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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    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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