Monday, June 26, 2017

Quantifying the economic value of "ecosystem services" in Bay Area parks

The current issue of Estuary News includes another story by yours truly ... this time on the subject of how much parks are worth -- not in terms of day-use/parking fees, recreational opportunities, or even health benefits, but rather in terms of environmental benefits such as stormwater retention, air pollution mitigation, sea-level-rise buffering, and more. This latter class of critical benefits is known broadly as "ecosystem services," and recent efforts across the Bay Area have sought to ascribe them a specific economic value within a city, county, or parks system. The monetization of ecosystem services helps bolster the case for conservation and restoration in an era when the federal government itself seems to deem the environment and natural lands a poor investment.

Conflict and Coexistence: Examining the human-wildlife interface

In a feature for the Spring 2017 issue of Breakthroughs, an alumni magazine published by UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources, I cover the work of two Berkeley researchers who have set their sights on the human-wildlife interface: Arthur Middleton, studying elk migrations of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and Justin Brashares, studying, among other things, the return of large carnivores to California. 

The article has great art -- and is, I hope, an informative and enjoyable read. Check it out here.

Glycol Ethers and Neurodevelopment: Investigating the Impact of Prenatal Exposures

As I understand it, there are three sorts of prenatal causes of neurodevelopmental delays or impairments in infants/children: 1) genetic, though I don't fully grasp what triggers these genetic alterations in the first place; 2) oxygen deprivation, such as caused by an umbilical cord during birth; and 3) chemical exposures.

My latest article for EHP deals with the third -- although the science remains rather preliminary, early evidence suggests that exposure to chemicals within a broad, very common class known as glycol ethers is associated with impacts on neurodevelopment. It's fascinating, and frightening, that a mother's exposure to certain chemicals common in consumer products may have significant, potentially lifelong implications for her child's cognitive abilities.

While on the individual level such delays or impairments may appear subtle and attributable to random variation within a population -- as opposed to being tied to a specific disease, injury, chemical exposure, etc -- they can still have major consequences for a constellation of childhood skills including cognitive development and ability, speech and language ability, learning ability, fine and gross motor skills, social skills, etc.

And, on the population level, since exposures to some glycol ethers are already known to be widespread -- particularly in the United States and Europe, with detection rates at or near 100 percent -- if this association between a mother's exposure and her child's neurodevelopment holds up under further scrutiny, these effects are only magnified.