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Humans trading short-term food production for long-term environmental losses

Your breakfast this morning came at a cost not only to your wallet. Your bowl of Cheerios and cup of coffee and all the other meals for the other 6 billion people in our world cost the Earth a bit of its water, a bit of its ecological diversity, contributed to its pollution and may one day cost us our livelihood.

In the Julu 22, 2005 issue of the journal Science, co-author Terry Chapin, professor of ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Institute of Arctic Biology (IAB), and colleagues point out that modern land-use practices may be trading short-term increases in food production for long-term losses in the environment's ability to support human societies. Part of the solution, according to Chapin, is the students in UAF's Regional Resilience and Adaptation Program (RAP).

Local land-use practices such as clearing tropical and boreal forests, practicing large-scale agriculture, expanding urban centers and intensifying farmland production are so pervasive their effects are now observed globally. Fertilizer use, which has increased 700% in the past 40 years, and human-caused atmospheric pollution now negatively affect water quality and coastal and freshwater ecosystems. Biodiversity is lost due to modification, fragmentation and loss of habitats, soil, and water, and exploitation of native species. Land-use practices play a role in changing the global carbon cycle, and possibly, the global climate.

The key to resilient and sustainable land use, according to the paper's authors, is closer collaboration between scientists and practitioners linking, for example, ecologists and land-use planners, climatologists and architects, and entomologists (insect scientists) and physicians and the development of land-use strategies that recognize both short- and long-term needs.

Such collaboration and long-range planning is at the heart of UAF's RAP. "We need manager and policy makers who understand the ecological, economic, pol
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Contact: Marie Gilbert
marie.gilbert@uaf.edu
907-474-7412
University of Alaska Fairbanks
22-Jul-2005


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