Societies around the globe face perplexing questions about how to manage our natural systems in ways that best support rapidly expanding urban areas. For example:
- How do we minimize the ecological footprint of growing urban areas?
- How do we quantify the ecosystem services provided by an intact versus a degraded ecosystem?
- How do we spatially target rural and urban conservation areas to sustain critical ecosystem services for rapidly urbanizing regions?
- Can Pacific Northwest cities maintain healthy populations of wild salmonids?
- How do we assure access to the full set of nature’s benefits for all urban groups?
- How do we account for non-linearity in ecosystem service provisioning and use?
- How can expanding urban areas cope with the dual pressures of climate change and water stress?
- Can urban ‘ecodistricts’ offset pressure on surrounding natural ecosystems?
- How do we account for all ecological, social and economic values of ecosystems?
- What types of incentives and regulation will secure public acceptance of the measures necessary to protect critical ecosystem services?
- What novel social institutions can effectively engage relevant stakeholders in ecosystem service management?
The Ecosystem Services for Urbanizing Regions (ESUR) program is the first IGERT to focus on critical ecosystem service issues related to rapidly urbanizing areas. More than one half of the earth’s nearly seven billion human inhabitants now reside in urban areas and that figure is projected to rise to 70 percent by mid-century. At the same time, over half of the world’s natural ecosystems are declining in capacity, while the remaining healthy systems are threatened by anthropogenic changes. The confluence of urbanization growth pressures and ecological degradation creates environmental, social and economic problems involving complex system feedback loops and spatial and temporal diversity.
These are 'wicked' problems, problems so complex that any solution leads to new issues because of complex feedback effects, where even the best option cannot ultimately resolve the problem, but will expose further issues requiring attention. Wicked problems require interdisciplinary approaches and the engagement of community partners to mold solutions and to adaptively manage new issues. The ecosystem services framework - with ecological, social and economic dimensions - offers a holistic conceptual model to understand the science and find effective adaptive management for whole ecological systems. The disciplinary and cultural diversity of the trainees and the supporting faculty team enriches the learning experience for discovering innovative approaches to complex scientific and societal problems at local, national and international scales. The curriculum, research projects, and community partnerships integrate intellectual and experiential knowledge, allowing the ESUR program to create a new generation of scientists and engineers proficient both in frontier science and management approaches for sustaining ecosystem services vital to urbanizing regions.
Learn more about all the exciting sustainability activities underway at PSU at the Institute for Sustainable Solutions