Understanding Our Natural World
The natural environment, which includes everything on Earth like air, soil, water, and living things, is crucial for life. We know that taking care of nature is not just about keeping ourselves safe from harmful things in the environment, like toxic chemicals and pollution. It’s also about preserving the different types of life on our planet, like animals and plants, which can even help in finding cures for diseases.
Scientists have found that being around nature, like plants and animals, can make us feel better. Whether it’s looking at a garden, spending time with pets, or exploring the wilderness, these experiences can improve our physical and mental health. People all over the world love being in nature, and it’s not just because it’s pretty; it actually makes us healthier and happier.
People who care about the environment, the economy, and fairness in society often work together to make sure our planet stays healthy. It’s like a three-legged stool, where all these parts need to be strong for things to work well. But there’s another important piece: our health. To really make sure we’re taking care of the Earth, we need to include health experts in these conversations. They know how important nature is for our well-being, and together, they can find new ways to protect our planet and ourselves.
Understanding the Real Worth of Nature
The way we treat our environment has a big impact. Eugene Odum, a scientist from the University of Georgia, explained this. Right now, our economy mainly focuses on things people make, not what nature provides (Odum, 1998). We buy and sell human-made stuff using market rules, but we don’t do the same for nature’s gifts like clean air and water. We think of these as free. But this view is flawed. In the past, the environment seemed big enough to handle the costs of things like clean air and water. But with more people and more demands, this idea doesn’t work anymore, Odum warned.
Let’s think about water. When you get a water bill at home, it only covers the cost of getting water to you. It doesn’t pay for nature’s work in cleaning and moving that water. Nature uses a lot of energy from the sun to make sure we have clean water. If we had to do this job instead, it would be very expensive. We only start to value something like water when it becomes scarce, like in some parts of the southwestern United States.
This idea goes beyond water and air. We pay for things that grow, like food and wood, but not for nature’s work in keeping soil fertile and helping things grow. We also pay for finding and using minerals, but not for nature’s effort in creating them.
Because nature’s gifts aren’t bought and sold like regular things, we don’t always appreciate their real value. Odum wondered if we could use market rules to protect the environment. For instance, businesses could get tax breaks if they are kind to nature. This could help them afford the cost of not polluting. When all businesses follow the rules, our environment and our health will get better, and it won’t cost too much.
But we need to be careful. If we start selling nature’s gifts, some people might not be able to afford things they need, like water and power. To solve this, we could use the tax system to make sure everyone gets what they need without it being too expensive. This way, we can make sure nature is protected while being fair to everyone. Odum suggested that we should talk about this more to understand the costs and benefits better.
Learning from Nature
The problem of getting rid of pollution has bothered people for a long time. Factories and industries create a lot of waste, and finding ways to handle it has always been a challenge. Often, the solutions available were too expensive to use. So, what happened was not really a solution; companies just kept dumping their waste, sometimes in places where other people lived. This isn’t a real answer. Nature, on the other hand, handles waste very efficiently. It doesn’t create heaps of garbage like industries do. Instead, it reuses waste in useful ways. The key to solving pollution lies in reducing waste from the start, just like nature does.
If industries copied how nature deals with waste, they could use materials better and make less or even no waste. Businesses that find ways to mimic nature can benefit. They don’t have to worry about getting rid of waste, and they might even make money by selling or licensing their new technology. According to Robert Kerr from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, when this kind of technology is used well, companies make more money.
Right now, the rules and permits that companies follow often focus on one type of pollution at a time. For example, a company might have permits for air pollution, wastewater, and solid waste. But these permits don’t usually connect with each other. Sometimes, companies clean the air but create solid waste, which then needs to be dumped in landfills.
We need to look at pollution and waste control in a different way. Instead of seeing them as separate problems, we should understand how they are connected. Kerr suggests that we need to see the whole picture, considering how pollution and waste control are linked. Sometimes, different facilities can work together. This way, industrial processes can become more like nature’s recycling system. This change wouldn’t just be good for the environment throughout a product’s life; it would also save money. Plus, companies would start thinking about the environment as a fundamental part of their business. This new way of thinking could also make government agencies partner with industries, helping them reduce waste and pollution in a way that makes economic sense.
One company that has embraced this approach is the Blue Circle Cement Company in Atlanta. They joined hands with the Pollution Prevention Assistance Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Together, they found useful waste materials from other industries. Blue Circle now uses these waste materials to make cement or fuel. They even burn a million used tires every year, which reduces air pollution. They’re also exploring the idea of using industrial carpet scraps as fuel instead of throwing them in landfills. This project is part of a larger effort involving the Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Carpet and Rug Institute. They are finding ways to reduce waste across different industries and organizations.
The Department of Natural Resources and Georgia Institute of Technology have created 18 regional environmental networks across the state. These networks bring together representatives from different organizations. They share ideas and build relationships to use waste materials as raw materials. This effort goes beyond just manufacturing. It includes state prisons, military bases, colleges, and state parks.
By studying both natural and industrial ecosystems, environmental agencies can work better with industries, businesses, and institutions. This collaboration can reduce their impact on the environment and increase profits at the same time. The ultimate goal is to prevent waste in a cost-effective way while protecting public health. This approach, as Kerr suggests, is not just good for businesses; it’s great for our planet too.
The Importance of Protecting Nature and the Environment
Conservationists have long emphasized the need to preserve nature and safeguard natural areas by keeping them untouched and free from human influence. However, this perspective is becoming less practical because, nowadays, human activities impact most ecosystems in some way, according to Matthew Kales, Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. Almost every stream worldwide is affected by things like pollution from the air. Surprisingly, the air quality in some of our national parks is no better than in some of our cities. Essentially, there’s no place left where we can’t detect the presence of humans in some measurable way. Therefore, any solutions to environmental problems must acknowledge this reality. Any proposed solution that neglects the impact of human society and infrastructure on the natural environment will fall short. To protect the environment effectively, we need solutions that consider the entire ecosystem as a whole.
Steps to Safeguard Our Local Environment
- The first step, as suggested by many experts, is to actively and continuously monitor the health of our local environment. Developing a set of indicators for environmental health, such as biomass production, microorganism activity, erosion rates, and toxin levels, would help us establish a clear picture of a healthy environment. These indicators can serve as essential benchmarks to compare any future changes in the environment, as noted by Odum.
- The second step involves creating educational programs to raise awareness about environmental health issues, like water quality. An example of such a program is the bacteria alert network for the Chattahoochee River, run by Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in partnership with the Georgia Conservancy and various government agencies. The Chattahoochee River plays a vital role in the area, supporting navigation, hydropower, drinking water supply, wastewater assimilation, and recreational activities like fishing, boating, swimming, paddling, and walking. Recent tests have shown high levels of harmful bacteria, including Escherichia coli. Representatives from Riverkeeper and the National Park Service are conducting water tests and informing the public about the river’s safety for recreation. There’s also outreach to “subsistence anglers,” who fish for food, to let them know when bacterial counts indicate that the fish are unsafe to eat. In this case, it’s not enough to publish guidelines; the information should be accessible to all affected individuals, possibly in visual or non-English formats.
- The third step is to address pollution-related issues. To reduce waste by-products and minimize the health impacts of pollution, extensive networks and collaborations are necessary, involving industries, governments, and other stakeholders.
- Fourth, it’s crucial that our environmental decisions are based on solid scientific knowledge, as emphasized by many experts.
- Fifth, when approaching environmental health, including the creation of environmental indices, it’s important to consider the unique circumstances of each locality, as suggested by Samuel Wilson from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. What works best in the Southeast may not be suitable for other regions. Many experts also agree that local communities must work together to identify local environmental problems, devise innovative solutions, and advocate for the adoption of those solutions.
FAQs about Nature’s True Worth
Q1: What is the natural environment, and why is it important for life?
A1: The natural environment encompasses air, soil, water, and living things on Earth. It is crucial for life as it sustains us, provides clean air and water, and supports diverse plant and animal species, some of which offer potential cures for diseases.
Q2: How does being around nature, such as plants and animals, affect our health?
A2: Being around nature, including plants and animals, has been proven to improve physical and mental health. It can enhance well-being, reduce stress, and contribute positively to our overall health.
Q3: According to Eugene Odum, why is it important to consider nature’s gifts like clean air and water in economic terms?
A3: Eugene Odum emphasized that our economy focuses on human-made items, not nature’s gifts like clean air and water. Assigning market value to nature’s services can ensure their protection. For instance, businesses could receive tax breaks for eco-friendly practices, balancing environmental preservation and economic growth.
Q4: How can industries learn from nature to handle waste and pollution more efficiently?
A4: Industries can reduce waste and pollution by mimicking nature’s recycling processes. By designing products and processes that produce minimal waste, companies can save money, enhance sustainability, and contribute positively to the environment.
Q5: What steps are suggested to safeguard our local environment effectively?
A5: To safeguard the local environment, experts recommend continuous monitoring using indicators like biomass production and microorganism activity. Additionally, educational programs should raise awareness about environmental health issues. Addressing pollution-related problems through collaboration, making decisions based on scientific knowledge, and tailoring solutions to local circumstances are vital steps.