Environmental Indicators with a Global View
NICHOLAS V.C. RALSTON
The 19th International Society of Environmental Indicators Conference was held Sept 11-14, 2011 in Technion, Haifa, Israel. A special issue will be devoted to articles arising from presentations made at that meeting. This occasion provides an excellent opportunity to discuss the international significance of environmental indicators and the reasons why this journal is dedicated to advancing progress in this area of study. Although environmental indicators and the ecosystems they are used to evaluate are objectively discrete entities, the global connectivity underlying all environmental research goes beyond that of simply providing background values for analytical comparisons. The economics and politics of each local, regional, and national community has collective impacts on the global environment that extend beyond their defined but intangible boundaries. The importance of preventing pollution, maintaining ecosystem health, and protecting endangered species is understandably difficult to prioritize ahead of basic needs of poverty stricken nations whose people are focused on daily survival. However, economic effects on decisions that determine environmental health outcomes remain significant in many developed nations, particularly those highly focused on maintaining/improving their economic status in the increasingly competitive global corporate marketplace. All too often, ecosystem degradation has to be widespread or public health costs need become unacceptably high before public opinion mandates the changes necessary to resolve environmental issues. If the adverse environmental effects are allowed to progress for too long, their severity may become irreversible, or become far more costly than if they had been recognized and addressed at an earlier point. This is where the mission goals of the International Society for Environmental Indicators (ISEI) and the Journal of Environmental Indicators coincide with the needs of decision makers and provide the means to recognize and respond to imminent or existing risks. If there were no index regarding environmental health that could be used to objectively guide scientific opinion, scientists could not properly inform decision makers and the public about the need for response to avert or ameliorate risks. This is an urgently important part of the decision making equation. Problems need to be recognized and reported in ways that resonate with the public and their leaders before a response plan can be generated and enacted. If the public and their leadership remained unaware of the existence of the adverse environmental effects of uncontrolled release of pollutants, there would be no basis for them to respond and the problem would continue to progress. The ability to recognize and respond to risks has become well developed. However, one area regarding environmental indicators that needs greater attention is the follow through. The indices that were used to characterize risk should continue to be monitored and regularly reported to quantify the magnitude of beneficial environmental outcomes that are realized once pollutant releases cease or become controlled. This reporting would inform the public and decision makers of the value of their decision to respond and perhaps encourage them to proactively respond to similar risks.