When I began this blog, I never set out to be the expert, but rather to lead the way to the experts--the facilitate part of my mission. And on the way there, to add value by pointing out relevance, being a 'translator', and making connections--the other key part of what I've set out to do.
Well, both of these hopefully come into play in this post. And better yet, the reference I'm about to point you toward appears committed to bringing you similar value. It's the new and ever evolving Encyclopedia of Earth, described as an "electronic reference about the Earth, its natural environments, and their interaction with society". It promises to be a lifesaver for many of us who are swimming in a sea of information the likes of which none of us has seen before.
Here's how the authors describe it themselves...
"The motivation behind the Encyclopedia of Earth is simple. Go to Google™ and type in climate change, pesticides, nuclear power, sustainable development, or any other important environmental issue. Doing so returns millions of results, some fraction of which are authoritative. The remainder is of poor or unknown quality.
This illustrates a stark reality of the Web: digital information on the environment is characterized by an abundance of "great piles of content" and a dearth of "piles of great content." In other words, there are many resources for environmental content, but there is no central repository of authoritative information that meets the needs of diverse user communities."
OK, I know this all sounds a bit holier than thou, so I dove into the Encyclopedia to explore for myself. I was pleased with what I found, even moreso when I followed the Topics list to an intriguing subject area called Ecological Economics. Here, an entry on Biophysical Economics caught my attention.
If you haven't yet delved into Environmental Economics yourself, or read the intriquing book Natural Capitalism by Paul Hawken and Amory and Hunter Lovins, suffice it to say for now that it brings us a new framework for viewing our interaction with the planet. It illuminates, among other things, important notions about the value of planetary services and natural assets--oxygen production, waste decomposition, climate regulation, water purification, etc.--and their absence from traditional global economic and business models. Environmental Economics theory and practice point the way to fundamental new ways of addressing sustainability.
That said, if the piece on Biophysical Economics in the Encyclopedia of Earth represents the quality of entries coming to us through its growing content, then it's a site to bookmark for sure. Edited by Dr. Robert Constanza, Gund Professor of Ecological Economics and Director of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, and authored by Dr. Cutler J. Cleveland, Profesor of Geography and Environment and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Studies at Boston University, it's a thought provoking read.
I'll leave you with an excerpt from the entry. It lists four points of consensus on the Environmental Economics vision, thought-provoking statements that underscore the dangers of exceeding our planet's limits...
"1. the vision of the Earth as a thermodynamically closed and nonmaterially growing system, with the human economy as a subsystem of the global ecosystem. This implies that there are limits to biophysical throughput of resources from the ecosystem, through the economic subsystem, and back to the ecosystem as wastes;
2. the future vision of a sustainable planet with a high quality of life for all of its citizens (both humans and other species) within the material constraints imposed by 1;
3. the recognition that in the analysis of complex systems like the Earth at all space and time scales, fundamental uncertainty is large and irreducible and certain processes are irreversible, requiring a fundamentally precautionary stance; and
4. that institutions and management should be proactive rather than reactive and should result in simple, adaptive, and implementable policies based on a sophisticated understanding on the underlying systems which fully acknowledges the unerlying uncertainties. This forms the basis for policy implementation which is itself sustainable."