Like most complex systems, ecosystems tend to exemplify cyclic fluctuations around a state of estimated stability. Looking at the picture from a long-term perspective, however, ecosystems inexorably alter when the atmosphere changes or when a very different species appears because of migration or evolution -- or they are introduced deliberately by humans (Rutherford & Ahlgren 1991). What all this illustrates is not only mankind's dependence on the environment, but how mankind finds itself confronted with the fact that it may be living at the expense of future humans to come. Our innovations -- especially technological ones -- may hide the decrease in the earth's potential to maintain human activities, but, looking at the situation from a long-term perspective, the technological (or other) innovations will not be able to compensate for the major reduction in essential resources such as productive land, fisheries, forests, and biodiversity (Daily 1997).
On a global scale, different groups of people are now living at one another's expense, as is readily apparent in the disruption and overexploitation of earth's open-access resources and waste sinks. For example, whereas the levels of disruption caused by energy were once small, local, and reversible, they have now reached global proportions and carry irreversible consequences. In fueling their industrialization historically and pursuing their activities today, the developed nations appear to have largely used up the atmosphere's capacity to absorb CO2 and other greenhouse gases without risk of inducing climate change. In the process, they have foreclosed the option of safely using fossil fuels to sustain comparable levels of industrial activity by developing nations (Daily 1997).
We can now see that resource consumption in one area can lead to degradation of ecosystem services and related health effects in other areas of the world (WHO 2005). By looking at the situation from a very basic level of examination, the pressure on ecosystems can be imagined as a function of population, technology and lifestyle (2005). These factors then rely upon different social and cultural principles. One example would be the fertilizer that is used in agricultural production and how it increasingly is dependence on resources taken from other areas and this has led to eutrophication (excessive nutrients) of rivers, lakes and coastal ecosystems (2005).
Man's dependence on the environment and the environment's ecosystems as a fundamental determinant of human health is obvious, however, there are sociocultural factors that also play a very important part. Infrastructural assets, income and wealth distribution, technologies used, and level of knowledge also play an important role. In many industrialized countries, alterations in the aforementioned social factors over the last three hundred years or so have both enhanced some ecosystem services (for example, more productive agriculture) and bettered health services and education, both of which contribute to increase in life expectancy (WHO 2005).
Going back to the basic importance of human health and man's dependence on the environment for this health, it is easy to see that human health is the most important aspect -- or, the "bottom line" so to speak. This is because of the fact that any changes in social, economic, political, residential, behavioral and psychological circumstances all have health consequences (WHO 2005).
Basic determinants of human well-being may be defined in terms of: security; an adequate supply of basic materials for livelihood (e.g. food, shelter, clothing, energy, etc.); personal freedoms; good social relations; and physical health. By influencing patterns of livelihoods, income, local migration and political conflict, ecosystem services impact the determinants of human well-being (WHO 2005).
The environment, as we can see, is the source of all the resources we must have to prosper and survive (Cunningham & Cunningham 2008). The only way to ensure that human life continues in a both healthy and fruitful manner is to educate younger generations about the importance of living organisms and the vital role that the environment's ecosystems play in human life (2008). There are certainly clashing views on how to use the earth's precious resources today. It is true that humans can't live and society can't exists without using the earth's resources -- soil, water, wood, animals, etc. (2008), however, it is up to humans to use the resources while not exploiting them (as we have learned from previous societies that have exploited them and thus perished because of it).
It would seem that humans are, for the most part, getting on the right track when it comes to taking care of the planet's resources. The Western world seems to be noticing the importance of recycling and reusing, discontinuing more selfish rituals (such as only using a plastic bag once at the grocery store), carpooling or taking public transportation, and buying local rather than from "big box" stores. Time will tell if our efforts have been worth it. However, there are issues such as global warming that are not as easy to fix. Global warming proves to be one of the most important issues of our day as it is changing ecosystems, which will, in turn, kill off important species. The road we are on today may not have a way back. We may have gone too far to ever retrieve what we have lost; however, this does not mean that humans cannot salvage more from being lost. Education about the earth's ecosystem services and ecosystem goods is vital as well as teaching younger generation (or those who don't know) that humans are utterly dependent on the environment in which they live. From food to shelter, to economic goods and services, to health and well-being, the environment provides mankind with everything.
Cunningham, William P. & Cunningham, Mary Ann. (2008). Principles of environmental science: inquiry and applications. (Custom 5th edition). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Daily, Gretchen C. (1997). Nature's services: societal dependence on natural ecosystems.