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Nature and its ecosystems provide a range of services to humans, many of which are of fundamental importance for our well-being, health, livelihoods and survival. The services that nature provides are called by scientists “ecosystem services”.
Ecosystems services include, among others:
- Provisioning services: food, water, air, raw material, genetic resources, medicinal resources, ornamental resources
- Regulating services: air quality regulation, climate regulation, water flow regulation, waste treatment, erosion prevention, soil fertility maintenance, pollination and biological control
- Cultural services: aesthetics information, recreation, inspiration for culture and art, spiritual experience and cognitive development.
Nature and Health
Nature affects human health in numerous ways. For example, trees and forests, but also the ocean and its inhabitants, help to preserve people’s health by maintaining air quality.
Did you know that there is a bit of ocean in every breath you take? In the oceans, tiny ocean organisms – called phytoplankton – live near to the water surface and drift with currents. Like trees and forests, these tiny, incredibly numerous oceanic organisms photosynthesize. The photosynthesis is the process by which living organisms such as plants and seaweeds use sunlight and carbon dioxide to make carbohydrates….to make food. A by-product of the photosynthesis is oxygen. Scientists believe that phytoplankton contributes between 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere. So yes, most likely you’re a breathing oxygen coming from the ocean right now, no matter where you are.
But nature also affects health in ways that have to do with people’s behaviour and experience. Scientific research focusing on the health benefits of nature experience has a relatively short history, however, the idea that the experience of nature is beneficial has deep roots. The text written in 1865 by the landscape architect Olmsted has been described as the philosophic basis for the creation of national parks.
It is a scientific fact that the occasional contemplation of natural scenes of an impressive character, particularly if this contemplation occurs in connection with relief from ordinary cares, change of air and change of habits, is favourable to the health and vigour of men and especially to the health and vigour of their intellect beyond any other condition which can be offered them, that it not only gives pleasure for the time being but increases the subsequent capacity for happiness and the means of securing happiness. —Olmsted
The exposure to nature can help maintain and restore focus and concentration when this capacity is overused and you feel fatigued. The ability to direct attention is the capability of focus and concentrate on one task by inhibiting and blocking competing stimuli or distraction. Intense or prolonged demands for directed attention can lead to attentional fatigue. Attentional fatigue is the decreased capacity of blocking distractions and it often results in a reduced effectiveness in daily life.
In 1995, two researchers conducted a study in a large USA University to understand if the simple action of watching at nature can help restore attention. The researchers decided to conduct this study on ca. 70 University students, because these are a group of people which is likely to be at increased risk of attentional fatigue. The researchers found that the students who had a window in their dormitory watching over a natural landscape were better able to focus and concentrate on their daily tasks than those who didn’t have access to a view of the natural world.
And what about our workplaces? In another study published in 1998, researchers have found that even just the sunlight penetration in an office has significant effects on job satisfaction, intention to quit, and general well-being. The view of natural elements through the office window was found to buffer negative impacts of job stress and have a similar effect on general well-being.
So, an action as simple as looking at nature through a window can help you restore your attention in a period in which you feel particularly fatigated, and can increase your own well-being.
On a wider angle, scientists have collected evidence of the psychological benefits of nature. In an article published by Kaplan in 1995 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, the author suggests that natural environments are particularly important for their restorative effects on people. Nature is well-endowed with fascinating objects, as well as it offers many processes that people find engrossing. Ever enjoyed a nice sunset on a desert beach? Well, this is what we are speaking about.
Also, by quoting the author “it is as if there is a special resonance between the natural setting and human inclinations. For many people, functioning in the natural setting seems to require less effort than functioning in more ‘civilized’ settings, even though the latter are much more familiar”.
It’s not a case that natural settings are often the preferred destinations for extended restorative opportunities. The seaside, the mountains, lakes, streams, forests, and meadows are all idyllic places for ‘getting away’. In this perspective, natural environments that are easily accessible offer a very important resource for people who needs to recover their attention and energy after a period of increased fatigue.
Do you feel stressed? Speaking in general, one is “stressed out” when he feels tired, pressured, anxious, exasperated. The role that natural environments play is a powerful one. Experience in natural environments can not only help mitigate stress; it can also prevent it, scientists say.
So get your walking shoes and…get out there! Getting out in the wild might be one of your best strategies for functioning correctly in your busy, frantic work life.
Is nature a legal person? Does nature have a monetary value?
If humans have rights, what about non-humans? Does nature have legal rights? What does it mean to declare nature as a legal person?
A “rights-based approach to environmental protection” is the most recent of various approaches that have been used by laws to protect nature and the ecological processes on which life depends. The rights-based approach to environmental protection can be interpreted as each human’s right to a certain quality of environment. Alternatively, the approach can be interpreted as it’s the environment itself that must be maintained in a healthy and ecologically balanced state. At present, no official international legal instrument takes this approach, however the World Charter for Nature (UN general assembly) has proclaimed the intrinsic value of nature in 1982 (A/RES/37/7).
Nature and its ecosystems are also capital assets. Despite international commitments (through, among others, the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010), global biodiversity continues to decline at an unprecedented rate. Ecosystem degradation and the loss of biodiversity undermine ecosystem functioning and resilience. At the last instance, ecosystems degradation and the loss of biodiversity threaten the ability of ecosystems to supply the flow of ecosystem services we all depend on.
We have to consider that scientists expect ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss to increase as results of climate change and of the ever-increasing human consumption of resources.
For this reason, many scientists agree that biodiversity and its associated ecosystem services can no longer be treated as inexhaustible and free ‘goods’ and their true value to society (as well as the costs of their loss and degradation) need to be properly accounted for. In a study published in the Ecosystem Service Journal in 2012, several scientists presented the results of the analysis of the monetary values of ecosystem services provided by 10 main environments (Open oceans, Coral reefs, Coastal systems, Coastal wetlands, Inland wetlands, Lakes, Tropical forests, Temperate forests, Woodlands, and Grasslands). This important study is based on local case studies across the world. In total, approximately 320 scientific publications were screened and more than 1350 data points were collected.
The analysis shows that the total value of ecosystem services is considerable, monetarily speaking. Ecosystem values were found to range between 490 $ per year provided by an ‘average’ hectare of open ocean to almost 350,000 $ per year provided by an ‘average’ hectare of coral reefs.
More importantly, the results of this study show that most of this value is outside the market and best considered as non-tradable public benefits. The continued over-exploitation of ecosystems thus comes at the expense of the livelihood of the poor and of the future generations. Scientists, therefore conclude that a better accounting for the public goods and services provided by nature is of crucial importance.
Indigenous people view both themselves and nature as part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins. It is an awareness that life in any environment is viable; this type of awareness is possible only when humans view the life surrounding them as kin. All the natural elements of the ecosystem in which you are living in become your kin, your relatives. The interactions that result from this “kin-centric ecology” naturally enhance and preserve the ecosystem itself. After all, don’t you protect your family? Don’t you do your best every single day to enhance your family life?
Nature as a legal entity, nature as a capital asset, nature as a whole, nature as kin: maybe, the key message here is that we all should start to watch at nature as a part of ourselves rather than as something outside of us. Maybe we all should watch at nature as something that belongs to us, and not as something to exploit. Maybe then, its protection will become a natural act.
DOM of Andreja Veluscek, “La Galeria Balaguer” (Barcelona, Spain) 20 January- 31 March 2017.
On Friday 20th of January, 2017, from 7pm to 10pm at “La Galeria Balaguer” (Barcelona, Spain) there will be the inauguration of the first photographic showcase of one of the two founders of the Artemis Eyes Project, Andreja Veluscek. It will then be possible to visit the showcase “DOM” at “La Galeria Balaguer” until March 31st. The pictures you have admired in this post are just a small selection of the beauty that Andreja has caught through her lens, and which constitute the “DOM” showcase. Quoting Andreja:
If asked to describe happiness, I don’t think of one particular moment. Instead, I think of the different spaces that, for me, are home. They are places that I can find again and again, almost anywhere. They aren’t places on a map, they are simply places that I am able to make mine and in which I can see part of myself. It’s the feeling of home without being physically there. With this in mind, my intention is not to depict the physical space. Instead, the intention is for the viewers to find something in these pictures that reminds them of home. Personally, the mountains are a place which help me to explain many things about myself. They are a connection to home, where the meaning of home is the pure feeling of happiness, tranquillity and contentment — Andreja Veluscek
With this article, I would like to invite you to visit DOM, if you are any close to Barcelona. I am sure you will find a little piece of yourself there.
More in general, this article is an invitation for all of us to get more in contact with nature.
I would like to close with a final quotation:
I did not want to think about people. I wanted the trees, the scents and colours, the shifting shadows of the wood, which spoke a language I understood. I wished I could simply disappear in it, live like a bird or a fox through the winter, and leave the things I had glimpsed to resolve themselves without me. — Patricia A. McKillip.