A panel of experts on environmental sustainability has submitted a special report to President Barack Obama urging the federal government to periodically assess the condition of ecosystems in the United States and the social and economic value of the services those ecosystems provide. 

The July 2011 report, Sustaining Environmental Capital: Protecting Society and the Economy, was prepared by the Biodiversity Preservation and Ecosystem Sustainability Working Group - a committee of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). 

Gretchen Daily, biology professor and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University, is one of 16 members of the working group. She is also co-director of the Natural Capital Project, a partnership of the Woods Institute, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund and University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment

Daily and her co-authors cited two central messages of the report: 

  • The economic and environmental dimensions of “societal wellbeing” are indispensable and tightly intertwined. 
  • Even as the government focuses on jobs and the economy, “it must not fail to address the threats to both the environmental and the economic aspects of wellbeing that derive from the accelerating degradation of the environmental capital - the nation’s ecosystems and the biodiversity they contain - from which flow ‘ecosystem services’ underpinning much economic activity as well as public health, safety and environmental quality.” 

Key recommendations from the report include: 

The report also recommends that the U.S. “apply modern informatics technologies to the vast stores of biodiversity data already collected by various federal agencies to increase the usefulness of those data for decision- and policy-making,” according to a White House news release

“The root causes of the degradation of environmental capital are the combined pressures of population growth, rising affluence and frequent reliance on environmentally disruptive technologies to meet the associated material demands,” the report said. “These are challenges that cannot be met without a strong helping hand from government.” 

Photo: Gretchen Daily, a Woods Institute senior fellow, is among 16 experts who prepared the July 2010 presidential report on protecting America’s environmental capital.