Monday, November 1, 2010

Bridging Environmental and Human Dimensions

Can CERF Help Find Solutions?
David Yoskowitz
Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies,
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi
Robert Costanza
Institute for Sustainable Solutions,
Portland State University

(originally published in Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation Newsletter, October 2010, Vol. 36, No. 3, p. 7, 25)
There is little doubt that we have a love affair with our coasts, to the point that already stressed ecosystems and infrastructure will become more so, even without considering the potential impacts of climate change. In 2000, the estimated world population was 5.7 billion, with 2.3 billion living within 100km of the coast. While it is expected that the proportion of the population (40%) living along the coast will not change over the next fifteen years, there will be 600 million more people in this traditionally sensitive area as world population climbs to 7.4 billion by 2025.1 That is equivalent to dropping the population of two United States’ into the world’s coastal zone. Of greater concern are the low elevation coastal zones (10 meters or less), which are 2% of the world’s land area and contain 10% of the global population. More dramatic is the fact that developing countries have a higher share of their population (14%) in this zone than developed countries (10%).2 In the U.S., coastal counties account for almost one-third of the population. The dramatic increase in coastal population for the Gulf of Mexico between 1960 and 2008 was 150%. In that same time period, coastal population grew 110% in the Pacific coast.3 The impact of future population growth will have a disproportionate impact on the environment as lower quality resources are utilized,4 and our coast will bear an unusually large part of the environmental degradation. 

  Our coasts are headed for a shipwreck, and it is critical that decision makers in both the private and public sectors take into account all the benefits and costs in order that those decisions are effective. Environmental decision-making cannot be the domain of one discipline and still be effective. Those decisions must be supported by not only the natural sciences but social/cultural considerations, political realities and economic science. Right or wrong, a number of decisions that impact our environment are based on their monetary costs and benefits. It is critical that the socio economic values of our coastal resources are accounted for when decisions are being made.
  The Deepwater Horizon blowout highlights concerns about what may happen to our coastal and marine ecosystems and how those changes can affect us. This unfortunate event provides an opportunity to once again bring to light the critically important interconnectedness between the well-being of the natural environment and human well-being. The traditional market economy impacts were the focus shortly after the beginning of the event, and included primarily the commercial fishing and tourism industries. 
At its peak, 36% of Gulf of Mexico federal waters were closed to commercial fishing.5 This sector alone supported around 176,000 jobs in 2008.6 Tourism, on the Gulf coast, sustains over 400,000 jobs, with visitor spending reaching $34 billion (2008).7 
   At least as important to our well-being are the non-traditional goods and services we have come to rely upon without formally recognizing them. Early on after the blowout had begun, it was estimated that the value of the goods and services provided by coastal marsh only, which may have been potentially impacted by oil, was $1.2 billion a year.8 It has been calculated that the greater Mississippi River Delta ecosystems may provide in the range of $12-47 billion annually in benefits to people, including storm and flood protection, water supply and quality, and recreation and fisheries.9 To provide perspective, the gross domestic product for the State of Louisiana was $222 billion in 2008.10 The most conservative number from above ($12 billion) would make the services provided equal to 5% of the state’s economy, equivalent to its health care and social assistance industry.
   There has been a major shift over the last two decades of how we look at ourselves in relation to the environment. To a greater degree we understand that humans are part of the surrounding ecosystem and not separate from it and therefore have an increased sense of responsibility. Given its mandate, what role can CERF play in bridging the environmental and human dimensions? With CERF 2011, the board has made the conscience decision to begin to incorporate the social and policy sciences into not only the program but also the Federation at large. The momentum that is building must continue beyond the next biennial meeting. The Federation, given its diverse current and future membership, has the opportunity to elevate not just the academic practice of multidisciplinary research but the application of that work to make more effective policy.

   One way to do this is for CERF and its members to engage more directly with coastal stakeholders. Sponsoring workshops and short courses aimed at solving realworld problems can go a long way in this direction. These solutions-focused events can occur both in conjunction with the biennial meeting and at other times. It is also important that we communicate more broadly and more effectively, both across disciplines and between the science, policy, and various stakeholder communities. The new journal/ Web site, Solutions (, is trying to do just that, incorporating a variety of new techniques to encourage dialog and consensus-building on real, integrated solutions. Additionally, utilizing the Federation’s own journal, Estuaries and Coasts, to publish more work dealing with the social and policy issues of our coasts will also help open up the discourse.
Time is running out. We know much about the problems and need to now focus on applying what we know toward finding solutions. CERF and its members can help lead the way.

1 Duedall, I.W. and G. A. Maul, 2005.  Demography of Coastal Populations 
in Encyclopedia of Coastal Science, edited by Maurice L. Schwartz,  Springer, Netherlands. pp. 368-374.

2 McGranahan, G., D. Balk, and B.  Anderson. 2007. “The rising tide: 
assessing the risks of climate change and human settlements in low elevation coastal zones.” Environment and  Urbanization 19:17-37.

3 Wilson, S.G. and T.R. Fischetti, 2010.  Coastline Population trends in the
United States; 1960 to 2008. U.S.  Department of Commerce, U.S. Census

4 Ehrlich, P. 2010. The MAHB and the  BioScience Gang. BioScience Vol. 60
 No. 3, pp:170-71.

5 “Deepwater Horizon/BP Oil Spill: Size  and Percent Coverage of Fishing Area Closures Due to BP Oil Spill”. NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Regional Office. htm. Retrieved 2010-09-02. Table.
6 “Fisheries Economics of the U.S., 2008” NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Science and Technology. Retrieved 2010-09-02.

7 Oxford Economics. “Potential Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill on Tourism”. Retrieved 2010-09-02.

8 McKinney, L. and D. Yoskowitz, 2010.  The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill –Putting a Price on the Priceless. Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.

9 Batker, D. , I. de la Torre, R. Costanza, P. Swedeen, J. Day, R. Boumans, and K. Bagstad, 2010. Gaining Ground.  Wetlands, Hurricanes, and the Economy: The Value of Restoring the Mississippi  River Delta. Earth Economics. 100 pages. 

10 Gross Domestic Product by State,  Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved 2010-09-16. Gross domestic product is a measure of a country’s or state’s overall economic output but not necessarily a good measure of the its standard of living.

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