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River Science

Valuing Ecosystem Services

"The air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat are all available only because of services provided by the environment."

Nature, 1998

For years, economists and ecologists faced off against each other. Ecologists felt persecuted by economists, and economists thought ecologists were naive about the world.

"Thank goodness, we woke up and realized that economics and ecology are inextricably connected, and that working together can yield great insights," said Gretchen Daily, one of the world's leading ecologists and co-author of The New Economy of Nature: The Quest to Make Conservation Profitable.

This meaningful shift is changing the face of conservation. More and more, scientists realize natural systems are critical to economic health, along with humanity's general well-being, and economists realize a healthy environment is needed to sustain growth.

From this new camaraderie, a new area of study, called ecosystem services, sprang up. Ecosystem services are the things nature gives us — clean water, fresh air — for free. Floodplain rivers, for example, clean waters, while forests control floods. It also takes into account other things that are directly tied to our economies. Floodplain rivers, for example, support fisheries, while forests are essential for products made from wood.

"As human societies become more and more complex and technologically advanced, it is easy to gain the impression that we no longer depend on natural systems," scientists from around the world wrote in the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, launched by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and released in March 2005. They caution that humans are putting a strain on the Earth's natural functions.

Respecting the dynamic connection between economy and ecology drives much of the Conservancy's work, as one of the organizatio's main philosophies is that economy and ecology can thrive alongside one another. That's why the Conservancy is able to count many corporations among its array of partners.

Making this connection deeper and stronger is a critical thrust of the Great Rivers Partnership, which is bringing together experts from many different fields to ensure the best thinking is used to conserve the world’s great rivers.

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