restricted access VI.12 Technological Substitution and Augmentation of Ecosystem Services
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VI.12 Technological Substitution and Augmentation of Ecosystem Services Indur M. Goklany OUTLINE 1. Augmenting nature’s productivity as technological substitution 2. Substitution possibilities for ecosystem services 3. Implementing technologies to replace or extend nature’s services This chapter briefly identifies some technologies that would augment or replace ecosystem services in order to reduce the direct human demand on nature. This identification is meant to be illustrative rather than comprehensive. This chapter does not, however, evaluate the net efficacy or desirability of listed technologies based on their costs, benefits, and impacts on nature. Those issues are outside this chapter’s scope. GLOSSARY ecosystem services. The benefits that ecosystems provide human beings. They include critical provisioning services such as food, timber, fiber, fuel and energy , and fresh water; regulating services that affect or modify, for instance, air and water quality, climate , erosion, diseases, pests, and natural hazards; cultural services such as fulfilling spiritual, religious, and aesthetic needs; and supporting services such as soil formation, photosynthesis, and nutrient cycling. This chapter does not explicitly address supporting services; they are implicit in the ability of ecosystems to deliver the other services. substitute (or replacement) technologies. Technologies that wholly substitute for some facet or portion of goods and services that ecosystems provide for humanity. technological augmentation of ecosystem services. The increase, through technological intervention, in the production of goods and services that nature provides. By helping fulfill humanity’s needs while limiting its direct demand on nature, such augmentation substitutes for natural inputs from ecosystems . technology. Both tangible human-crafted objects or ‘‘hardware’’ (such as tools and machines) and humandevised intangibles or ‘‘software’’ (such as ideas, knowledge, programs, spreadsheets, operating rules, management systems, institutional arrangements, trade, and culture). 1. AUGMENTING NATURE’S PRODUCTIVITY AS TECHNOLOGICAL SUBSTITUTION Nature once produced virtually every service, good, or material that humanity used. It supplied all food, fiber, skins, water, and much of the fuel, medicines, and building materials. Over time, human beings developed technologies to coax more of these services from nature, often at the expense of other species. Agriculture and forestry increased the production of food, fiber, and timber. Human beings also developed animal husbandry , commandeering other species to serve their needs for a steadier protein diet and for fiber and skins for bodily warmth and protection; to do work on and off the farm; and to transport goods and people. Gradually at first but faster in the past century, technological substitutes were developed that reduced human demand met directly by nature’s services. Thus, synthetic fiber today limits human demand on nature to provide for clothes, skins, and leather; vinyl, plastics, and metals reduce reliance on timber for materials; fossil fuels—themselves products of nature—and nuclear power reduce pressures on forests and other vegetation to provide humanity’s energy needs; synthetic drugs reduce harvesting of flora and fauna for lifesaving medicines; and fossil fuel–powered machines and telecommuting increasingly substitute for animal and human power. Nevertheless, population and economic growth continue to increase aggregate demand for most ecosystem services, and the adverse impacts of substitutions may compromise many ecosystems’ abilities to provide other services. The term technology as used here includes tangible human-crafted objects or ‘‘hardware’’ (e.g., tools and machines) and human-devised intangibles or ‘‘software’’ (e.g., knowledge, programs, spreadsheets, operating rules, management systems, institutional arrangements, trade, and culture) (Ausubel, 1991; Goklany, 2007). There is substantial skepticism, reinforced by the Biosphere 2 project’s costly failure, about technology’s ability to adequately substitute for ecosystem services (Daily et al., 1997). Nevertheless, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment acknowledges technology’s role in helping to meet human demand, particularly for provisioning services such as food, while recognizing that adverse impacts accompany these technologies (MEA, 2005a, 2005b). Recognizing this, Palmer et al. (2004) suggest the use of ‘‘designer ecosystems’’ to reduce humanity ’s load on nature. Noting that designed ecosystems are imperfect ecological solutions and may not pass muster with many conservationists and ecologists, they recommend their use as part of a future sustainable world to mitigate unfavorable conditions through a ‘‘blend of technological innovations, coupled with novel mixtures of native species, that favor specific ecosystem functions’’ rather than as full substitutes for natural systems (Palmer et al., 2004). Indeed, although technology may occasionally wholly substitute for nature’s goods and services, it will more frequently enhance their production. Because augmentation of nature’s productivity reduces humanity ’s direct demand on nature, it is appropriately viewed as...