How should we prioritize and make decisions about our use and care for natural resources?

In the phrase “reduce, reuse, recycle,” the order is not arbitrary.  The first step is Reducing – which saves energy, money, and resources. The second step is reusing – which lessens the need to take new resources. The third step is recycling – which takes energy, turning something into something else, but can be a good option, again, to lessen the need to take new resources.  A logical progression, yet it is usually recycling that gets the most attention.

In the case of ecosystems and natural habitats, there is a similar progression – “Respect, Restore, Replace.”  Respecting is the utmost priority and the best option.  Second best is restoring, third, replacing. We know so very little about the functioning of the environment, do we really think that we will be able to “replace” it? An artificial reef is NOT the same as a natural reef. An artificial wetland is NOT the same as a natural wetland. One of the biggest differences is that replacing the natural habitat, and to a smaller extent restoring as well, requires constant maintenance and human effort to keep it going. Even then, it may not sufficiently fulfill the natural ecosystem’s role to prevent complete instability of the area.

1) Respect

2) Restore

3) Replace

Where are you putting your priorities?

For more on this, check out my 2013 talk at the National Academy of Sciences – and a Respect Restore Replace handout about this concept. Contact me if you want one that is more detailed or specifically tailored to your presentation or group.