Friday, September 7, 2007

830 Ecological Buffers and Ecological Services

Message no. 830[Branch from no. 819] Posted by Thomas Culhane (1311520071) on Sunday, April 15, 2007 5:54pm Subject: Re: chapter 7 Adrienne

I was under the impression that the major damage was not done by Katrina itself but by the levee bursting, which was the effect of very poor planning and criminal negligence on the part of politicians. Years ago, in 1991 I think it was, I was presenting at a National Science Teacher onference in Puerto Rico and we visited what was left of the El Yunque rainforest. From the top of the hill we could see down to the ocean -- where once there had been forest and then mangrove to the waters edge there was instead development and farmland. Sadly we could see that Hurricane Hugo had devastated much of the coastline and inland areas. Our guides told us "in the past hurricanes would hit Puerto Rico, but the reefs and mangroves and forest would soften the impact so we didn't really worry too much. Now with all the deforestation there is no longer any ECOLOGICAL BUFFER to soften the blows. So every hurricane is a disaster, leading to erosion, floods, landslides and other chaos."

We then scuba dived on what was left of the reef. It was all but dead because the silt and sand from the runoff and landslides had buried it.

That was the first time I had heard the concept of "ecological buffering". Now I know how important it is in land use planning. Did you know that most floods can be completely prevented by simply keeping the tops of mountains and hills forested? It is part of watershed management. The tree cover and root systems keep the water in place and keep its flow rate slow. We call these ECOLOGICAL SERVICES.

It is as though nature were a service provider, taking care of our needs for very little money. What economists are doing now is trying to convince the public to pay attention to the dollar value of ECOLOGICAL SERVICES. This way, if a company wants to, say, remove a forest, they have to pay the cost of what that forest provides in terms of flood protection. It turns out to be cheaper to keep the forest.

I think that sometime this century enough people will understand the value of ecological services and include them in planning. This will probably happen, unfortunately, after most have been destroyed and had to be rebuilt at full cost. Once we have a spreadsheet of the costs of reforesting an area to prevent floods, and compare it to the cost of building flood control channels, we will see that Frederick Law Olmsted and his son were right in their crusades to plan our riparian development (development around bodies of water) better!

I certainly don't think disasters are inevitable!

And think of this for fun: If we invest in solar heating and electric infrastructure now, while we have surplus energy in the form of oil to make capital investments in equipment and building, do you think even the next ice age would be disastrous, given that even on the coldest days solar heating and electricity work great?

Optimistic I remain!


No comments: