Protecting Earth’s Precious Ecosystems
Today we are talking about ecosystem preservation. What does this mean? Ecosystem preservation refers to the idea that we want to keep ecosystems in their current state (or maybe even improve them!) Ecosystem preservation can refer to a whole range of activities, attitudes, and policies that prevent ecosystems from being harmed or destroyed.
That probably sounds like a good idea to you, just like it does to me, since I am generally against destruction, but we should probably define “ecosystems” before we talk more about how to preserve them.
Basically, the term “ecosystem” refers to an area of the Earth which consists of a variety of species. In an ecosystem, the species interact with each other, and they also interact with the environment (and all of its inanimate components).
In short, we can think of ecosystems as semi-self-contained “bubbles of life.”
Types of Ecosystems
We can also divide ecosystems into various types, based on key characteristics of each ecosystem. To start, we can divide ecosystems into terrestrial ecosystems, which describe “bubbles of life” that are found on land, and aquatic ecosystems, which describe “bubbles of life” that are found in the water.
We can divide the terrestrial ecosystems further, based on the climate, terrain, and types of organisms that live there, into five main categories: desert, forest, taiga, grassland, and tundra. Each of these ecosystem types have very different environmental conditions, which directly effects the types of organisms (from tiny bacteria all the way to enormous elephants) that live there.
We can also divide the aquatic ecosystems further, into saltwater ecosystems and freshwater ecosystems. Each of these ecosystems have different environments, which means that different types of organisms survive (and thrive!) in each environment.
Now that we understand more about ecosystems, let’s talk about why we want to preserve them, and how we can actually accomplish this goal.
Why Should We Preserve Earth’s Ecosystems?
First of all, why do we want to preserve ecosystems? Well in general, destruction doesn’t sound so good. But more specifically, when ecosystems are harmed and/or destroyed, the various organisms that live in those ecosystems often cannot survive. This destruction has an effect even beyond an individual ecosystem, and ultimately affects all of us. Moreover, because climate change has been happening more rapidly in recent years, we have seen more and more harmful effects on various ecosystems.
How can we effectively accomplish ecosystem preservation? Broadly speaking, ecosystem preservation efforts can be divided into two main types: individual action vs. institutional/ governmental policy. This means that individuals have the ability to make decisions and take actions that can help preserve ecosystems, and that simultaneously, governments and larger institutions can make policies to assist ecosystem preservation efforts.
There are many actions that individuals can take to help preserve the ecosystem, only some of which are included here:
(1) Energy conservation:
The use of most energy sources leads to harm and/or outright destruction of an ecosystem. For example, using coal for energy leads to the production of toxic gases that pollute the environment and harm the ecosystem; using oil for energy likewise results in the production of toxic gases. Individuals can limit how much of these energy sources they use, by limiting their use of traditional cars, by conserving electricity, and by switching to clean energy sources. In this way, each individual can limit the harm to the ecosystem that occurs as a direct result of energy consumption, and can help conserve their ecosystem.
(2) Water conservation:
Individuals consume water in a number of ways, including as drinking water, as water used in baths and showers, and as water used for laundering clothing. Importantly, all consumption of water requires the use of energy, in purifying the water and in bringing it to our homes and offices. Consuming water also depletes a natural resource (water), which is not always renewable (depending on the particulars of the environment). Individuals can choose to limit how much water they use, and in this way can mitigate the ecosystem harm that occurs due to excessive water consumption.
(3) Limiting waste:
Human-generated waste requires significant energy to discard and process, and waste that cannot be discarded (like most plastics and Styrofoam) ends up in landfills. There has been a substantial effort in recent years to increase the amount of recycling and reuse of products, and limit the use of products that end up in landfills. This kind of behavioral change, which includes avoiding single-use products, limiting the use of plastics, and increasing the amount and types of materials that can be recycled, has the potential to help preserve our ecosystem.
(4) Making sustainable choices:
The three items listed above are full of things that individuals should limit – limit energy usage, limit water usage, and limit the generation of waste. But what can we do instead? One way for each individual to assist in ecosystem preservation is to focus on making sustainable choices, i.e., choices that can help preserve our ecosystems.
What does this mean practically? It can mean choosing to ride a bicycle to work instead of taking a car, or choosing to use public transportation. It can also mean choosing an electric car, which uses much cleaner energy sources than traditional gas-powered cars. To conserve water, individuals can choose to turn off the faucet when they are brushing their teeth, or choose to take showers rather than baths, because showers use less water. It can also mean that instead of using single-use plastic bags, individuals can bring reusable bags when they go to the supermarket. All of these decisions can be described as “sustainable choices,” i.e., choices that are made with an eye towards sustaining and preserving our ecosystem.
(5) Educate yourself and educate others.
It is hard to make any sort of behavioral change without understanding why we are trying to make a particular change. Sometimes even if we do understand why, it can still be hard! One way to make it easier to accomplish behavioral changes is to educate ourselves about the importance of ecosystem preservation, and about the effects that our individual actions can have on achieving such goals. Once we have educated ourselves, through reading blog posts (like this one!), listening to podcasts, talking with experts, and more – we can share our knowledge with other people! This can encourage them to make similar behavioral changes, all with an eye towards ecosystem conservation and preservation.
In addition to individual behavioral change, arguably a great impact can occur if governments make policies to promote ecosystem conservation. This greater impact can occur because governmental policies impact the behavior of large populations.
Sounds good in theory, right? Let’s be more specific. What kinds of policies are we talking about? A non-comprehensive list of such policies is included below:
Governmental Policies That Impact Ecosystem Preservation
(1) Limit the use of products that consume harmful energy.
These kinds of policies can include limiting the number of gas-consuming vehicles on the roads, imposing high taxes on gas-consuming vehicles and on gasoline for cars, limiting the production of lights that consume a lot of energy, and imposing taxes on electrical products that are not energy efficient. The government can also make policies (on the local, regional, state-wide, or national level) that prohibit people from using single-use plastic bags when they are grocery shopping, or require consumers to pay a small fee in order to use such bags.
(2) Promote the production and use of environmentally sustainable products.
At the same time that the government is limiting production and use of products that are harmful to the ecosystem, they can also provide incentives for people to use environmentally-friendly products. This can include providing tax breaks for the purchase of electric vehicles and subsidizing the use of public transportation. It may also include improving the infrastructure to enable more people to bike or walk to work, by doing things such as building bike lanes and ensuring that sidewalks are available for pedestrians. All of these efforts will encourage people, and potentially large numbers of people, to change their behaviors in ways that promote ecosystem conversation and preservation.
(3) Provide broad-based education.
Because individuals are unlikely to implement behavioral changes without understanding why they are making such changes, the government should likely be involved in educating their populations about the necessity to make such changes. This education can include advertisements, lectures, and in-school education. To be effective, the education should highlight what is so special about ecosystems, why ecosystems need to be preserved, and how behavioral changes, such as the ones mentioned above, can facilitate such preservation and conservation.
To review, ecosystems, which are “bubbles” of life, require the effective interaction of a variety of species in a certain geographic area in order to flourish. Historically, humans have been engaged in activities that harmed a variety of ecosystems. Now that we recognize the importance of ecosystem preservation, we can make a wide variety of choices that help to preserve ecosystems and their complex, highly interdependent, web of life.
Author: Mindy Levine