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Ecological Monitoring

Monitoring, Research And Indicators, Monitoring Addresses Important Issues, State-of-the-environment Reporting And Social Action

Governments everywhere are increasingly recognizing the fact that human activities are causing serious environmental and ecological damage. To effectively deal with this environmental crisis, it is important to understand its dimensions and dynamics. What, specifically, are the damages, how are they changing over time, and what are the best means of prevention or mitigation? To develop answers to these important questions, longer-term programs of monitoring and research must be designed and implemented. These programs must be capable of detecting environmental and ecological change over large areas, and of developing an understanding of the causes and consequences of those changes.

Humans and their societies have always been sustained by environmental resources. For almost all of human history the most important resources have been potentially renewable, ecological resources. Especially important have been fish and terrestrial animals that could be hunted, edible plants that could be gathered, and the productivity of managed, agricultural ecosystems. More recently, humans have increasingly relied on the use of nonrenewable mineral resources that are mined from the environment, especially fossil fuels and metals.

However, the ability of ecosystems to sustain humans is becoming increasingly degraded. This is largely because of the negative consequences of two, interacting factors: (1) the extraordinary increase in size of the human population, which numbered about 6.0 billion in 1999, and (2) the equally incredible increase in the quantities of resources used by individual humans, especially people living in developed countries with an advanced economy, such as those of North America and Western Europe.

Environmental and ecological degradations are important for two reasons: (1) they represent decreases in the ability of Earth's ecosystems to sustain humans and their activities, and (2) they represent catastrophic damage to other species and to natural ecosystems, which have their own intrinsic value, regardless of their importance to humans. The role of programs of environmental and ecological monitoring is to detect those degradations, to understand their causes and consequences, and to find ways to effectively deal with the problems.

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