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  • Writer's pictureMDP Environmental Caucus

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

as well.

#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.

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