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E is for:
ecosystem services

The concept of 'ecosystem services' or 'ecological services' is a way to talk about the dollar value of nature. It's all about money, and usually about the hidden costs of business and construction projects. The 'ecosystem services implications' of a project are like its tax implications. A company doesn't want to complete a project and then get a big unexpected bill for tax. A community doesn't want to get a big unexpected bill for replacing ecosystem services.

A healthy forest and a healthy soil, with plenty of biodiversity, both have a huge dollar value if you leave them alone, and they both cost a huge amount of time and money to replace if they're damaged. It may take hundreds or even thousands of years to replace them.

Damage to ecosystems and the services they provide doesn't just affect a few farmers, or a few ecotourism businesses or dog-walkers. Ecosystems are like the life support system on a spaceship. For example, it's impossible for us to produce fresh air. You know all those photographs of people in China wearing face-masks? Nature will clean the air for you - if you leave it alone.

Likewise, it's very expensive to produce clean water for a city, but a forest can clean that water for you.

And a forest doesn't just spend the rest of the time sitting around watching TV, drinking beer and trying to get free healthcare. It works hard, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Apart from producing clean water, a forest removes dust and pollution from the air, keeps tens of thousands of tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (a 10-tonne tree contains 1.6 tonnes of carbon and 6 tonnes of water), it helps provide rain and pollination for farms, prevents flooding and landslides, prevents solids from entering rivers and breaking hydroelectric schemes, and so on. And of course it has a recreational and aesthetic value, which makes the area more valuable, makes it easier to find good employees for your business, and increases the dollar value of your home.

So much for forests. Sand dunes, what do they do? Do they just laze around on the beach thinking about ice cream? Can we make them productive, make them generate wealth and create jobs? Let's put them to work - put car parks and industrial units on them, or use them for dune buggy racing, or take the sand and sell it. If we're thinking about ecosystem services, we're thinking about money. We're not thinking about the wildness of dunes, or about the dune environment for threatened species, or making a great place for local people to visit (but we do need to know that a dune area is not just a lot of sand; it has a structure which can be damaged by dune buggies or too many visitors).

With dunes, we're mainly thinking about their dollar value as "soft engineering" to protect homes and businesses from the sea. The coast is a system; change one part of it, and other parts will change in ways we won't like. The town's harbour will fill up, its beach will disappear, a sandbar will appear at a river-mouth and stop ships entering. Sand dunes take up a lot more space than a concrete sea wall, but they do the same job forever. A concrete sea wall has to be replaced every forty or fifty years. Also, when you build a concrete sea wall, you change patterns of erosion and deposition for miles around. So, if you change the dune area, will you have to spend $X00,000 every year on dredger ships to clear out the harbour? Or on those big yellow earthmovers, to protect the nuclear power plant 10 miles away? Or to move sand and stones to where the town's beach used to be? This is called 'beach replenishment', and it shows that the politicians and planners got it wrong.

p.s. We're talking about 'ecosystem services' or 'ecological services'.
'Environmental services' is usually just a polite way to say "the waste disposal industry".

Ecological services, river and forest
to exploit

Some words have 'negative connotations'. In other words, they make you think about bad things. For example, the word 'rich'. It's the basic English word for "has a lot of money", but you'll never hear a person say 'I'm rich' or 'my friends are rich', and you won't find a website that says 'we like to work with rich people'. The website will talk about high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs) or just 'asset management'. If you hear somebody say 'rich tourists' or 'rich kids' or just 'the rich', they're not thinking about Bill and Melinda Gates giving millions of dollars to the World Health Organisation; they're thinking about bad behaviour by people who have a lot of money.

In the English language, the verb 'to exploit' also has negative connotations. 'Exploiting' somebody or something is not OK. It's probably an abusive exploitation, an unsustainable use or perhaps even a crime.

In English, if you 'exploit' a forest, you make quick money from it it but it's not good for the forest. If you exploit the mineral resources of a third-world country, you probably leave an ecological disaster and move all the money to Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. If you exploit your workers, you probably make them work work 16 hours a day and pay them 50 euros a week. Here's a media quote: "Vulnerable people are often exploited for the sex trade and organ harvesting".

Exploitation can also mean "intelligent but unfair or antisocial". A computer hacker finds loopholes (weak places) in Windows and exploits them to get a virus into your computer. Money experts find holes in tax law and exploit them to help international clients avoid paying tax.

In the French language, 'exploiter' does not have negative connotations. It's OK to talk about exploiting solar energy, or exploiting your employees, or exploiting a forest. A French farm may be called an 'exploitation', and a French computer doesn't have a "Windows or Mac OS operating system", it has a "système d'exploitation Windows ou Mac OS".

We can't translate IFREMER (l'Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer) as 'the French Institute for Research for the Exploitation of the Sea', because it sounds pretty bad in English. This would be a better translation: 'French Institute for Research into Ocean Resources'.

There are a lot of English words with the same basic meaning as 'to exploit' but with positive or neutral connotations. For a business or a mine, you could say 'to operate' or 'to manage'. For forest or other land, you could talk about 'making it productive'; for local tourism or heritage you could talk about 'development' or 'enhancement'. For human resources, you can talk about 'management' or 'making effective use of' (human resources). For solar energy, you could say 'to use' or 'to benefit from'.

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A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z CLICK for list of all the words