TED Conversations

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 know how the market in the US exploits the word ecosystem but to me it has nothing in common with biological farming and the like.
    A natural ecological system can only exist without human intervention though we can learn from it and adapt our culture to it. In the end we have to do this for having a sustainable future of food produce.
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      Apr 27 2012: "A natural ecological system can only exist without human intervention"
      Really? Aren't humans natural? I would definitely consider us part of the ecosystem. Admittedly we have evolved to have immense manipulative ability over our natural environment but before technology gave us that edge we existed as hunter gatherers, having no more impact on the ecosystem than countless other species. Our technological advances can be used for good or evil (to be dramatic) and I think we are capable of change. The popularity of "Organic" food stores and the like speak to our increased awareness of our health and environment.
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        Apr 27 2012: Letitia, I think humans are a product of nature but have become independent of it and by this capable of destroying the natural system. This started out as our ancestor used fire for instance to burn the planes of the Serengeti in Keya. Later on as they domesticated goats and sheep in Iran. They turned fertile land into desert all through the Middle East and so on. Culture replaced nature and made it unnecessary any longer to adapt by physical adaptation to changing conditions. Now we can control or destroy any living thing at will which has nothing in common with any evolutionary grown ecosystem.
        Of course it’s nice that steadily more people see the danger of stupid behavior for the future and start to learn from nature how to do things in a sustainable way. Whether this is enough and not to late needs to be seen.
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          May 1 2012: Claiming that humans are not a part of the natural world due to the development of culture is like saying that someone is incapable of swimming because they are wearing a pair of goggles.

          Engineers working on the most crucially sterile projects such as space faring vehicles are obsessively paranoid about microbes finding their way into their equipment. There is no escape from other organisms, and to suggest that culture crosses ethical boundaries simply because it often interferes with existing biological processes is absurd. To even imply that ethics should exist while claiming the 'natural world' as supremely moral is a blatant contradiction. Ethics do not exist in a world without culture. Dialectical deduction does not happen between leopards and gazelles.

          I find it comical that you would submit such a damning opinion of human involvement in the natural world behind an avatar with a man wearing designed and fabricated glasses by means of your energy-intensive internet connection.
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      Apr 27 2012: I would argue that because of the economic model and exploitation of the world's ecosystems as well as us 'adapting' or 'destroying' (based on your viewpoint) whatever services or environment that existed before humanity altered it, that there is a direct connection to farming.
      We rely on food-fact. How we grow and commodify the food is a product of our economy. We place more value on things that take longer to grow or are more scarce (i.e. organic). It has been pointed out in previous comments that the definition of 'organic' is flimsy but still a step in the right direction. The evolution of our technology and societies directly affects our interaction with the environment. Frans, you mentioned a few instances where humans destroyed their environment, which led to culture replacing nature. I must respectfully disagree. I do not think that anything can replace nature since we rely on it so heavily. I think that the domestication of animals in an area would be a tragedy of the commons, where the individual seeks to benefit from a shared area, in turn dooming the group to fail. If we all try to get something for ourselves, we fail as a species. Yes, we can manipulate our environment as a means to an end, but what do we gain? My overall question is this: is it worth the cost (monetary, environmentally, culturally) to pay more for better farming methods, be it organic or otherwise, to save ecosystems and their services from permanent damage? And I do think the damage would be permanent, despite the human complex of thinking we can fix whatever we alter.
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        Apr 29 2012: The way I understand is that any ecosystem has developed over many thousands or millions of years whereas all species that participate in that system plays a role to the benefit of all in the optimal use of the available energy.
        The moment humans interfere or interact it isn't any longer an ecosystem but has become a culture to benefit the special needs and greed’s of those humans.
        Farming on a biological basis, without chemicals is necessary to preserve the natural resources for the future and to keep us healthy but to call this an ecological system is misleading for the sake of marketing.
        Despite all efforts to turn things right on all fronts the overall destruction of our natural resources has crossed the line where nature can restore itself so we can't abstain from intervention. If we follow human activities all over the world much worse is yet to come.
        Back to farming we need to avoid all chemicals to stay healthy ourselves and to avoid that we poison all that's left to grow.
        Trouble is that younger generations take things as they are because they can't compare with the situation that is long gone. If somebody from a century ago could see our world today that person would be shocked as any young person will take this as the natural status quo.
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        Apr 29 2012: I believe it is worth the extra cost to pay for better farming methods. All of the impacts of the industrial farming are very intense. From the excessive use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides to the erosion that occurs on this land. Organic farms use natural fertilizers such as other crops in the non-growing season to reduce erosion and then are tilled into the soil to add organic matter, which adds nutrients for the harvest-able crops to use as food.

        The industrial farmed crops are very damaging to the environment and also I don't think are as healthy for you, because of the chemicals used on the crops. These chemicals are damaging to us and all the bugs, birds, all the way up the food chain and in plants down wind and where the runoff occurs.
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          Apr 30 2012: Olivia, you point out some very good points. I have always been a firm believer that if the farmers have to put on protective gear when they spray the fertilizers, it probably shouldn't be consumed by people and can't be good for the surrounding environment. Thanks for pointing that out!
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          Apr 30 2012: I think it should be pointed out that many organic farmers use pesticides and herbicides. Conventional pesticides are derived from petroleum and may only need to be applied twice in a season. Organic pesticides are derived from organic matter that decays at a much faster rate. But because it decays at a much faster rate, the produce needs to be sprayed half a dozen times or more during a growing season, increasing the amount of fossil fuels used in its production, transportation, and implementation. Honestly, I think the problem lies with a very fickle aspect of our food system: the need for the "perfect" produce. In most cases, farmers don't need to spray their crops. Growing up on a farm, I've seen the effects of organic produce with no synthetic additives involved. The resulting food was perfectly fine and completely edible. It didn't sell well, however, because of the consumers intense need for an apple without a single scar on it. For chard without one sign of aphids. Despite being such a superficial issue, I think that our obsession with perfect produce is a culprit. We rely heavily on pesticides because it gives the illusion that the produce has no flaws. The product is grown in conditions so harmonious with its surroundings, no outside force could harm it. Although most people know that this isn't the case now, that was how the marketing began. Suddenly, the local apple wasn't desirable because it wasn't big enough, clean enough, or perfect enough when compared to the apple shipped from New Zealand. And now it had become the norm that all food look this way: large, clean, and packed neatly for us in individual plastic wrapping (most produce excluded).

          I don't think this problem will be resolved soon however. I think when a crisis hits the western world and people start going hungry is when the majority will look at the food system and ask "how did we let this happen?"
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      Apr 28 2012: Regarding your claim that, "a natural ecological system can only exist without human intervention:"

      This sort of mentality makes any human progress in environmental problems impossible. This makes climate change inevitable, mass pollution acceptable, etc. If we view a "natural ecological system" as something that exists only without human intervention, we doom ourselves to failure. In a world where we are structurally incapable of even accessing a solution that creates symbiosis between humans and nature, the motivation to create novel technology, to find more efficient energy, is lost.

      Even if it is true; even if a natural environment exists in its most pristine form without human intervention, we cannot fall victim to the mentality that we are incapable to creating productive change. If we do, this will create a mindset of environmental nihilism where people no longer have the motivation to search for ways to improve the niche that we occupy. The only thing worse than stagnating in inefficacy is falling into a pattern of behavior that regards destruction as inconsequential.
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        Apr 29 2012: The thing only is that we have to stop fooling our self. There's nothing ecologic in all that we can do but as you say we can put a lot of effort to find a kind of equilibrium between our needs for food and shelter and the living world around us.
        Technology we have sufficient but the political will and common understanding is by far to little.
        If this doesn't change soon we will have severe problems to face with water and climate, with diseases and famine.
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      May 1 2012: In my mind, I think the question is defining an ecosystem as a group of organisims and abiotic factors in a particular space that rely on each other. In this sense, although we do destroy "pristine" ecosystems and their corresponding services, we replace them with other services that supply us with food. I do agree that the destruction of "pristine" ecosystems is a terrible thing. Therefore we need to make man-made ecosystems, like agriculture, as efficient as possible. Agriculture methods that mimic preexisting ecosystems and use mutualism instead of pesticides and harmful chemicals are one way to make farming more efficient while having little disturbance as possible to the biodiversity of the world. If done correctly, I believe this form of organic farming is well worth its money.

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