A Healthy Environment

Many are seeking “a healthy environment”. Pleas for “rights to a healthy environment” are common and ‘politically correct’. What is “a healthy environment”?

Many of the public who hear these pleas probably interpret “a healthy environment” to mean an environment that does not threaten or damage humans. Some institutions may also use that meaning.

But that meaning is human-centred, narrow, selfish and poorly informed. A global, functional environment is a reasonable goal but not if the only consideration is direct impacts on humans.

In the longer term – the one that will count finally – humans will be impacted by loss of many species. Not just a few selected “poster” species. Without an integrated set of green plants, as opposed to a set of plants chosen simply because they are profitable, the earth’s ecosystems will be unable to capture enough solar energy to keep the systems functioning. Without an integrated set of decomposer species, organic matter will pile up and green plants will run short of vital nutrients. Without evolved predator-prey systems, some herbivores will reach nuisance levels and will damage the evolved relationships of the plants. It has been well-demonstrated that without their habitat, species will decrease and will be lost.

How much of our policy rationalization and program funding is based on “a healthy environment” with the assumption that it only means direct impacts on humans? How much of our policy and program strategy recognizes the absolute requirement for a complete holistic environment?

Clearly we can expect changing conditions both globally and in specific geographic and cultural regions. If our ecological systems are allowed to retain their fundamental system processes – – those processes that run the system and maintain it – – then the system may be able to adapt to change. If so and those system processes can be kept running even if in new and unusual ways, the global environment may continue to support life. Such an ecological system is resilient. When impacted, it manages to retain its fundamental processes and ‘bounces back’, perhaps in a different form but still vital. Perhaps “resilient” is a better target than “healthy”.

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