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Does cutting down a tree, kill a fish? How impactful are our actions, really?

by Ran Sommer on August 7, 2014

We know today more than ever about the interrelatedness between the various organisms and ecosystems on our planet. Unfortunately, we have been able to solidify this knowledge after seeing the cascading negative impacts in on seeming unrelated creatures and environments subsequent to humans making one or two changes in one or another. 

Making changes to ecosystems has become a major side-effect of our consumption-based society. We need materials for the variety of products that we use in our day-to-day lives, and the various components that make up our products come from our planet. An increase in wealth and population has led to an increase in consumption in the modern world, which has led to a notable increase in the extraction of our planet’s resources. This trend has led to the extinction of species, deforestation, acid rain, pollution, climate change, and the many environmental crises of our time. At the current rate of consumption, the side effects of this behaviour aren’t going away any time soon.

Although the extinction of species, deforestation, and pollution aren’t the most ideal for the place we call home, at least we get to indulge in all those products we love and need right? Wrong. While it’s sometimes less tangible than a 50” flatscreen TV, we need these species, we need this environment, and we need our forests.

Let me break it down for you.

We need the organisms that work hard to filter water, remove carbon dioxide out of the air, and produce all the food we eat. These are all 'Ecosystem Services'; they are benefits that the natural world provides to us for free; they can be further broken down into Support Services, Provisioning Services, and Regulating Services.

A healthy ecosystem will provide Support Services. These create and replenish the foundation of the earth’s biological systems - such as recycling all the compounds necessary for life, forming new soils, and producing the oxygen we breathe.

Ecosystems also provide Provisioning Services. These are raw materials that we need to survive. For example, the ocean gives us food, plants provide us with fiber for clothing, and we use fuel in a variety of circumstances.

Lastly, ecosystems provide us with Regulating Services. These moderate the many earth systems and keep them balanced and stable - plants help filter the water we drink and the air we breathe, as well as absorb the carbon dioxide we exhale (and our cars exude).

Removing aspects of an ecosystem has proven to change an area from having thousands of species to only a handful. The reason making only one change can have such drastic effects is due to the fact that the various ecosystems in an environment interrelate and depend on each other. For example, when trees that both absorb and regulate rainwater are removed from a forest, the water will now hit the land straight on, directed to the nearest stream causing erosion, washing minerals into the sea where it alters marine ecosystems and so on and so forth. 

All these “services” are provided to us by our planet, for free, to use and enjoy. Unfortunately, they are only useful to us if biodiversity exists. Biodiversity varies in every environment, and is essentially attributed as the genetic and species variation within an area. When we make a change in an environment by clear-cutting a forest, or when we overexploit for food, medicine and materials, we create permanent damage to the environment, forcing it to adapt to new conditions that it can’t necessarily survive in.

Although it may seem that we individually don’t have the ability to change this harmful series of events, the only way we can make a positive change in our environment is if we make a change in our habits. While we don’t currently live in harmony with nature, we know that we can and we should. If we begin living in a way where there is balance and coexistence between humans and the natural world, where we watch what we consume, where we are aware of and cater to our environment, we can finally begin having a positive impact on our planet. 

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