I have often thought that people sort of like the natural world as it looks nice and don’t really understand how else it benefits society. Understanding the benefits is a key issue that I think people should get to grips with as it surely would lead to more protection of our natural world. I thought in this post therefore we could look at the various benefits that nature provides.
Economic value to nature
Firstly, there is a significant economic value to nature. There are numerous ecosystem services that nature provides that if provided by humans would be extremely costly. Many raw materials that are used by industry originate in nature therefore without a healthy productive natural world they would not form or not to the extent we would like them to. Examples include timber, fish and water. We should also be aware that nature regulates many harmful processes. For example, trees are very good at soaking up water and preventing flooding. You can find more about that in a past blog post HERE. A large healthy tree of about 30 metres in height for example will consume about 50 M3 of water in a growing season. If we had to provide flood defences to replace such trees, they would be significantly more costly than conserving the trees in the first place. Supporting natural processes such as nutrient cycling, soil formation and pollination all allow the natural world to be economically productive.
Nature is our source of wellbeing
We should also be aware that nature has a significant cultural, spiritual and aesthetic value. As a keen cyclist I can vouch for this, the beauty of nature is definitely something to behold. Many people connect to the natural environment, giving them a significant sense of wellbeing. Many also attach cultural and spiritual meaning to the natural world. This value of nature is priceless and massively beneficial to humans.
People take trips to national parks and other natural areas where they will undertake outdoor activities such as hiking or cycling. While carrying out these activities they will contribute to the local economy providing jobs and income for people. The natural world therefore facilitates recreation and tourism. Everything springs from the natural world in such areas, without it the additional benefits would not occur. This reason sits closely with the economic value of nature we discussed earlier.
The importance of natural areas for scientific understanding
One benefit that people are not generally aware of is the importance of natural areas to increase scientific understanding. Scientists can use such areas to gather information and conduct research that can materially benefit society. For example, many prescription drugs consist of at least one ingredient that is found in nature.
Nature is a complex system of interdependence
We should also be aware that nature is a complex system of interdependence. Ecosystems have developed over long periods of time. Remove a species as a result of human activities then it can severely impact on others. Take the example of the hunting of sea otters off the coast of North America. Sea urchins in this area are voracious eaters of kelp, sea otters like to eat sea urchins. Unfortunately, sea otters were hunted to near extinction meaning that the kelp forests that play an important role in providing cover for wildlife and absorbing carbon dioxide, were severely depleted. Sea otters in this case are an example of what is known as a ‘keystone’ species. There are many others and without them an ecosystem can easily collapse.
I hope now you can see that nature has other benefits than, well, just being ‘nice’! It provides us with food and other materials, regulates harmful processes such as flooding. It also has a significant aesthetic, cultural and spiritual value. We also find that the natural world can be important for scientific discovery and can play a key role in ensuring the survival of life itself!
John Binns BSc (Hons), MSc, MIEMA
With over 19 years’ experience working in environment management, John Binns BSc (Hons) MSc MIEMA is an experienced environmental tutor and consultant with knowledge of health and safety management.