Ecosystems, economic choices and human well-being

In the past 50 years, human activity has changed the diversity of life on Earth our biodiversity more than any other time in history. These changes include biodiversity loss that harms the natural systems, known as ecosystems, which sustain all life on the planet.

The loss of biodiversity is more harmful to some people than others. The rural poor in developing countries are often hit hardest, because they are more directly dependent on the resources and services that ecosystems provide.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), the result of five years' research by 1,360 of the world's leading scientists, documents how the growing human population is depleting resources and degrading the ecological systems that provide the fundamentals of life clean water, breathable air, productive soil and a stable climate. The results are being released in a series of "synthesis reports" throughout 2005, including Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Biodiversity Synthesis (World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.) published May 19.

In this latest report, the MEA acknowledges that people are integral parts of ecosystems, "with the changing human condition serving to drive, both directly and indirectly, changes in ecosystems." At the same time, it says that changes in ecosystems "cause changes in human well-being."

Ecosystems, especially the tropical rainforests that harbor vast biological riches, provide services that clean our air and water, and provide food, medicines, energy, and raw materials. They regenerate soils and pollinate crops, regulate the climate, control floods, and offer recreational opportunities and spiritual renewal.

Ecosystem services are valued at $30 trillion more than the combined domestic product of all nations. Degrading them causes economic harm, as well as human suffering. For example, the removal and degradation of mangroves and other coastal ecosystems for development meant the loss of natural buffers to the

Contact: Tom Cohen
Conservation International

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