New blog to be launched Sept. 25 at Thomson House
By Neale McDevitt
Ecosystems services. For the uninitiated, it sounds like yet another government agency, tucked away in a drab building and peopled by equally drab bureaucrats. Raccoons chew up your compost bin, you go see the folks in Ecosystems Services, fill out Form N-97b, and within a week to three months, they’ll deliver a new one.
“The term ecosystems services doesn’t resonate with your average person because not everyone understands what it means,” said Matt Mitchell, a PhD candidate in Elena Bennett’s Lab. “What people don’t realize is that ecosystem services actually touch them every single day, over and over. The food you eat, the clothing that you wear, the weather outside – it’s all impacted by the ecosystem around us.”
In basic terms, ecosystems services are the benefits we derive from nature. These benefits include everything from the air we breathe and the water we drink; to the natural processes we depend upon such as crop pollination, detoxification of pollution and climate regulation. Ecosystems services also provide us with places where we can commune with nature for recreation, education or relaxation.
“In Elena’s lab we work a lot on how ecosystems or nature affects our well-being and our quality-of-life,” said Mitchell. “We see that, a lot of people in cities don’t have that connection to nature or don’t see those linkages like [scientists] do. The flipside to that is that we sometimes don’t communicate our science very well either.”
Thus was born another child of necessity, in this case the Montreal’s Ecosystems at Your Service blog (http://www.esmontreal.ca/), administered by Mitchell and the other members of the lab.
Created over the summer, the blog’s primary objective is to engage with, educate, and interact with McGillians and Montrealers about the ecosystems services they use and rely on every day. “We take a storytelling approach and try to connect with people by illustrating how nature and these ecosystems on the Island of Montreal or around the Island contribute to their well-being,” said Mitchell. “We want to bridge the divide between what we’re doing scientifically and what people experience every day.”
Geared toward the general public, the blog entries are short and informative, passing along practical ecosystems information while eschewing scientific jargon. Topics are broken down into five categories and posts cover everything from the benefits of jogging along tree-lined streets and the importance of protecting local bees, to how city planners use nature to combat the “heat island effect” and a look at the positive effects being “in nature” has on our powers of higher thought.
Two posts are added weekly (on Monday and Thursday) and Mitchell says about 50 per cent of the blog content is in French. “We’d like to reach out to people beyond McGill because the more people we can inform, the better it is for everyone.”
To date, most of the posts have been written by members of Bennett’s Lab, but Mitchell says the team is eager to expand its stable of contributors. “We are very open to having people outside the lab submit articles,” he said. “We generally aim for about 500 words per article, so they aren’t very long and, if people want, we can work with you to help shape their story. The first step is to pitch an idea to us.”
Though it has been up and running since mid-June, the official launch of Montreal’s Ecosystems at Your Service blog will take place on Sept. 25, from 5-7 p.m. at Thomson House. Everyone is welcome to network, join the discussion or pitch a story idea. Free food will be served. RSVP by email.