"Those of us who are adults will see some of the effects of current stresses on our ecosystems but it is our children who will pay the price of our drawing down of our natural capital, unless we can find ways to make it sustainable," said Gerald Nelson, a professor in the department of agricultural and consumer economics.
Nelson headed one of several teams assembled to study the state of the world's ecosystem today and construct scenarios that project 50 to 100 years into the future. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment's Synthesis Report is available now and final reports will be published later this year. (See the group's Web site at: http://www.maweb.org).
"This effort is in many ways a follow-on to the research that put the issue of global warming on the table after studies of the 1980s suggested a possible problem," said Nelson.
Nelson noted that this study looked at the environment from a human well-being perspective. In other words, how important are the services from ecosystems for human well-being? Food and clean water are obvious examples of ecosystems services but what benefits do we gain from conservation of biodiversity, marine ecosystems, and changes in climate?
"One of the first documents put out by the study noted that market-based solutions for the challenges facing the world's ecosystems are important," said Nelson. "Property rights also have a role to play. To address the problems facing the world, we need to find ways to make people realize the costs involved and that they are paying now for these problems. Then, perhaps, people will be more interested in positive strategies to overcome the problems."
And there are problems.