EnviroAtlas Benefit Category: Food, Fuel, and Materials
Ecosystems provide food, fuel, and materials
- Humans depend on provisioning services, such as food, fuel, timber, and other materials which are provided by a combination of functioning ecosystemecosystemAll living things and nonliving things in an area, as well as the interactions between them.s, human innovation, and technology.
- Ecosystems provide the conditions necessary for commercial food production as well as for subsistence living.
- The demand for these life-sustaining services increases as the population continues to grow. Between 1960 and 2000, global food production increased by roughly two-and-a half times, wood harvests for pulp and paper production tripled, installed hydropower capacity doubled, and timber production increased by more than half.1
- Productive soils, a favorable climate, and clean and abundant water resources are all essential for growing crops, raising livestock, and for ecosystems to continue to provide the critical provisioning services that humans need.
- Biodiversity underpins these services; without variation in plants and organisms, the multitude of available food crops and game species would not exist. Abundant water resources are also central to the production of energy and most of the material goods that people enjoy.
- Adequate pollinator habitat is also necessary for many types of crops.
Stressors and drivers of change
- Over the past several decades, over-exploitation of resources has been a significant stressor in many parts of the country. In some cases, over-exploitation of a resource to meet one need has damaged the resources available to meet another need. One example is sacrificing important salmon habitat for the sake of timber harvest or crop production.
- Over-exploitation can lead to soil erosion which can impact soil productivity.
- Best management practicesBest management practicesThe most effective and practical ways to control pollutants and meet environmental quality goals. BMPs exist for forestry, agriculture, stormwater and many other sectors. (BMP's) have been developed for agriculture, mining, and timber harvest to help reduce the negative impacts to these services. Adherence to BMP's can help minimize the damage to critical natural resources and lead to a more sustainable use of our resources.
- The production of commodities can be affected by many factors. For example, many crops need pollinators for successful production. By protecting or creating vegetated buffer strips, pollinator habitat can be protected. Eliminating pollinator habitats may result in the need to transport them in from other areas. Monoculture crops and timber stands yield high harvests but may be more susceptible to pest infestations, damage the soil, and require the use of more pesticides and fertilizers than mixed crops.
- Increasing populations are driving land use change, resulting in more forested and agricultural lands being converted for residential, commercial, and transportation uses. This development results in the loss of land dedicated to commodity production.
- Climate changeClimate changeClimate change refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate change may result from: Natural factors, such as changes in the sun's intensity or slow changes in the earth's orbit around the sun; Natural processes within the climate system (e.g. changes in ocean circulation); Human activities that change the atmosphere's composition (e.g., through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g., deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification, etc.) is also an important driver of change. Climate change can alter species compositions and may affect our ability to grow specific crops in certain areas. Climatic changes may also make some areas more prone to pest infestations, such as in the western U.S., where a bark beetle infestation has plagued millions of trees. Many scientists believe that drought and warmer winters have been at least partially responsible for the infestation.2
Health impacts and benefits
- Food, fuel, and other materials are critical for food security, energy resources, and a productive economy.
- There are currently over 321 million people in the United States3 who depend on the nation's natural resources for food supply and availability, among other goods. According to the USDA, 85% of American households were food secure in 2011, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.4
- The U.S. also depends largely on ecosystems for providing sources of energy. For 2011, it was estimated that roughly 35% of the nation's energy came from petroleum, 20% from coal, 25% from natural gas, and less than 10% from biomass and wind energy.5 These renewable and non-renewable energy sources, which are all obtained from natural elements, allow for the lighting, heating and cooling of homes, transportation, the production of the material goods that people enjoy, and the worldwide transport of these goods.
- The U.S. is a leader in goods manufacturing and has the highest gross domestic product worldwide, largely due to the nation's access to a wide range of valuable natural resources.
- Local food production can have unique benefits by providing high quality food, local jobs, a sense of community through farmers markets, and reduced transportation costs and environmental impacts of transporting food.
- Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis.Exit Island Press, Washington, DC. p. 5.
- Bentz, Barbara. 2010. Western U.S. Bark Beetles and Climate Change. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center.
- US Census Bureau. U.S. and World Population Clocks. Accessed June 2015.
- Economic Research Service. 2012. ERS Report Summary: Household Food Security in the United States in 2011.
- US Dept of Energy. 2012. Annual Energy Review 2011.