Five Things Every Citizen Should Know
Updated: Aug 28, 2019
Exert from April 2019 Edition of The Lilypad
Language by Andrew Nowicki
Everyone needs a fundamental understanding of environmental science to do well in the 21st Century. In April, I wrote about the top 5 things everyone ought to know. Looking back, I would also add a #6 There Is Hope. America is the nation that brought the Bald Eagle back from near extinction, and rose to face global crisis in the early 1900s despite an economic depression. It is my hope that reading this will better prepare you to address future environmental issues as well as the crisis we are struggling to address today.
#1 Everything is Connected
Everything within nature and society is interrelated with one another.
Changes to the landscape along a riverbank can have significant impacts on
the water quality of that river. For wetlands, disturbances over a mile away
can drastically impact its ecosystem. What occurs on your property has
implications for the entire neighborhood, and vice versa. Similarly, where
there is social injustice, there is often economic and environmental injustices
#2 Ecosystem Services A healthy ecosystem provides communities with a variety of functions. These
ecosystem services don’t require dollars to operate, but removing them can
add costs to the community.
Wetlands and forests provide water filtration ecosystem services. Habitat loss
can cost millions of dollars in water treatment expenses. Other examples of
ecosystem services include: bees, who are pollinators responsible for 1/3 of
the food produced in the United States, and amphibians, which are
environment indicators of water quality.
#3 The Economy Exists Inside the Environment There is no such thing as a debate over prioritizing the economy
or the environment, because the economy exists inside the
environment. This would be like arguing whether the filling is
more important than the pie.
Growing the economy necessitates increasing our resources or
increasing efficiency through technology or utilization of
ecosystem services. If the productivity of our ecosystem shrinks,
so does the economy. An unsustainable economy is a shrinking
#4 Externalities Externality: an economic cost or benefit affecting
a third party.
Imagine if upon you could move your bills into someone else’s mailbox and they
actually have to pay them for you. Corporations and the 1% do this every day. Nearly
every environmental issue in the state originates from a failure to account for
Externalities primarily affect parties who aren’t involved in the action of creating
them. Externalities can lead to additional bills to pay, create health problems, and
add burden to infrastructure. Minority communities and low income families are
disproportionately affected by environmental issues and often bear the highest costs
of externalities as a result. Here are a few examples of externalities in our state today:
Contaminated water raises citizens’ water bills and forces residents to spend extra money on bottled water or additional filtration devices such as granular activated carbon filters or reverse osmosis systems. The groups behind the contamination expect citizens to help pick up the cost generated.
Fossil fuels are sold as a source of cheap reliable energy. Meanwhile, citizens are burdened with increased health care costs and climate change impacts. Fossil fuel companies claim that renewable energy is too expensive for the average household while they save billions of dollars of by having citizens pay for the externalities of fossil fuels for them.
Wetlands are removed from ecosystems in favor of business development, leading to flood damage and decreased water quality. The project claims to be bringing in money to the community but simultaneously expects residents to pay these added bills which the wetland formerly provided for free.
#5 The Environment is in Crisis
In the past 50 years, there have been massive declines in the diversity and amount of
living organisms on our planet. We have lost 50% of our marine life, 33% of wintering
North American birds, and continue to lose amphibians at over 3% every year. The
worst impacts of climate change and land use transformation threaten to drown
entire coastal cities, raise disease rates, decrease food production, and intensify
threats to national security. Despite all these, environmental threats are still
consistently discussed without a sense of urgency.