Years of industrial and agricultural growth have left an indelible imprint on many formerly vibrant U.S. ecosystems. While nature is adept at resilience, the depletion and contamination of natural resources, especially water, may affect human health and wellbeing, a new report suggests.
Released last week by the federally funded environmental think tank The Heinz Center, The State of the Nation's Ecosystems offers what the authors consider the most comprehensive look at countrywide ecosystem health.
Following a similar report the center published in 2002, the new analysis was expanded to include additional indicators, such as invasive species, carbon storage, and stream flows. Yet the report's authors do not hide the fact that data gaps prevent an even more detailed assessment. "We don't have the entire environmental picture," said Thomas Lovejoy, president of the Heinz Center. Authors called for federal and state action that would strengthen and integrate environmental monitoring.
Among the findings, U.S. freshwater resources are being continually depleted and polluted. Between 1960 and 2000, freshwater withdrawn for consumption increased 46 percent. Meanwhile, drought and melting glaciers have reduced the flow of many water sources.
Contaminants, such as pesticides, fertilizers, and medications, have been detected in "virtually all" freshwater streambeds, the report said. Streams are contaminated above benchmarks set to protect aquatic life in 57 percent of farmland and 83 percent of urban and suburban areas. These pollutants have contributed to growing "dead zones" where aquatic life cannot survive.
Contaminants at concentrations above the benchmark for human health are found in 7 percent of urban and suburban streams. Nitrate, a runoff of agricultural fertilizers, exceeds federal drinking water standards in 20 percent of farmland groundwater wells.
"When we find barren lands and depleted water, it's a bad sign of our job as stewards," said Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation. "What happens to nature, happens to humans."
On a more positive note, many ecosystems, especially forests, have remained intact due to conservation and sustainable management. Timber growth has exceeded harvest - half of U.S. timberland is younger than 60 years old - which has allowed forests to store more of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in recent years than a decade ago.
However, wildlife within those ecosystems faces widespread threats. One-third of native plant and animal species, excluding marine species, are at risk of extinction. Global warming is shifting the climate outside the threshold that many native species can tolerate, which provides an advantage to invasive species that have more general survival requirements.
Invasive species are also out-competing native species for resources. More than half of U.S. freshwater watersheds contain at least 10 non-native fish species, and only two watersheds have no reported invasives, the report says.
Data gaps mentioned throughout the report include area measurements of several ecosystems, such as wetlands, seagrasses, and lakes, and of the rate that various ecosystems are being converted into other uses. The report also says that biodiversity and pollution data are inadequate for marine ecosystems. "The field of environmental research is fraught by extremes of political advocacy and inadequacy of scientific data," said William Clark, the chair of the project design committee and an ecology professor at Harvard University.
To address the lack in data, which will be an ongoing challenge as climate change continues to alter habitats worldwide, the White House announced a plan to develop a new set of national environmental indicators. After several attempts to impede climate change reports throughout the current Bush administration, executive offices plan to consolidate water quantity and quality indicators, which would measure the effect of climate change.
A report published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday expressed similar support for environmental indicators. In this case, the agency said climate change thresholds should be established for individual ecosystems to improve climate adaptation plans. "Understanding where thresholds have been exceeded in the past and where (and how likely) they may be exceeded in the future allows managers to plan accordingly and avoid tipping points where possible," the report said.
The Heinz Center recommended that Congress establish a national system of exhaustive environmental and natural resources indicators. "Once we have a decent system of monitoring what the current system is, we can become much better at predicting what the future is," said Robin O'Malley, director of the center's environmental reporting program.
Tim Keeney, deputy assistant secretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, represented the administration at the report's launch. "I didn't come to endorse the recommendations wholesale, but a lot of the recommendations make sense," he said.
This is a very well written and informative article. I enjoyed reading it very much.
My suggestion regarding fresh water is to consider purchasing an atmospheric water generator to supply your drinking water.
No more need for bottled water, or risk of contaminants in your tap water. It dehumidifies and purifies the ambient air environment. They are energy efficient, and the cost on average is 10c per gallon to make. Moisture in the air is constantly replenished via the hydrological cycle and this is an unharvested source of clean,fresh water.
There is plenty of evidence to indicate "global ecosystem stress" due to BIG COAL, BIG OIL and BIG TRAVEL (ie, FAT-CATS in PRIVATE JETS)
At the Height of an Energy Crisis, Fat-Cat CEOs Still Litter the Skies with Private Jets
By Chuck Collins and Sarah Anderson, AlterNet. Posted June 28, 2008.
If shareholders, corporate watchdogs and consumer groups would like to know just how weak the oversight of corporate management is in America, they need to check out the abuse of corporate jets.
The private jet industry has more than doubled its sales in the past five years, and corporate executives form the backbone of its clientele. In addition to legitimate business trips, many executives and their families have access to the company jet for personal use, an expense picked up by their companies’ other stakeholders, including shareholders and employees. And the rest of us pay a price in diminished air quality as a result of these heavily polluting jets.
Private jet owners probably have noticed that wholesale fuel prices have increased 418 percent over the past five years, adding $5,000 to a Gulfstream jet flight between New York and Los Angeles. But this is small potatoes for a high-flier who shelled out 10,000 times that amount or more to buy the plane in the first place. At a time when both major-party presidential candidates are vowing to give shareholders greater influence over executive compensation, the private-jet perk deserves special attention.
Stakeholders now can get a better look at jet usage among corporate titans, because new rules require the disclosure of all perks valued at more than $10,000. Personal use of corporate jets was the most common perk among 386 of the largest companies on Standard & Poor’s 500. A Corporate Library study found that more than half of the 215 companies surveyed allowed or required executives to use company aircraft on personal trips, with a median cost to shareholders of $182,929.
The companies with the highest fliers include Abercrombie & Fitch, which gave CEO Mike Jeffries $1.4 million worth of corporate jet time over the past two years, and Starwood Hotels, which spent $866,178 in 2006 flying CEO Steven Heyer back and forth between his Atlanta home and corporate headquarters in New York.
Sometimes it’s the CEOs’ relatives who benefit. Tyson Foods Chairman John Tyson is allotted 120 hours per year of corporate jet time, which he can parcel out to friends and family whether or not he accompanies them on the trip. In 2007, Qwest Communications ponied up several hundred thousand dollars so that new CEO Edward Mueller’s wife and stepdaughter could use the corporate jet to commute between Qwest’s Denver headquarters and a home in California.
It’s the norm these days for the largest firms to require CEOs to use private jets for all travel, including personal vacations, citing concerns for their executives’ security. New York University School of Business professor David Yermack says this arrangement “is like telling the CEO: ‘We insist that you eat at a five-star restaurant for your own nutrition, and we insist that you drink $800 champagne for your health.’”
When corporate boards are approving such outrageous perks, you have to wonder what else they might be signing off on. Indeed, in virtually every recent case of corporate corruption, private jets have played a role. Countrywide Financial’s Angelo Mozilo, under investigation for his role in the subprime mortgage meltdown, threatened to resign in 2007 unless the company let his wife fly with him and cover his personal taxes for the perk.
The private-jet perk is — literally and figuratively — a high-profile sign of an executive reward system out of control. It’s time for corporate stakeholders, including institutional investors, to intervene to help CEOs break the habit.