Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Google Earth Helps Solve the Nature Equation

Energy

David Suzuki

Imagine a sleek contraption for your backyard so powerful it has the cooling effect of 10 air conditioners, quietly filters dust, allergens and pollutants, runs for free on solar power, and its only byproduct is oxygen.

Dream no longer. This elegant machine is a healthy, mature tree.

Using energy from sunlight, a tree can soak up almost 400 litres of water from the ground each day, and cool the surrounding air through transpiration. Trees absorb airborne contaminants and breathe out clean oxygen. They’re such efficient air filters that Columbia University researchers estimate that for every 343 trees added to a square kilometre, asthma rates in young people drop by about 25 percent.

What else can these handy natural contraptions do for us? The U.S. Forest Service says trees near buildings reduce air-conditioning needs by a third and, because they break the wind, save up to half the energy used for heating. According to the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture, mature tree canopies reduce the air temperature of urban areas between five and 10 degrees Celsius.

Imagine replacing these ecological services with human-built substitutes. While we can handle cooling a building, creating city-sized air conditioning that could reduce the temperature of an urban area by 10 degrees is an engineering feat that would require massive amounts of energy.

The sophisticated services that nature provides are not only misunderstood and underappreciated; they tend to be ignored in modern economics and urban planning. When a forest or wetland is converted to another use, municipal decision-makers focus on infrastructure costs, property values and future contributions to the tax roll.

We continue to deplete natural resources and degrade nature in and around urban areas, failing to recognize the contribution of ecosystem services—like clean air, fresh water and cooling—to the economy and health of communities. As The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity initiative notes, this ecological damage is the “perfect crime," a theft barely noticed. We wouldn’t let a bank get away with losing our life savings. We shouldn’t let decision-makers off the hook when they allow our natural wealth to be squandered.

Encouragingly, a growing chorus of economists and policy-makers has begun advocating for a smarter way of accounting for the true value of nature—something called natural capital economics.

Most people understand the concept of financial capital. We pay for things we find valuable. Natural capital extends that perspective to ecological goods and services. It would be expensive to develop and build facilities to replace the things nature does. So we calculate the dollar value we would have to pay if we had to provide them ourselves.

How much is our natural capital worth? According to the David Suzuki Foundation’s research, the 7,000-square-kilometre Ontario Greenbelt provides at least $2.6 billion in non-market benefits each year. British Columbia’s Lower Mainland region is estimated to be worth at least $5.4 billion annually. Global studies have estimated the total value of the world’s ecosystem goods and services to be on par with the value of the entire global economy. In short, our natural capital is a source of staggering wealth.

Why do we continue to fritter away these amazing assets, despite their immense value? Unfortunately most people don’t have a clear picture of what stocks of natural capital exist in their communities, let alone the true cost of converting natural areas for industrial, commercial or residential development.

That’s why the David Suzuki Foundation and Google Earth Outreach recently launched an online map that will allow residents and decision-makers to zoom in to their community and calculate the economic value of natural capital assets. The interactive Putting Natural Capital on the Map application allows users to select a parcel of land and find out what types of natural ecosystems it contains and what economic benefits it provides.

While economists, ecologists and decision-makers grapple with how to estimate an appropriate economic value for nature’s benefits, I am hopeful that the field will spur communities to consider the true value of their natural riches. In the meantime, I encourage you to beat the heat and keep your community cool by investing in your own bit of natural capital—a tree for your yard or park.

—————

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Communications Specialist Jode Roberts.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pangolin hunting for ants. 2630ben / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Alexander Richard Braczkowski, Christopher O'Bryan, Duan Biggs, and Raymond Jansen

Pangolins are one of the most illegally trafficked animals on the planet and are suspected to be linked to the current coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Humpback whale splashing in the North West Atlantic Ocean, Massachusetts. Tim Graham / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

In a move that environmentalists warned could further imperil hundreds of endangered species and a protected habitat for the sake of profit, President Donald Trump on Friday signed a proclamation rolling back an Obama-era order and opening nearly 5,000 square miles off the coast of New England to commercial fishing.

Read More Show Less
Pixabay

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Fresh fruits and vegetables are a healthy way to incorporate vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants into your diet.

Read More Show Less
These 19 organizations and individuals represent a small portion of the efforts underway to fight racism and inequality and to build stronger Black communities and food systems. rez-art / Getty Images

By Danielle Nierenberg

Following the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, people around the United States are protesting racism, police brutality, inequality, and violence in their own communities. No matter your political affiliation, the violence by multiple police departments in this country is unacceptable.

Read More Show Less
Residents plant mangroves on the coast of West Aceh District in Indonesia on Feb. 21, 2020. Mangroves play a crucial role in stabilizing the coastline, providing protection from storms, waves and tidal erosion. Dekyon Eon / Opn Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mangroves play a vital role in capturing carbon from the atmosphere. Mangrove forests are tremendous assets in the fight to stem the climate crisis. They store more carbon than a rainforest of the same size.

Read More Show Less
UN World Oceans Day is usually an invite-only affair at the UN headquarters in New York, but this year anyone can join in by following the live stream on the UNWOD website from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. https://unworldoceansday.org/

Monday is World Oceans Day, but how can you celebrate our blue planet while social distancing?

Read More Show Less

Trending

Cryptococcus yeasts (pictured), including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. KATERYNA KON/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images

By Jacob L. Steenwyk and Antonis Rokas

From the mythical minotaur to the mule, creatures created from merging two or more distinct organisms – hybrids – have played defining roles in human history and culture. However, not all hybrids are as fantastic as the minotaur or as dependable as the mule; in fact, some of them cause human diseases.

Read More Show Less