Why are balete trees treated with fear by folks in the Philippines? How can this fear be harnessed to preserve or enhance the ecosystem and maintain its integrity? Read on to find out. Continue reading
Man’s treatment of the environment defines its integrity. Find out how perception can enhance, destroy or sustain use of the environment to meet human needs. Continue reading
While browsing the literature you may have encountered the phrase “ecosystem management”. While this set of words may be commonly used, many find it vague and confusing at times. Here is a back to basics explanation to provide you a solid foundation for further study of this concept.
Ecosystem management, while discussed in literature or articles both online and offline, is a vaguely defined phrase that many students find confusing. Perhaps the main reason for its being is the continuing degradation that nature experiences with previous modes of natural resource management.
To simplify matters and to have a clearer view of ecosystem management, one approach is to break this concept down into manageable bits of information. If things become complicated, it is sensible to go back to the basics.
My approach then is to define ecosystem and management separately and draw out the principles and meanings from each of these basic definitions to eventually combine the two words “ecosystem” and “management” into the phrase “ecosystem management”.
What is an Ecosystem?
The definition of the ecosystem has been in the literature for long. Although there are many versions of what ecosystems are, the best definition I could surmise from the various literature, readings, and insightful thinking on the environment which I thought most appropriate is this:
An ecosystem is a set of interacting components working harmoniously together to acquire, produce and transfer energy to attain sustainability.
The interacting components are the plants, non-living things and animals (humans included) within that ecosystem. These components work together in a harmonious manner such that the whole set composing the ecosystem is able to acquire, produce and transfer energy that makes the whole system run on the long term or simply make it sustainable.
The main source of that energy that drives the ecosystem is the sun. There is loss of energy in the process of transferring it from one source to another, i. e., from the sun as a major source of energy throughout the components of the ecosystem. The simplified ecosystem in Figure 1 below shows the interrelations.
Notice that not all of the energy coming from the sun is efficiently transferred from one living component of the ecosystem to the other. This is illustrated by the red arrow oriented upwards. Heat as a form of energy is lost into the atmosphere.
Scientists estimate energy loss from each component at 10%. Why is this energy not wholly transferred to the next living component in the ecosystem? That’s mainly because some of it is used by the organism for its own purpose. What are these uses? Well, the organisms have to respire, reproduce, move from one place to another, feed, among other functions that will enable it to survive in its habitat.
Another important thing of the whole ecosystem thing is that without the sun the whole ecosystem would collapse. Plants as the basic components of the ecosystem will not be able to synthesize food and oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. This is why we need to maintain plants by whatever means as these components of the ecosystem lie at the very foundation of human existence. Simply put, plants produce life-giving oxygen without which man could not hope to survive in five minutes or so.
What is Management?
Management is defined differently according to the context by which it is being used. Management in the context of environmental management can be defined in the following manner:
Management is the process or act of getting the different components of a system working together to achieve a desired purpose.
This means, therefore, that management is a deliberate attempt to do something in such a way that a desired purpose is achieved. Whatever the outcome of the action depends on how well management was made.
At this point, it would be now easy to define what ecosystem management is.
What is Ecosystem Management?
Based on the previous discussion, the following definition of ecosystem management can thus be drawn:
Ecosystem management is the deliberate attempt to manipulate the set of interacting components in nature for man’s ultimate benefit.
Yes, the main purpose of ecosystem management is to make the whole management process beneficial to man as the end user and manager of that ecosystem. Thus, whatever man deliberately does to the ecosystem which is stable in itself will define the kind of ecosystem management that will prevail. The key actors of ecosystem management are scientists, policymakers, managers, and citizens tasked with ecosystem management (see extensive discussion by Grumbine, 2002).
The ultimate outcome of ecosystem management will entirely depend on how humans perceive the environment and how he perceives this will have to be handled to serve his needs. If the aim is to sustain the natural processes, then ecosystem management must ensure the least disturbance and maintenance of ecological integrity as much as possible.
What is opportunity cost? How can this economics concept become a useful tool in decision making? Read on to find out.
Opportunity cost is one of the important concepts I have learned in the course of teaching environmental economics. Understanding the concept has helped me a lot especially on those times when I need to make decisions or choices given a set of alternatives.
What is opportunity cost and how can knowledge and application of the opportunity cost concept become useful in decision making?
Opportunity Cost Defined and Example of a Decision Making Situation
Opportunity cost is simply the cost of the next best alternative presented to you during a decision situation. This can be more clearly illustrated by an example of a decision making situation below.
You might, for example, be given the opportunity to decide whether to take that long vacation you longed to take for many years. You find yourself well entrenched in the current work that you are in, where your decision will spell the future direction of your life. The question then is “Will you give up your current preoccupation because of your desire to have that restful respite from the hustle-bustle of work life?”
What is the opportunity cost once you make the decision in this case?
There will be a range of alternatives that will present itself to you. And these alternatives have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
How will you know which of these is the next best option for you?
It will help if you will enumerate and rate the different alternatives based on your values, preference, or need/want. These values, preferences and needs are expected to vary across individuals; so someone faced with the same circumstance will decide differently from another person.
One way to make clear the value of these alternatives is the use of a decision technique that uses numbers. To sum it up, the technique just makes use of a scale of 1 to 10 where you rate each alternative according to your subjective evaluation of its value.
After rating all the alternatives, you can now choose which among those alternatives have the highest score; just by adding up all the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative. The alternative with the highest value is your next best alternative and is your opportunity cost.
Another Example of Opportunity Cost: What are you going to do with your $100?
Another much simpler example to demonstrate opportunity cost is the following situation.
You have $100 with you. Now, you would want to spend your $100 in a shopping mall in such a way that you will be able to enjoy it to its maximum utility, meaning, you want to make the most of it. You may have a range of choices like the ones given below, each one priced at $100.
- a lunch with friends
- an Android phone
- your medicine for ashtma
- a pair of branded shoes
- a pair of glasses
Notice that given this range of choices, your values, preference or need will determine your decision. You might put premium to the camaraderie of your friends and you are willing to give up all the other choices. Once you decide to take lunch with friends as your best choice, you give up your opportunity to buy either an Android phone, your medicine for asthma, a pair of branded shoes, or a pair of glasses which you may likewise need or want. Any of these options will be your opportunity cost, but it is possible that in reality, some of the alternatives presented to you may not really be worth $100 to you.
The real opportunity cost, therefore, is the next best choice which you will mostly take if you did not pay for that first option. Once you give up your $100 for a certain item, you lose your chance to purchase any of the items with likewise similar value to you. What you gave up is your opportunity cost.
© 2012 December 16 P. A. Regoniel
Human population growth can be seen either positively or negatively. If you view population growth positively, then you adopt the Cornucopian viewpoint while if you view population growth negatively and associate this growth with problems, then you essentially adopt the Malthusian perspective. Read further to find out who’s the winner in the population growth debate.
There are two major schools of thought about the increase in global human population. One perspective on population increase adopts a pessimistic viewpoint whereas the other views population increase in an optimistic manner. These are the Malthusians and the Cornucopians, respectively.
What the Malthusians Believe
The Malthusians are adherents of Thomas Malthus, an influential British scholar who popularized the pessimistic view of population increase. This viewpoint assumes that more population means more mouths to feed, thus more resources to support that need. The food required to fill this need will not be enough as food production could not keep pace with population increase. This belief is now popularly known as the Malthusian Theory.
Uncontrolled population growth inexorably results in environmental destruction. The ultimate scenario of the Malthusian theory would be wars, famine, resource depletion, among others as a result of competition for dwindling natural resources.
The Malthusian theory was popular and persisted through time but the doomsday scenario predicted by the theory did not materialize since the worldwide population grew by leaps and bounds. This position seems laden with flaws as data on the population-resources relation have shown outcomes that are contrary to expectations. As a result, new schools of thought arose that try to explain the trend of development despite continued and exponential human population growth (see how the population grew from 1CE to the present 7 billion people in less than six minutes).
One among the group of scholars who advanced their argument contrary to Malthus’ expectations believed that population growth need not be detrimental to the quality of human life. In fact, a greater number of people can even lead to positive results. This latter group of scholars is called the Cornucopians.
What the Cornucopians Believe
The Cornucopians are those who believe that advances in technology can take care of society’s needs. An increase in population is viewed positively because with more population comes more brains to generate ideas. These ideas generate technology in the form of modern gadgets, procedures, systems, among others that help address the problems associated with human sustenance and improve people’s quality of life.
People became more specialized in their work thus become more efficient and more able to respond to problems that arise in human affairs. Food production increased greatly as a result of modern, more efficient food production systems. Despite increased per capita consumption, virtually enough could be produced from the bounties of the earth.
There is so much reliance on technology as the human population grows. It seems that this reliance on the technological solution is effective in counteracting the predicted negative externalities (to understand what is an externality read my post titled The Mango Grower and the Beekeeper) of geometric population growth predicted by advocates of the Malthusian theory.
The Current Situation: Negative Consequences of Population Growth Persists
While the Cornucopians may be right as technology appears to keep pace with human problems, there are also instances where the Malthusian perspective may be much more acceptable. Unabated extraction of natural resources to meet the demand of the growing economies of the world appears to approach the dangers predicted by Malthus.
The unrest in many parts of the world, especially among developing nations, manifest the negative consequences of increased population growth. The scarcity of food resources hounds many nations in Asia and Africa. Despite the technological advances in developed nations, the negative impacts of pollution persist and threaten human health.
On a global scale, human economic activities apparently cause climate change due to a continually increasing population that requires extraction of more resources that get processed and disposed into the environment in the form of pollution.
The Malthusian Theory may be right after all.
© 2012 December 3 P. A. Regoniel
Are you a psychology student pondering what research topics to pursue in the course of conceptualizing your thesis proposal? This article is tailored right for your needs. You may explore the 5 research topics presented below and come up with your relevant psychology-based research topic on climate change. Specific research questions are offered for your guidance.
I was prompted to write this article because a colleague asked me how her undergraduate psychology students should conduct their study in relation to the key result areas which the university is aligning its research programs, projects and activities. More specifically, she asked what topics could be explored by psychology students in relation to say, climate change adaptation as one of the key result areas.
I initially gave several ideas that students can pursue during the lecture but these ideas still appear to be too general. Or maybe I have not put the topic in clear perspective.
I, therefore, came up with the following specific research topics based on the initial list of topics I enumerated during a brief research orientation lecture with a group of undergraduate students and several College of Arts and Humanities faculty members. The students are currently conceptualizing their research proposal in compliance with the thesis requirement for graduation.
The 5 examples on psychology research topics related to climate change are products of my online search as well as my research experience on environmental research and knowledge gained during my training in the graduate school. Specifically, the following research topics are psychology research topics related to climate change that students can explore.
Of course, they need to do a literature review first to find out which topics and what particular issues were already explored.
Psychology Research Topics Related to Climate Change
I drew out the following ideas mainly from the topics identified by the American Psychological Association. I rephrased the topics presented in that site to avoid duplication of words as I am conscious of plagiarism understanding that articles written using similar words will impact on the quality of articles written online. I also wrote these questions in such a way that it can be done under local conditions, i.e., relevant to the thrusts and priorities of universities in the tropical regions. But these can likewise be done in temperate countries.
1. How can well-designed environment-directed messages increase people’s behavior that are beneficial to the environment?
Examples of environment-beneficial behavior will be the three R’s of recycling, reduction, and reuse of materials. I remembered that I wrote an article about an indigenous person who reused otherwise unusable materials from a nearby mining company to build a mini-hydro power plant in a remote place in Bataraza. See how Boyet, the Tagbanua, made use of materials in a materials recycling facility here.
2. Is there a relationship between climate change evidences like sea level rise, warming temperatures, and changing agricultural production to the quality of life of the members of the community?
It would be great to know the relationship of the continuing fluctuations of the weather to people’s quality of life. Will these events be beneficial or detrimental in the long term? Many studies can arise from this simple question alone.
The results of this study will enhance the quality of policy makers’ decisions on those government initiatives that impact on people’s lives. This also streamlines their interest and attention to deal with relevant steps to address the negative effects of climate change.
3. What prevents people from complying with the most efficient and effective policies of government?
It will be interesting to know how people make decisions, whether to follow or not follow the rules and regulations, the ordinances, and the laws that pertain to climate change. What keeps people from complying to these policies and what encourages them to follow voluntarily or willingly?
This is an issue I already discussed in my previous post on research topics about climate change and governance. You may read the article here.
The decision making scenario can actually be represented in a model which will help predict people’s compliance to policies of government. Policy makers will then have a better view of his constituency’s sentiments. This is what people call science-based policy making.
4. Why is there a general concern about nature? What are the reasons behind such interest in conserving or protecting the environment? What can be gained from the environmental programs, projects and activities?
Surely, everybody knows some of the answers. But which of these answers are the foremost reasons why people try to keep the environment intact or at the very least minimize exploitation? You may get exciting answers to the questions posed above.
5. How does climate change as evidenced by unpredictable weather events affect people?
I remembered the disastrous flooding events in Marikina in Manila in 2009 and Iloilo City in the Western Visayas due to Typhoon Frank. The residents of Marikina as well as Iloilo never expected the flooding to occur for so many years. This caused a lot of damages to property and even loss of life.
How do you think those people affected feel? What are in their minds on those times when life-threatening disasters strike? Should they have survived had they been prepared for such unpredictable event? Being prepared matters a lot.
At this point, I do hope that with these research topics more ideas will pop out of your head. You can draw out and remember theories from the lectures given you by your teachers on human psychology that will serve as your theoretical framework as you embark to write down your conceptual framework. If you do not know yet the difference between these two concepts, read my article on the difference between the theoretical and the conceptual framework here.
© 2012 November 19 P. A. Regoniel
One of the important concepts in environmental economics or economic valuation is the concept of externalities. This concept may sound so sophisticated and complex to understand to the novice in environmental economics. However, while teaching this concept to students I realized that this is a very important concept that everyone must know to be able to come up with informed decisions. Understanding what externalities are and how they can be used in making the most of your decisions can make a difference between “the devil and the deep blue sea” as the popular adage on difficult decision situations say. I narrate the story of the mango grower and the beekeeper to further make clear the concept of externalities.
Definition of Externalities
Externalities are just those unexpected outcomes or third party effects that may arise when someone makes a decision while making transactions with another entity. That entity may be a person, an organization or a company.
The concept of externalities can be made clearer by the classic story of the apple grower and the beekeeper. However, this is a temperate country example so to put it in context in tropical countries, I will relate the story of the mango grower and the beekeeper as an adapted version.
The Mango Grower and the Beekeeper
In a small island in the tropics, two farmers engaged in two different livelihood activities. The first man grows mango trees and produces mangoes for local consumption and exports these mangoes abroad. The other man, a beekeeper, rears bees in culture boxes also for the same purpose, i.e., for local consumption and export.
These activities went on for several years and both businesses thrived until the beekeeper noticed that the bees are no longer bringing in a significant amount of nectar in the culture boxes. This phenomenon happened when the mango grower started to cut down some trees in his farmland to make way for a road to facilitate transport of mangoes from his growing export business.
Due to poor honey production, the beekeeper decided to stop engaging in beekeeping because his income could no longer sustain his once thriving business. Since the decline in honey production, he had to trim down on the number of employees until he could no longer support even two of them.
Back to the mango grower, the farmer noticed a decline in mango production since his neighbor beekeeper stopped his business operation. What could be the reason behind this decline?
The mango grower, concerned that he might likewise stop his mango growing business like the beekeeper, sought the help of a local university knowing that there are faculty members engaged in agricultural research. The university dispatched a veteran researcher to look into the plight of the mango grower (that person could be someone from the environmental science department). The main objective of the researcher is to find out the reason why there was a decline in mango production.
The environmental scientist, knowing the classic story of the apple grower and the beekeeper, related the story to the farmer. He said, the decision of the beekeeper to stop his beekeeping operation affected the mango grower’s agricultural production because the bees pollinate the flowers of the mangoes. Since the mango grower decided to cut down some of his mango trees to make way for the road, the availability of nectar from these mango trees also declined. Hence, less honey for the beekeeper.
Realizing his mistake, the mango grower decided to see the beekeeper and explain the scenario. They were both illuminated of their situation. The mango grower convinced the beekeeper to resume his business and while doing so, he will compensate for the pollination services of the bees. He also assured the beekeeper that he will plant more mango trees to replace the number of trees that was lost. From then on, their business once again thrived and they lived happily ever after.
The Externalities in the Story
What then are the externalities in the story of the mango grower and the beekeeper? These are the unexpected benefits that arose from their business operations. What are these benefits?
Two unexpected benefits are evident in the business operation of the two farmers. These are 1) the pollinating services of the bees, and 2) the mango trees’ flowers as source of nectar.
Once these externalities are recognized and incorporated in decision making, these are internalized externalities and they no longer are considered externalities. So when someone talks about internalizing the externalities, this refers to the incorporation of the third party effects in any transaction. This means that in the story, the mango grower internalized the externality of the pollinating services of the bees.
But is the other externality, that is, the flowers of mango trees that serve as nectar internalized? In this story, it is not. How can this be internalized? The mango grower must also be compensated by the beekeeper because the honey are obtained by the bees from the mango trees. So if honey production is good, the beekeeper must likewise compensate or provide a share to the mango grower to internalize this externality.
From this story and discussion, externalities therefore are the benefits, disadvantages, or third party impacts that may ensue as a result of any situation or transaction that affects the environment. Thus, to come up with sound decisions and to achieve environmental sustainability, these externalities must be internalized.
Externalities may be positive or negative. I illustrate both types of externalities in the gulf oil spill incident in Mexico several years ago that caused not only negative externalities but also positive externalities. You may click here to read the article to further strengthen your understanding of externalities.
© 2013 November 3 P. A. Regoniel
There are very few references available on the biodiversity that can be found in freshwater and estuarine ecosystems of tropical countries. Students, therefore, are not able to appreciate the differences between these two ecosystems. Most of the published literature are descriptions of freshwater and estuarine ecosystems in temperate regions. Recognizing this gap, this article provides an overview of the two ecosystems and provides links to detailed descriptions of freshwater and estuarine ecosystems in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
Why the Dearth of Literature on Freshwater and Estuarine Ecosystems?
Information on freshwater and estuarine ecosystems of tropical regions is lacking. It may be due to the lack of regard to the important role these ecosystems play in the life of people in communities or cities. It may also be due to the inability of educators in many tropical countries to develop and publish material which are in tune with their local settings.
Apparently, many of the teachers are still locked in their traditional modes of teaching. They are occupied with class work and traditional lecture sessions, limited by their four-cornered classrooms. Or probably, they have devoted themselves to economic activities to keep up with the ever-growing prices of goods and services.
Whatever the reason, the point is that many students in tropical countries learn from the books published by authors in other places which may not be relevant to their specific location. There should be a change in paradigm among teachers.
Recognizing this, I always take the opportunity to engage my environmental science and marine biology students in field work as I teach subjects that require them to go to the field and explore the environment. It may be a Dynamics of Ecosystems course or the subject Research 01 where they need to familiarize themselves with actual research situations, i. e., in the field. I always attempt not to teach them but mentor them along the way.
Let them discover – so to speak.
Field Trip to Freshwater and Estuarine Ecosystems
There were two separate occasions of field work that I undertook with my students so they will get familiar with these ecosystems. These are
1) a trip to the freshwater ecosystem of Balsahan by graduate students enrolled in the Dynamics of Ecosystems course, and
2) a recent trip to the estuarine portion of Iwahig River.
Freshwater Ecosystem of Balsahan
We discovered a very diverse array of wildlife in the upper freshwater portion of Balsahan River. Among these is a species of Insulamon, a crab endemic (or only found) to Palawan.
We did the survey in 2010 but then references on proper identification of the crab is not available so we were not able to identify it correctly. No taxonomist was also available for consultation at that time. What we lack in taxonomic skills we compensate by taking a photo of the crab for future reference. I posted a recent picture of the crab in my travel and wildlife website, Palawaniana.net, for comments but there were none.
Eventually, Dr. Hendrik Freitag, animal ecologist of Ateneo de Manila University, properly identified the crab as Insulamon palawanense in 2012. It was featured in the National Geographic Online Magazine. Dr. Freitag happened to visit Palawan State University and saw the picture in one of my online articles. He confirmed the crab indeed belongs to the same species he discovered.
Also, we saw a small, almost inconspicuous leaf frog, also an endemic species, hiding under the leaves along the riparian zone of Balsahan River. This is a funny looking frog with skin protruding like horns on its head.
A more detailed account of this trip and the diverse wildlife of Balsahan is published in another site. You may read it here.
Estuarine Ecosystem of Iwahig River
Estuarine ecosystems are also not well studied in the tropical regions especially in the unique Island of Palawan which has wildlife species in more affinity with nearby Borneo Island than the rest of the Philippines. Experts attribute this similarity to land bridges that connect mainland Palawan with Borneo.
Despite the itchy bites of the sandfly (local name: niknik), the marine biology students braved the waist deep waters near the mouth of Iwahig River. Many species of wildlife were photographed and then released back into the water. The mangroves growing in the estuarine portion of the river were likewise identified and photographed for reference.
Notable among the animals is another crab of purple color. Is it another Insulamon? We don’t know because no information on a crab with such appearance is available. Proper identification requires a considerable number of crabs, some measurements, and a whole lot of descriptions filled with jargon. The picture says it all anyway.
The whole trip lasted only for about two hours but a diverse collection of photographs on biodiversity of the estuarine ecosystem was obtained. This collection is better than any book published in printed format.
See all these biodiversity in the article I posted online for everybody. It is titled Tropical Ecosystem: Estuarine Biodiversity in Iwahig.
© 2012 October 27 P. A. Regoniel