The Earth is a living ecosystem, all of its parts working together to maintain a stable environment – a sustainable biosphere. In the modern world, many humans live under the misconception that the Earth revolves around them, the truth is far from this and if this self centered world view continues, the stability of the earth’s ecosystem and climate will not be able to maintain itself. To reverse this trend, humans need to immediately and drastically rearrange priorities; instead of aiming to be the wealthiest, as a whole people should think of the best option for the whole (within reason).
This chart shows the drastic increase in Carbon Dioxide, Methane and Nitrous Oxide, three of the prominent gases changing the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere. These gases have a huge role in the greenhouse effect, which is increasing the Earth’s average temperature and in the near future could lead to enormous climate change related issues.
One interesting simulation of a community and region working together not only to improve the personal quality of life, but the well-being of the greater ecosystem is a simulation called the “UVA Bay Game.” The Bay Game is a complex network system that connects a large group of players and places them in a number of jobs ranging from farmers, to land developers, to policy makers on the east coast of the United States near Virginia. These players then make a series of decisions over 10 rounds (20 years) that will affect the their players well-being as well as the state of the region as a whole. When our SSB 2013 Class (A group of environmentally conscious, un-biased college students) played the game, we increased the overall health of the Bay and most players came out ahead in the end. We achieved this by making unselfish choices that would be best in the long run and making sustainable policy choices that promoted environmentally conscious practices.
In the real world however, the Bay Game does not play out like this. “Players” often only look out for their best interest and policies get made that do not promote sustainability. One such example the enormous amount of subsidies paid toward unsustainable farming practices. A bill passed this past summer will give 195 billion taxpayer dollars over the next 10 years to large scale farms, farming hundreds of acres of a single crop in the cheapest way possible. An organization promoting sustainable farming is the Seed Savers Exchange, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving heirloom seed varieties. Through the careful breeding and care of their farms, the Seed Savers Exchange “offers an alternative model to big agriculture” (Seed Savers Exchange) that focus on small scale farms that are able to maintain a high crop yield without using the destructive large scale farming techniques or egregious amount of pesticides. Organizations like the Seed Savers Exchange understand the value the environment and then importance of conserving the biosphere. An extensive study done by Robert Costanza and partners puts the gross national product of the world’s biosphere at a minimum of US$ 33 trillion per year, compared to the global human gross national product of US$ 18 trillion (Costanza). This puts the importance of maintaining the stability of the environment we live in perspective.
Tomato Farming re-imagined in EPCOT at the Walt Disney World Resort
To change the way we think about the human’s role in the Earth’s ecosystem we need to re-imagine the way preform standard tasks and how we can minimize the impact our daily lives have on the billions of other, equally important organisms on the planet. When thinking about sustainability and resilience, Brian Walker reminds us that we need to ” constantly reflect on what [we’re] doing and why [we’re] doing it.” (Walker 1) Over the course of Systems, Sites, and Building, we looked at a multitude of ways that the buildings we live and work in can minimize the impact they have on the rest of the ecosystem. However, even if we build the most efficient, environmentally sustainable building we still have to reflect on our work and take into account the entire biosphere and the way our actions affect the planet itself.
The UVA Bay Game
Costanza, Robert, et al. “The Value of the World’s Ecosysetem Services and Natural Capital”. Nature. 1997.
EPA. Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data. http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html
Plumer, Brad. “The U.S. Has Few Farmers. So Why Does Congress Love Farm Subsidies?” The
Washington Post. 12 July 2013. Web.
Seed Savers Exchange. http://www.seedsavers.org/
Walker, Brain and Salt, David. Resilience Practice