Sydni Rucks

This conversation is closed.

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?

  • 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.
    • thumb
      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.
      • thumb
        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.
      • thumb
        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.
    • thumb
      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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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 :)
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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....
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
    • thumb
      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.
    • thumb
      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.
      • thumb
        May 2 2012: This link also states that there are no confirmed health benefits from eating organically grown food.
        • thumb
          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.
  • thumb
    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.
    • thumb
      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.
    • thumb
      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?
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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?
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
  • thumb
    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.
    • thumb
      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?
    • thumb
      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.
    • thumb
      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.
  • thumb
    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.
      • thumb
        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
  • thumb
    Apr 30 2012: Many times when I have been shopping at grocery stores I've felt the unnerving feeling that even if I act as one who votes with their dollar for products and agricultural goods that are less environmentally harmful, on an individual scale my decision is insignificant therefore making it more worth it to spend the least. Since living in a community that supports natural processes of sustaining agriculture, much of our food is from nearby farms. In this community of a hundred or so individuals, our personal ethics and beliefs convict and motivate us to act together and help each other live in a way that is less burdensome for the world around us. It wasn't until I became inspired by those around me to develop my outward consumer choices to a point that mirrored my moral standing on such issues. It is much easier to heed value and importance of ecosystem services when you are made aware of the costs and reminded by the involvement of those around you in the promotion of a more conscious view of the resources that we exhaust. I feel that our society's inability to educate and respect the Earth's benefits manifests due to the disconnection between individuals and their surrounding community.
  • thumb
    Apr 29 2012: Since companies have been moving towards organic it feels the label is less and less clear. They use it now more of a marketing term rather than something that was grown in a more natural way. I try when possible to buy from local markets and actually know it was organic because I can speak with the person who grew the item. I like knowing the products are organically grown, but it still holds little weight when I purchase items at a store. Farming is still clearing out an area and generally creating a less biodiverse area than before. Plus not all organic farming methods are better for the environment. At this point it still takes too much effort for most consumers to truly find out where their food comes from and how it was grown.
  • Apr 28 2012: I hands down, and selfishly so, value the cultural ecosystem service. In part because of the lecture that Kate gave in my biological diversity class of which I was extremely moved by. The beauty and passion that the natural world exhibits and sparks in people is so striking. As an extremely hyper active person, usually a bit scattered, I know that being in the natural world brings me peace that I can find almost nowhere else. It is a place that we are all derived from and in brings life in a literal and figurative sense to infinitely small organisms and to itself as a single unit of a planet.

    In a way organic farming portrays that beauty of the natural world through something that man has created as a battling force with the earth. Although the farming is a beautiful way to provide for one another, agriculture has been considered the most detrimental force acting on the planet's resources. However, seeing as growing food to survive must continue, organic farming is the best alternative. I will always take that into consideration when purchasing food.
  • thumb
    Apr 28 2012: I am an organic farmer and an experimental farmer as well. I explore new ways of gardening so that apartment owners can participate in organic farming. The more that we can produce on our own the less pesticides will be used in the furture.I also experiment with non-toxic pest control.
    • thumb
      Apr 30 2012: Don, I have a question for you about organic farming. What do you know about the pesticides used for organic crops? What exactly is "organic" pesticides and do they cause the same effect as conventional pesticides?
      • thumb
        May 1 2012: Allison, I may have used the wrong term "Pesticide". I use Lady bugs to control aphids and I also use a diluted soapy wated to control a list of other problems. Believe it or not certian plants also repel pests, marigolds come to mind and also I grow tobacco (Not to smoke) in certian spots in the garden to repel gophers, cats, dogs, etc...
        • thumb
          May 1 2012: Techinically soap is a product of the chemical industry. It is no more organic than DDT. So soapy water is a no no!
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: In a world that is ever growing and expanding the scope of where one receives their food from, it is vital that our culture reconnects with the agricultural past that the founders of the United States lived in. Growing food is typically a fairly simple task provided one has the land. Since most people nowadays don't have farms or large plots of land, using more green architecture like rooftop gardens or hanging vegetable plants in one's window or in a yard is a very simple and cheap means of growing one's own food, if only just for a few meals. Instead of having a lawn, a family could install a garden in their yard which would not only provide food for the family grown on site, but also for the organisms around it. Small gardens like these don't typically need chemicals to kill weeds, etc. since they can be tended to by hand in an efficient manner. These local, organic gardens can also be beneficial in keeping cooling costs lower as gardens that replace an asphalt roof aid in cooling instead of warming a building.
    If a person can't garden though, buying locally grown, pesticide free organics is the next best option. The closer one is to the food source, the fresher it will be and the less energy will be spent transporting it. Here in Eugene, we have a plethora of local organic farms that provide much higher quality food when compared to major stores like Costco or Target and the extra price is definitely worth it.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: I believe they are worth the extra cost as long as one is economically capable. If someone barely has any money to support their family , then I think supporting ecosystem services will come last.
    For me, I know I'm a broke college students like many but good food is important to me so I do spend the extra money. One of the main factors for me is locality, I try to buy as close as home to me as possible more so than what is organically labeled. To me it's important that my food has not traveled far ways even if it was made in the most organic of ways because that is not helping local ecosystems as much as it would to buy from local farms/companies. Also, many times local companies do not have the money to make their product organic but yet it is sustainable, and a label can many times be misleading.
    • thumb
      Apr 27 2012: Locality is the most important factor to me as well. IMO when you buy locally, you are buying from individuals/companies that have a vested interest in the preservation of the local environment. Through a bit of research or a visit to a local farm, you can get a pretty good idea of the practices in use by the proprietors. Then if you use your power as a consumer to increase the value and demand of these responsibly grown local products, maybe more business will alter their growing techniques and start offering similar products/goods. This is definitely not a magic bullet for environmental conservation, but I think it's a good place to start.
    • thumb
      Apr 29 2012: I agree that cost is a major block to people who legitimately cannot afford to purchase local, organically grown foods. For people living in extreme poverty (that's $10,000 for a family of 4 per year), every extra cent could be a block to paying the next month's rent. Because of this situation, I think changes need to be made in the infrastructure of our food system in order to protect ecosystem services. Large scale agriculture and farming has a major impact on the natural functioning of ecosystems in the US and abroad. Though it won't be easy, these systems need to be changed in a fundamental way. Economic, educational, and social change must occur in order for us to switch to more local, sustainable food production that takes a smaller toll on the environment. We can promote small farming through tax incentives, which will in turn reduce prices and increase availability of low impact foods. Education can help increase participation in the local food market for those who already have the economic ability to do so. Such education will hopefully change social attitudes from seeing the local food movement as a "hippy" cause to one that is beneficial to all people on the planet. Additionally, we must stop seeing efficiency of food systems from a strictly economic perspective, but rather on the basis of how many people are getting adequate food and what areas are being harmed. I think there is some benefit to putting a prices on ecosystem services because companies may consider these costs as incentive to reduce large scale production. However, ecosystem services will not always outweigh the benefits of economically efficient giant agrobusiness. Companies must start to act on a global scale, considering the economic and environmental benefits of ecosystem services to the PLANET not just the COMPANY.
      • thumb
        Apr 29 2012: Another thing people who wish to eat local "organic" food need to learn to live with is you will need to be satisfied with eating food that is appropriate for the climate in which you live. You aren't going to get bananas at the local produce market in New York. Unless they are grown in a greenhouse which kind defeats the purpose of growing organically as far as minimising environmental impact.
  • Apr 27 2012: Just because something is not certified organic doesn't mean it was not grown as such. Many farmers in developing countries cannot afford to get organic certification. It should ALWAYS be the consumer's responsibility to do their research. Also, local > organic. ALWAYS.
  • thumb
    Apr 27 2012: When possible, I try to buy organic or locally grown produce, but as somebody with a lot of food allergies, my options are limited. Much of what I can eat isn't locally available more than a few months a year, so I usually buy organic frozen fruits and vegetables and make do with those. They keep longer so I waste less, and I don't have to worry about eating something before it goes bad. Canned or frozen foods may be more expensive, but they also tend to be packed soon after picking, so the flavor is pretty good. Most people snub them as an option, but if you're on a budget, they make a lot of sense.

    For other ecosystem services like water purification or pollination of plants, I think the costs would be far greater than anyone anticipates when they try to tabulate them. There's a lot of unknowns, especially involving water processes, and who is going to pay for an eternity running that plant? I worked for two summers at a water plant in Leadville, CO and the whole process of running the plant was complicated and finicky. It took a lot of man power and tons of expensive chemicals, and then you had to dispose of the sludge that came out carefully, depending on whether it had cadmium and lead in it that day or not. We were sending two or three dumpsters full of sludge to a landfill every few days, and the contaminated stuff had to be incinerated! The plants will have to exist forever, and the one I worked at hadn't been shut down since it was built 11 years ago. That means 2-4 men working 12 hour shifts 7 days a week for eternity, or until somebody plugs the hundreds of shafts, cracks, and holes in that one mountain that cause the acid leaching. What happens if there somehow aren't enough people? Modern plants require less manpower, but you still need somebody who can fix things and answer alarms. The wetlands that originally processed the snow melt off that mountain were free.
  • thumb
    Apr 26 2012: Organic farming is not necessarily beneficial toward the environment. Although it can be argued that the practice is more "natural" and makes less impact on the environment, we have to understand what it means to farm organically. First off, organic farming is not "pesticide free" in fact organic farmers often use a variety of pesticides which are simply "organic pesticides" that are made from natural ingredients. They are still pesticides which are known to contain carcinogens. Secondly, organic farming is inefficient, it takes almost twice as much land to produce the same amount of food. If we were to switch to purely organic farming we would lose lost of land which provides the benefits of ecosystem services we so desperately need. According to the Hudson Institute's Center for Global Food Issues estimates that modern high-yield farming has saved 15 million square miles of wildlife habitat, and that if the world switched to organic farming, we'd need to cut down 10 million square miles of forest. . So you state that there has been a boom in the organic foods market due to the ever-growing ASSUMPTION that organic farming methods contribute to ecosystem services, but do they really contribute to ecosystem services if they are destroying more habitats which these ecosystem services provide? So if you ask me to pay more for organic produce then I wouldn't be paying for the benefits toward ecosystem services, but toward taste, nutrition, or supporting small or local farms. But even that increase in cost is questionable seeing as taste is purely subjective, nutritional value doesn't come from how produce is grown, but more from its shelf life and how you cook it, and last time I checked General Mills owns the Cascadian Farms brand, Kraft owns Back to Nature and Boca Burger, and Kellogg's owns Morningstar Farms, none of which are small farms.

    http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/myths-organic-food
    http://www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~lhom/organictext.html
  • thumb
    Apr 26 2012: I agree with Sarah that organically grown produce is not always grown with the right ethics in mind and the transportation of the produce almost cancels out its benefit to the environment. However, I do like knowing that there are perhaps a bit less fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides being applied to our food and earth by me buying organic at the grocery store. These chemicals have been connected to negative effects on humans and the balance of ecosystems. I will continue to support the organic produce industry because it is a step in the right direction for a better method of farming that may one day be a sustainable and safe ecosystem. We still have a long way to go, but supporting this industry shows that we care about getting there. Supporting local farmers is also an important step to get to where many of us want the agriculture industry to be.

    Possibly the most important thing to consider when looking at this issue is knowing that where and what we spend our money on, shows our support for that product and how it got into our hands, by being aware of this and ‘casting our vote’ accordingly, we can show our support for change in the agriculture industry.
    • thumb
      Apr 27 2012: I love how you phrased your last sentence! It really ties in that we, the consumer, have a say in how things are grown and transported, much like we vote in elections. That was very eloquently put. Also, there have been studies done that show a marriage of farming methods is actually more effective in cutting down the negative impacts farming has on the surrounding ecosystem.
  • thumb
    Apr 26 2012: One thing to think of when buying organic food is what goes into making it organic. Just because a crop was grown without pesticides or unnatural fertilizers does that mean everything else about it was ethical and better for our environment? One example given to me in a previous class was of a Costa Rican banana plantation where the bananas were grown organically. Instead of fertilizers and other chemicals to make them grow faster they used plastic bags to cover the bunches of bananas in order to make them grow and ripen more quickly. The downfall is that often times the bags will blow off or be thrown in to rivers which harms animals downstream such as turtles.

    It is hard to come up with a right answer or even a good answer in cases like this. I think another great question would be how do you decide between local produce grown conventionally and organic produce that might have been shipped from a thousand miles away? Are the health benefits and environmental benefits of organic produce worth more than the pollution given off in transporting it?
    • thumb
      Apr 27 2012: The bags also prevent insect and fruit bat damage (in Australia anyway) so the alternative would be pesticides.
    • thumb
      Apr 27 2012: I have to agree with Sarah and ad to her argument about being aware of all agricultural practices, organic or not. While organic farming is considered by most to be sustainable in itself, one has to consider the source. For example, organic produce can be purchased at wal-mart. I'm sure Wal-mart has a sustainability program but I find it hard to believe that the source of their organic produce is designed to increase biodiversity and improve or protect ecosystems.
      Modern large scale organic agriculture uses many of the classic large scale agricultureal practices, such as monoculture, polluting farm equipment, large scale tilling etc.
      One also has to consider the transportation involved in collecting foods from a farmers or growers market. If it takes a gallon of gas to make it there and back to pick up a few days worth of food the detriments our ecosystems will be compromised in this way as well. A solution to this is using alternate transportation, such as bicycling, bus, or carpooling. Another great option is to participate in organic urban farming with the use of community gardens, front yard gardens, or vertical gardening.
  • thumb
    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.
    • thumb
      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.
      • thumb
        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.
        • thumb
          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.
    • thumb
      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.
      • thumb
        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.
      • thumb
        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.
        • thumb
          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!
        • thumb
          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?"
    • thumb
      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.
      • thumb
        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.
    • thumb
      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.
  • thumb
    Apr 26 2012: Even as a college student with a limited food budget, I find it worth the extra money to buy local and/or organic produce when the price is not wildly more than the conventional alternative. I find the added cost is worth the knowledge that my food is causing minimal (if any) harm to the environment. A less monetary "payment" I have recently been making is in consuming less coffee. For the most part, the growth and transportation of coffee beans is far from environmentally friendly. So while I love a black cup in the morning to start the day, I have recently "paid the price" of drinking less and buying only shade grown beans. There are both higher cost of beans and the metaphorical costs of going without which I find worth it to help ecosystems I will likely never visit.

    Beyond food, I pay money to transport myself across California and Oregon every year to camp, hike, backpack, and kayak. I use my car sparingly in town, finding it unnecessary to congest roads and emit more CO2 than I need to, but to escape to my favorite peaks and lakes I am more than willing to shell out money for gas. Spending time outdoors is about as spiritual of an experience as I have in my religion-free life, and I'll always be willing to pay to enjoy the natural beauty of the world.
    • thumb
      Apr 27 2012: Drew, you bring up a great point that we place more value on experiences and are willing to do more to affect the ecosystems to get to our favorite get away than we might just for food. It's an interesting concept though, to think that we are harming one ecosystem in driving to another more pristine one.