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Exploring the Unequal Distribution of Nature's Services

Dr. Sami Asad
Professor of Sustainability & Ecology

Clean water and air, aren't available to everyone equally.

In this blog, Dr. Sami Asad, program director for our Master of Science in Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, and Technology examines how these critical benefits often bypass the needy and favor the wealthy, deepening social inequalities and exploring ways to make access more fair.

Nature offers a myriad of benefits that are vital for human survival and development, from providing food and water to preventing climate change, floods, and the spread of diseases. These “ecosystem services” are the fundamental systems that make life on Earth possible. Dependence on these services, however, is not equal. Vulnerable groups, particularly the global south and those close to the poverty line, are much more dependent on services such as food provisioning, clean water, natural fuels, and local climate regulation. Wealthier communities, on the other hand, have the financial means to obtain services without the need for ecosystems [1]. In many cases, however, those who receive the benefit of ecosystem services need them the least at the expense of groups who need them the most. This environmental injustice not only undermines the stability of these ecosystems but also supports existing cycles of social inequality, from racial discrimination to gender inequality.

Green space and racial discriminationIn NYC, property prices are higher near aesthetically pleasing public green spaces. These urban parks help to alleviate the heat island effect (the tendency for cities to be significantly hotter than the surrounding environment), provide mental health benefits for users, and help to reduce localized air pollution. While wealthier households reap the benefits of these parks, through historical racism and legacies of socially unjust city planning, POC from lower-income households have limited access to the benefits of urban parks, despite a greater need for these services [2].

Water-based gender violence
Access to clean drinking water is a key ecosystem service for impoverished communities. Due to a lack of financial means for water infrastructure, low-income households are forced to utilize natural water sources often considerable distances from their homes. Due to entrenched gender roles, in 8 out of 10 of these households, water gathering is conducted by women. This activity exposes them to sexual harassment, assault, and rape, with a significant increase in these issues when collecting water [3,4].

Exacerbating Poverty

While current ecosystem service provisioning is already unequal, the future could be even more bleak! With continued CO2 emissions and habitat loss, our ecosystems become less resilient and unable to provide ecosystem services. Research indicates that this decline in ecosystem services will be mostly concentrated on those from low-income households. A study in the USA found that declines in crop pollination, clean air, and protection from West Nile virus will be mostly focused on low-income urban communities that are in most need of these services [5]. This decline, is likely to exacerbate health-related concerns, resulting in increased healthcare expenditure and increased poverty risk.

How do we move on from here?
These examples demonstrate the environmental injustices of ecosystem service provisioning, and how this supports entrenched cycles of racial discrimination, gender inequality, and poverty. To address this inequality, we need multi-faceted solutions that improve access to ecosystem services for vulnerable communities. Furthermore, by utilizing and optimizing these ecosystem services, we can provide nature-based solutions for environmental and social challenges which can facilitate social mobility.

What are the skills needed to address ecosystem service environmental injustice?

Addressing the complex issue of ecosystem service injustice requires a diverse set of skills: from understanding of ecosystem services to a systems thinking mindset. These competencies are crucial for change-makers looking to understand and manipulate the intricate web of ecological and social factors to build more sustainable solutions.

  • Environmental Systems Knowledge: Understanding the intricacies of ecosystems and their impact on society.
  • Policy Analysis: Identifying and shaping policies to promote environmental justice.
  • Communication and Advocacy: Influencing public opinion and decision-making through effective communication.
  • Scientific Evaluation and Management: Applying scientific methods to ensure sustainable project outcomes.
  • Entrepreneurial Thinking: Innovating and driving change with entrepreneurial approaches.

How does Tomorrow University prepare learners to tackle environmental injustice?

Our programs are designed to prepare learners to lead in the field of environmental sustainability and responsible business development. With specialized Impact Certificates that can be taken within our degree programs as elective modules or as 3-month standalone courses, there are many ways to gain these essential skills:

  • Improve the Global Impact of Your Organization: This 3-month course focuses on systems thinking and stakeholder management skills, critical for navigating the complex relationships between ecosystem services, social issues, and business strategies.
  • Foundations of Climate Sciences: Learners gain an essential understanding of environmental systems, focusing on their role in societal and economic development through courses like Climate and Environmental Science Foundations and Ecosystem Services and Nature-Based Solutions. (This elective module is available in all our Bachelors, MBA and Masters programs).
  • Climate Policy and Advocacy: Learners explore how to critically analyze and influence environmental policy. They acquire the tools to craft, advocate, and implement policy changes that ensure fair access to ecosystem services, thus promoting environmental justice. (This elective module is available in all our Bachelors, MBA and Masters programs).

Through these programs, we empower learners not only to understand the world but also to change it. By mastering critical skills, our graduates are uniquely equipped to tackle and resolve the environmental injustices impacting vulnerable communities globally, promoting a more equitable sharing of nature's benefits. Discover more about our programs and join us today to make a difference.

‍About Dr. Sami Asad:

Dr. Sami Asad program director for our Master of Science in Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, and Technology in Tomorrow University stands at the merge of environmental science and sustainable innovation, wielding his expertise to challenge and reshape the discourse on conservation and development. Holding a Ph.D. in ecology and conservation, his work spans the scope from assessing the impacts of human activities on biodiversity to harnessing artificial intelligence for conservation efforts. At Tomorrow University of Applied Sciences, Dr. Asad's leadership pioneers an academic understanding of sustainability and also practical, tech-driven solutions for pressing environmental issues, embodying a commitment to both education and action in the quest for a sustainable future.

Sources[1] Going Beyond the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment: An Index System of Human Dependence on Ecosystem Services | PLOS ONE

[2] Mapping supply of and demand for ecosystem services to assess environmental justice in New York City - Herreros‐Cantis - 2021 - Ecological Applications - Wiley Online Library

[3] Gender-based violence and the environment - resource | IUCN[4] Water insecurity and gender‐based violence: A global review of the evidence - Tallman - 2023 - WIREs Water - Wiley Online Library

[5] s41467-021-23905-3.pdf (

Dr. Sami Asad
Professor of Sustainability & Ecology
Dr. Sami Asad
Professor of Sustainability & Ecology

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