Classification and Sustainability: Creating Standards for Renewable Resources

About a month ago, environmental researchers from the UN Environment World Conservation Centre introduced a new classification schema specifically for renewable and non-renewable resources. The purpose of this standardization was to “harmonize existing approaches and create a system that is practical for decision makers in the public and private sectors.”

The classification system will help foster a wider understanding of what climate change is and what resources are most at risk and what each specifically needs to avoid becoming endangered.

The system contains seven main categories that are evaluated: mineral and energy resources, land, soil resources, timber resources, aquatic resources, other biological resources, and water resources. Although the categories are easy enough to understand, they are not quite comprehensive enough to encompass all of the necessary natural assets. Large entities, such as volume of the water in the sea, are not included because of the overwhelming size.

There are a few systems already in play, such as the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting Central Framework.  The system is structured hierarchically and is meant to be a framework for databases evaluating green investments. Specifically, it classifies entities related to natural capital assets, which are rapidly declining. Because different habitats and species respond to different stimuli, the classification scheme is as granular as possible, breaking down habitats to their smallest components.

The new hierarchy in place contains four levels of organization and examples of what is being described. For instance, level one is the most category, denoting assets as either abiotic or biotic.

The system allows the user to see the various relationships between different ecosystem components and decide the best way to invest their money. As I thought about this, I thought about the semantics of climate change and wondered why a universal classification system and taxonomy had not already been implemented, given the urgency of climate change. Human beings tend to perceive climate change as what philosopher Timothy Morton refers to as a “hyperobject”—something defying temporal reasoning. There is still not a universal way to discuss climate change, and many crucial policymakers that have the potential to help abate its effects deny that it is happening at all. I think that a universal classification system is the necessary first step in deciding what to do next. I only wish that one existed at an individual, more colloquial level outside of the world of finance/big business so that citizens could clearly see the relationships between at risk environments, the species that inhabit them, and potential solutions.

By Sarah Goldfarb, 653-01


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by Hugh McLeod

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