filler that was intended for dog food was going to be used in children's lunches, but when people found out they worked together to shut it down. If we all knew exactly what was in the food we eat, how it is made, and what it does to our bodies I think many people would choose organic. This goes for food deserts as well. When people don't have access to healthy food there is even less of a chance they are going to eat organic. If we can put in more community gardens and give everyone access to healthy food, we could make a huge change in the US.
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    Apr 27 2012: The process of producing organic produce may not be perfect, but it is a step in the right direction. Methods such as planting crops that will maximize primary productivity relative to the particular area, utilization of compost and the encouragement of insectivores are important for maximizing output of healthy food while keeping the impact on the environment to a minimum. Even if pesticides are still used, those made from natural ingredients are certainly better than synthetic ones. It's also comforting to know that the food you're consuming has not been sprayed with chemicals that are potentially harmful to yourself and the environment. That being said, produce is expensive, and organic products even more so. For someone with a small budget, such as myself, organic produce is just not an affordable dietary staple. While I completely support more natural farming techniques and I am concerned about preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services, the potential benefits do not outweigh the cost. I think this is true for many people. Often it is not so much that people just don't care about reducing environmental harm, so much as it is not financially feasible. In order for organic farming to really have a significant impact, it needs to become the normal method. Only then will it be affordable and easy to support. Regardless of whether the shift occurs, organic farming processes still need to be refined in order to reduce costs to farmers, consumers, and the environment. As is, organic farming does not do enough to promote ecosystem services to make the produce worth the cost, however it is a step in the right direction.
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    Apr 27 2012: I wonder which ecosystem services this model really works for. If we pollute our water, we can purify it - that's true. We can hire people to pollinate flowers. The cost is staggering, I'll have you that, but I think there are a lot of ecosystem service we can't replace if they're gone. Like Letitia mentioned on microorganisms - how could those be mechanically replaced in people if they're lost. That isn't to say that some things do have price tag and are worth paying extra. Taxes, for example. I don't mind paying a little more in taxes to help fund the preservation and restoration of state land because I enjoy hiking and camping and know the use for it. But other things I'm a little leery of. I saw below that there was a few mentions of organic food. It's an unpopular thing to say now days, but I really don't prefer organic food. The regulations on what's organic are flimsy at best and as was mentioned earlier, it doesn't mean the growing was ethical. But I think that debate is missing the boat a little. The idea behind putting a price on ecosystem services is able making an incentive to preserve something we're in danger of loosing. Crops are never something we'll actively allow ourselves to loose. Buy local, is a wise choice when one is able, but I don't think organic farming is necessarily a good idea or the answer. And depending on how much you can afford for food (which for most people isn't a lot) spending more isn't an option.
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    Apr 27 2012: I think, as others have pointed out, that the term "ecosystem service" is a bit vague to describe what seems to be the main topic here: food production. Just for contrast, the first ecosystem that came to my mind that is "of service" was the micro-organisms that line our bodies, protecting us from infection...(this is my favorite ecosystem if I had to pick one!)

    I'm not quite sure what you mean by paying for ecosystem services in the broad sense since an ecosystem is not a "thing" and I'm not really sure how one can be controlled in order to be distributed for purchase. I will stick with my original example and say that yes, I am willing to pay for the probiotic effects of yogurt! (And do whenever I have to take antibiotics).

    I think that we all need to get out of the "buying" mindset. I think our hands are tied by our economy and that we can do more than choose the best option at the supermarket. But I agree with you about the importance of ecosystems: We derive many benefits from other species and would benefit from everyone being more aware of them :)
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    May 2 2012: I too take issue with the assumption that organic or local farming is inherently a practice that has favorable environmental impact as compared to high-yield or industrial farming. It has to due with efficiency. Organic farms are terribly inefficient, and our demand for food wont be decreasing anytime soon. Adding millions of acres of farmland just to move away from high-yield farming is an approach that might end up causing more problems than it solves. Instead focusing on isolating our ecosystems from the toxic effects of industrial farming. Humans alone now industrially fix more nitrogen than all of the rest of the tree of life. The need to contain N, toxics, and pesticide runoff should be much more pressing, closer to how we treat radioactive waste.

    LOCAL products, however, are always a good buy if you have the opportunity. Eliminating the environmental cost of shipping as much as possible is a HUGE step everybody can take.

    I would also say that the actual cost of a high-yield product when compared to an organic product is probably much closer than the dollar value attached to each. The missing price of the high-yield product is just expensed as environmental damage, so we are instead paying for that ear of corn with environmental security.
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    May 2 2012: If organic produce is grown locally, is in season, and I am unable to grow it myself, then I am willing to pay extra for it.

    Produce that has been organically grown in a country thousands of miles away and has to be flown in or shipped, effectively has completely destroyed its organic status, because of the fossil fuels/emissions it has taken to get it from there to here. So I will not buy it.

    Perhaps this points towards the general direction where society should be heading - Local economies that are less reliant on finite resources, instead of globalised economies that are?

    This will impact on the health and well-being of ecosystems generally, as we wean ourselves off our addiction to oil.
    • May 2 2012: i think the principle of buying organic over industrial agriculture still sets a precedent of better consumer practices.

      I do agree with your statement about needing to build up local economies in order to ween our society off of fossil fuels. A self-sufficient, local economy seems to me as the most logical and feasible option for directions to move society in. The building of a localized economy will also rebuild people's sense of community and willingness to do their part to make their town/city/hometown a better place for all.
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    May 2 2012: The biggest ecosystem services I can think of that impact my daily life are clean water to drink and lots of food to eat. However, the cost of these ecosystem services is only partially represented in the cost of the goods. Food costs a little more than it cost the farm to produce it, but is factored into those costs? I think we should pay more for ecosystem services so the cost of the good or service reflects the environmental cost to utilize that service. In the case of agriculture, we pay for the land the food was grown on, the cost of seed and fertilizer and equipment to harvest all the goods, but we do not directly pay for the effects of agricultural runoff or deforestation. These costs are not included in the monetary value we place on economic goods, but they have great impacts on the global economy and environmental well being. The real cost of producing corn should include the loss of biodiversity due to mono-cropping as well as the algae blooms and dead zones that result in the death of fish and loss of fishing revenue. While loss of fish and therefore profit for fishermen may be relatively easy to calculate in terms of economic loss, other losses are not so straightforward but just as important such as the loss of medical potential through deforestation in the Amazon. While this is difficult to put a price tag on, it seems that cost is the only thing that we respond to as a consumer culture. If products reflected their true environmental cost, perhaps then there would be a greater response to innovate new ways of meeting environmental and human needs.
  • May 2 2012: When it comes to the consumption of organically grown produce vs. non-organically grown produce, I generally buy organic. This reason is not only due to the ecosystem services that may be provided by growing products this way, but also due to the fact that pesticides used in non-organic farming can cause certain health problems. I find that when I eat certain types of fruits, it is more common for me to experience some type of allergic reaction to non-organically grown fruits than organically grown. Wheather this is due to the types of pesticides used in the growth process is unknown to me. Organic produce is also usually grown more locally which is beneficial to our communities.
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    May 2 2012: Personally, I can't be bothered to pay the extra cash for organic produce. It's really a matter of convenience as opposed to health or ethics for me. My personal shopping habits aside, I question organic farming's benefit towards ecosystem services. I don't see any evidence that proves that a USDA sticker will improve an ecosystem. I have to agree with some of the earlier posters who say that locality is more important than general organic status.

    I think I would be more open to paying for cultural ecosystem services like trees and parks. Services like these have a larger and more personal effect on my daily life. I don't think about things like pollination often, so it's hard to put a price on it or even know who to start paying.
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    May 1 2012: Honestly as a college student paying off student loans, I shop for my food based on price. Unfortunately, if I were to only buy organic or locally grown food (which occasionally local food is as cheap as imported), I would either be paying a lot more than I would normally, thus increasing my loans and interest, or I would have to cut down on the amount of food I would be able to buy (which I would not prefer). I would love to be able to support the local economy and not pay for the shipment of the food across the nation, but I cannot. Besides food, another ecosystem service I rely on is water, whether it be for drinking, cooking, brushing my teeth, washing my car or showering. I do not know what I will do when the day comes that clean water is so scarce and limited.
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    May 1 2012: Living in Eugene, I feel like ecosystem service are available every single day just by going outside. For me the beauty of living in such a green place with clean air is a huge ecosystem service Eugene provides for me. Running along the river trail constantly reminds me of the happiness that nature brings to me and brings me to the realzation that I would never be able to live in a built up city.

    When it comes to organic food, being on a students budget makes it a more difficult decision for me to buy organic or not. I was raised on organic foods and so I know the benefits and the disadvantages to eating produce that has been coated in pesticides but sometimes I cannot afford to buy all organic foods. I do however buy some organic foods, I just have to pick and choose which organic foods have more value to me. For example, although it is thought it is unnecessary to buy organic produce that have rinds,like oranges and bananas, since you peel the outer layer off, I still buy organic bananas because of the impact the pesticide bags they use on commercial bananas have on coral reefs and the oceans. I think that with education people may start to buy more organic food. Also as time progresses and organics become more common prices have started to come down so this may also entice more people to buy organic.
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    May 1 2012: Pay what? But above that, pay whom? then, there is "Pay with what?" Trying to tie money to ecosystems is a kind of fraudulent idea that comes from thinking that money is a parallel to ecosystems... which is not. So that makes the whole topic sort of twisted... trying to put a square peg into a cylindrical hole....
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    May 1 2012: I wouldn't at all mind pay an extra 10cents for my apples if it means helping protect the environment. If you think about it, it's like just having everyone donate 10cents to help save the ecosystems that industrial farming has destroyed. So if you think about it the food doesn't really cost any extra it just helping fund the restoration of our natural ecosystems.
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    May 1 2012: Before now I had never thought about the link between ecosystem services and organic farming. Now that I think about it, it does seem that the two are closely related. Most people when they think about buying organic think about those movies that we all have seen, such as Food Inc, that tend to "scare" us into buying organic. After watching where exactly much of our food comes from, many spectators want to help farmers and animals by buying organic. However, I think that the idea that organic farming has major benefits for our ecosystem is one that is often overlooked. While I think that the public should be educated about ecosystem services and how organic farming can benefit them, I can't help but wonder if the general public would even care. I think that most people tend to make changes in their lives if it is going to directly benefit them. People buy organic fruits and vegetables because they don't want to ingest harmful pesticides. But what about the benefits for the ecosystem that organic farming provides? I have a hard time believing that would have any effect on the majority of the American population.
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    May 1 2012: I agree with the comment that people do not buy organic products due to its contribution to ecosystem services. I think that as far as organic goes, in most parts of the United States, it is merely a trend. The few people that you ask of why they buy organic produce usually say something along the lines of pesticides and it being "healthier". However, anyone can sit in a restroom and watch around half not wash their hands after using the restroom so for those same people to complain about pesticides on their food just goes to prove that it really isn't about them caring about the health of things on the surfaces they eat since once they grab that organic fruit it is now still in some way contaminated. Yes, organic food does contribute positively to ecosystem services but to really promote and to increase the consumption of them, I think that it must be marketed as a popularity trend rather than for its actual benefits since most people who buy them are oblivious to them.
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    May 1 2012: Before I took this biodiversity class, I never know what ecosystem services were. And I never thought about the organic products in this way before either. I knew organic products were good for the environment but a little over priced, so I never bothered with them. However, since this class, and learning about the impact us humans have on biodiversity and how important biodiversity was for this planet, I have considered doing my share of work to protect this planet. It was hard for me to think of ways to make a good impact, but this is a way. Its never about making a big impact from the start, but more about making incremental changes at a time and watching them pile up. Nevertheless, the money aspect of this is a factor. I believe this is a good way to help protect Earth's biodiversity, but because it is slightly more expensive than the regular products, it is only limited to the people that can afford it, therefore limiting its potential impact. I would pay extra for organic products that serve as a way that conserves biodiversity, but to increase its impact, I think it would be beneficial to make it more accessible by lowering the cost.
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    May 1 2012: Yes, i feel that it is just fine to pay some extra cash on the organic food we eat. As the organic food is quite healthy it also protects us from various viruses and bacteria in some way or the other and also the fact that it doesn't have harmful pesticides. So i would prefer to go with organic food. To promote it we can't do much but ya we can inform our near and dear ones about the ill effects of the conventional food and try to pursue them to buy organic foods.
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      May 1 2012: You realise there are no scientifically performed studies that show any health benefits from organic produce. It's like the fresh verses frozen arguement. When they actually did the studies it was found that frozen vegetables retain more vitamins than fresh as the low temp prevents oxidation of the vitamins.
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      May 2 2012: The health impacts of organic foods vs conventionally grown are often the deciding factor when making the choice at the store. The Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/organic-food/NU00255) goes over some of the differences between organic and conventional methods.
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        May 2 2012: This link also states that there are no confirmed health benefits from eating organically grown food.
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          May 2 2012: Very true. People often think that there are health benefits given the absence of many chemical pesticides. The article states the differences that lead to said assumptions.
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    May 1 2012: For me personally I try and buy organic as often as possible, generally because organically grown produce has a better taste which is the most important thing for me as I'm an avid cook. However I agree with Lisa who commented below that it is not a prudent choice in facing the world hunger issue. I think that improving and implementing more organic practices on our conventional crops could do a great deal of good in improving soil and ecosystem quality. I also believe that providing people living in urban settings with community farms where they can grown their own produce and trade it locally could also be a great way to get people involved in this discourse about ecosystem services and it promotes people eating healthier and being active.
  • May 1 2012: One example of an ecosystem service that I, and everyone else, use everyday is nitrogen fixation. This is the process by which atmospheric nitrogen is turned into ammonia by bacteria. This service is essential for providing the biologically available nitrogen required for amino acid synthesis. Although we do not have to pay for this service it is a service that would be worth paying for. Thankfully, these bacteria are thriving and we will probably never have to pay for this service.
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      May 1 2012: Mat, I'm glad that you brought up microbes and how they play an invisible, yet significant role in our day to day lives. To take your example of nitrogen fixation as a service a bit further, microbes also thrive in our bodies as their ecosystem. Microbes seem to be so tiny and easily forgotten because most of us take them for granted and are unaware of what it is they do despite their presence in everything. These services, aiding in digestion, keeping harmful microbes off our skin, and nitrogen fixation, among other things are great ecosystem services. You mentioned that they are worth paying for, how would you place a value on these services they provide? And what would you be willing to pay?
  • Apr 30 2012: Nature provides so many services, and in such complex overlapping ways, that it is extremely difficult for me to identify any one that I consider more important or valuable than the others. I would consider the ability to sustainably provide clean air, water, and food to be the most essential ecosystem services for humans, but different ecosystems have very different ways of providing these needs and we need to preserve this diversity to be prepared to meet our needs, whatever our future environmental conditions may be.

    As a consumer, it is often difficult to balance our ideals and our budget. I would like to live off solely organic food, which internalizes the costs of many negative externalities caused by industrial food production, but there are many times, that due to my budget constraints, I simply cannot afford to do so. Education is the main way to increase peoples awareness of ecosystem services and get more people involved in their protection.
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      May 1 2012: I think you bring up a great point, Billy. Education is really the best way to get the word out about different, more sustainable practices or just ecosystem services in general. What do you think the best way to get people educated would be? Is there an age limit to the education, or just a modified way of reaching older audiences who might be more resistant to changing?
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    Apr 30 2012: Nature as a whole is what I value most. Whether that be the production of food that comes from nature, or whether that be the extraction of small amounts of individual allergens, such as small amounts of different types of pollen, dust and even bee extract. The small amounts of individual allergens kind of holds a high value for me specially in the spring and summer. Extraction of these allergens is what makes it so many can breath in the morning since they are extracted and placed into vials and injected depending on ones individual allergies and needs. So right now, nature as a whole contributes to the extraction of allergens to help individuals thrive.
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    Apr 30 2012: The outdoors in general is what I value most at this point in my life. Being able to explore the wilderness and gaze upon some of the most beautiful views nature has to offer. Having the privilege to set foot in a domain completely new to me, sparks this excitement and happiness that is much harder to find living day to day in society. Nature has the power to make me feel comfortable and act like a complete kid again. Without the connection between society and nature I believe sanity could very well be lost. If it does not exist in everyone already, one day I hope everyone appreciates the outdoors.
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    Apr 30 2012: More than whether a product is organic, I look to see its provenance. I might be more inclined to buy blueberries from Oregon, but not organic, than organic blueberries from Chile.

    I think a recurring problem with marketing-based attempts of the "garden (grocery) variety" aimed at increasing environmental awareness is the continuous tug-of-war going on between transparency and the opaque. Without a laundry list detailing exactly how much fuel is burned to transport, how much pesticide is sprayed, the habitat destruction/amelioration which takes place (so long it begins to look more like a script for a computer program than a simple grocery list), I will always be doubtful whether something labeled "Organic" is actually better for the environment than something not labeled so. I can feel reasonably confident that an Organic will be better for my personal health, but to what degree?

    I think this is why many people don't recycle. Some (many) people just don't think or care about recyling, while some (many) people simply do not know whether their good will be put to good use. This is why many people don't donate to charitable foundations. They do not trust that their good faith will remain untarnished, not be shunted to a corrupt or disingenuous leadership.

    What we are doing now with labeling, I think, is marginally beneficial for the environment, but is tremendously beneficial for the mind of the general populace -- as, whether or not we are improving the environment by tiny steps or leaps and bounds, we are getting more people to think ecologically. Will the tortoise or the hare win?
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    Apr 30 2012: In order to emphasize the importance of "organic" a proper definition of the term is required. Like Rishi stated earlier, there are varying degrees of organic that don't necessarily fulfill what most people envision when they think organic. I think more emphasis should be placed on eating locally and seasonally. By eating locally one would reduce the carbon emissions inherent with shipping food from place to place. Eating seasonally reduces emissions by not using energy to force a plant to fruit went it isn't meant to.
    In the book "The Omnivores Dilemma" Michael Pollan describes how the organic farming movement has shifted from what was first an anti-industrial movement, to farms that now implement industrial agriculture techniques. Although the ideology behind organic farming emphasizes the importance of the environment, the term as used in grocery stores does not detail the level to which the farmers actually use organic farming methods.
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    Apr 30 2012: The "organic" terms like organic produce, organic farming ect. bug me to no end. Not only are they terribly scientifically inaccurate(as if only "organic" produce is made of carbon, and the term organic farming doesn't even begin to make sense), but also because I think it does a terrible job of conveying what it's supposed to mean. I myself had very skewed perceptions on what organic farming meant until I had to do a project on it last year. I've heard many people who think the difference between organic and non-organic produce is whether or not it's grown on a farm, which basically means they have no idea what the issue is to begin with. And as others have said, the actual definition for what qualifies as organic is vague if it can even be called a definition. I understand the usefulness of having a marketable buzzword but, well, marketing and misinformation tend to go hand in hand.

    As far as how I use my use my personal "voting dollars"...well, I must admit to being an incredibly stupid consumer. If I want a product, I basically just grab the first version of that product I see/can find, and this applies to food as well. Sometimes that does happen to be organic food, sometimes it isn't. Obviously that doesn't reflect very well on me, but there it is.
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    Apr 30 2012: Although I am a supporter of organic farming, I do not fixate on the organic label when shopping. There are a couple items I always buy organic, such as milk and eggs, but this is due to my personal taste preferences along with the health factor. My minimal student budget is probably the main reason I am not a bigger financial supporter of organic foods. In my daily life, the ecosystem services that I value most are cultural. I am more than willing to pay entrance fees at state and national parks, campgrounds, and recreation areas. Strolling on the beach with my dogs is priceless, and there is nothing like a good hike to a backcountry lake to sit on the peaceful shore and fish. If a price were to be put on the cultural ecosytem services, I would probably pay it.
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      Apr 30 2012: I'm glad you brought up cultural ecosystem services, it's rare that people look at that as a contribution. I'm from California and there has been a cut back on state and national parks funding, causing some of the less popular parks to close. What do you think are ways to keep these parks open? Marketing or capitalizing on the benefit people get from being outdoors?
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      May 1 2012: I think I also value cultural ecosystem services most highly. While it is true that many are required for survival, like clean air and water, without the mountains and lakes and the enjoyment I get from being in nature, I might as well not be surviving. Nothing relaxes me more then being in the middle of nowhere and seeing nature at it's finest, the further away from the touch of man the better. A high price tag on these would be acceptable to me, although I do already pay for some of this with park passes.
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      May 1 2012: Cultural ecosystem services are important to me as well. Being able to go out into natural areas is important to me because I generally feel much more relaxed after going to a national park or recreational area. I personally think the cost of maintaining trails and recreational areas is well worth it since I get great benefit from these areas. For parks that aren't funded very well, I believe volunteers are important for keeping those parks open. Given some of Oregon's budget problems, it will be important for locals to volunteer and maintain these parks.
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    Apr 30 2012: There are many ecosystem services that I value, such as purification of air and water, recreational purposes, providing food, and the list goes on and on; but I am not sold on the "organic" craze. Far too many people think they are doing the world a massive favor by buying anything that claims to be organic, and I am not convinced it is actually doing much good. Here is a short article from Scientific American that just gives a few things to think about as far as Organic goes, and shows that it may not be all its cracked up to be: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/science-sushi/2011/07/18/mythbusting-101-organic-farming-conventional-agriculture/
    Then perhaps what I dislike most about organic (and what is addressed in the above article), is that even if it is moderately better than conventional farming in some ways, it does not yield anywhere near as much food as conventional farming. If all agriculture were to switch to "organic" then malnutrition rates in the world would skyrocket, and they are already far too high. Yes, conventional agriculture is not without faults, but I would prefer continually working on things such as genetically modified foods and other scientific advancements to try and improve it rather then switching to organic which is only better at very small scales at best. I prefer to try and help people on a larger scale.
    • Apr 30 2012: I agree with you that small-scale "organic" farming is not a good choice for people and countries who are trying to feed the world's poor and undernourished. However, I think that many GM crops are genetically modified to resist the wrong thing; for example, why is there corn modified to resist being sprayed with gallons of round-up, when it could be modified to resist the pest that the round-up is being used to kill? Although I do think that there is a need for GM crops now that there are so many people in the world who need to be fed, implementing more sustainable, "organic," agricultural practices, even ones as simple as planting multi-species hedges to separate a giant crop monoculture into sections and encourage biodiversity growth in the fields, would make a big difference in the output of our provisioning ecosystem services. If such changes could be implemented only by non-farmers paying (taxes) to get them going, I would definitely pay. It is extremely important that our agricultural practices, which are vital to sustaining the human population, are as integrated into ecosystems and promote the greatest biodiversity within them that is possible.
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        Apr 30 2012: Roundup is a herbicide used to stop weeds growing in the corn crops. It would be hard to GM a corn crop to kill weeds themselves