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Does “Economy” really save the environment?

Wednesday, October 8th, 2008

Christie Lovat, a third year undergraduate student in botanical science, did a seminar on the Economic Benefits of Ecologically Managed Golf Courses. Ms Lovat is interested in ethnobotanical science and did a wonderful presentation by demonstrating how things can change even at the “ECOnomic level”. As well said in our lab by supernova, this presentation was an example of how an organisation can adapt their practices to make the environment a better place to live… or to golf 😉

In Quebec, the use of pesticides is prohibited. However, there are few places where pesticides are tolerated. Golf course is one of those exemptions. The use of pesticides in golf course is widely used (39 382 kilograms annually including fungicides, herbicides, insecticides, and rodenticides). However, according to the Code de gestion des pesticides, every three year, golf courses have to submit to the government a plan of pesticides reduction. Those reductions range from 12% (fungicides) to 2% (rodenticides).

Ms Lovat has a well structured presentation and explained how golf courses are evaluated and how they make profit. The golf courses are evaluated for three different criteria: 1) its difficulty, 2) its beauty, and 3) its condition. The last two are costly options because, it costs a huge amount of dollars to make it beautiful (ornamental plants, watering, and other field maintenance) and to keep it in good condition (use of pesticides). Ms Lovat demonstrated that with more environmental friendly golf course, it is possible to reduce both maintenance and construction cost. The solutions were very simple. First, we should use native instead of ornamental plants. Native are already adapted to the environment and therefore demand less maintenance. This technique will therefore also reduce pesticides applications. Second, during the construction of new golf courses, instead of planting trees and cutting the native ones, an ecological golf course would keep native trees because they have the same advantage as the native plants have. According to Ms Lovat, an ecological golf course can reduce down to 70% of its construction cost.

The idea overall make sense. I am a golfer (pathetic golfer) myself and I went recently golfing with one of my friends in Saskatchewan and I was expecting to play in golf course with local attributes such as “grassland”. Naturally, Canadians prairies (biome) are a result of the type of climate (Briefly, more rain makes them a forest or less rain makes them a desert). The climate made them Prairies and it is not a result of extensive agriculture. Instead of golfing in surrounding grassland, we played in a typical North-Eastern American golf course with many trees and ornamental plants. It may be difficult to notice but both pictures are from Saskatoon. Weird, isn’t it or was I the only one to expect a golf courses with local attributes?  🙁

The presentation of economic benefits of ecologically managed golf courses was well demonstrated. But, are we at a point where we need economical explanation to protect our environment? It seems that we need to prove to the polluter that ecosystems have an economic value. Is it acceptable? Are arguments like “this landscape is beautiful and need to be preserve” and “we need unaffected habitat by direct economic human activity” not enough to make them protected? An economist response would be “no” because they are not rendering economical services to society.

We cannot attribute a value to any living organism. Even if they do all at a certain point, it will be too late when we will realize it.