Environmental indicator

Environmental indicator

Environmental indicators are simple measures that tell us what is happening in the environment. Since the environment is very complex, indicators provide a more practical and economical way to track the state of the environment than if we attempted to record every possible variable in the environment. For example, the health of amphibian populations are often monitored as they are very sensitive to changes in their habitats and may provide early warning of ecological impacts from climate change, loss of stratospheric ozone, habitat alterations, or the presence of pesticides.

Environmental indicators can include physical, biological and chemical measures known as ecological indicators. Examples of these include atmospheric temperature, the concentration of ozone in the stratosphere or the number of breeding bird pairs in an area. Indicators can also measure human activities or anthropogenic pressures, such as greenhouse gas emissions, or the societal responses used to address environmental issues, such as the number of people serviced by sewage treatment. Environmental indicators are tools that can serve different purposes. They can be used to see if environmental objectives are being met, they can be used to communicate the state of the environment to the general public and decision makers and they can be used as a diagnostic tool through detecting trends in the environment.

Environmental indicators can be measured and reported at different scales. For example, a town may track air quality along with water quality and count the number of rare species of birds to estimate the health of the environment in their area. Others have attempted to monitor and assess the state of the planet using indicators. In other cases, indicators are developed for specific ecosystems, such as the Great-Lakes in North America.


The type of indicators selected or developed should be partially based on who will be using the information from the indicators. There are generally three possible audiences to consider, each with different information needs. These audiences are: 1) technical experts and science advisors, 2) policy-makers, decision makers and resource managers, and 3) general public and media.

The technical experts and scientists will be interested in detailed and complex indicators. These indicators should have scientific validity, sensitivity, responsiveness and have data available on past conditions. The audience that includes policy-makers and resource managers will be concerned with using indicators that are directly related to evaluating policies and objectives. They require their indicators to be sensitive, responsive and have historical data available like the technical audience, but they are also looking for indicators that are cost-effective and have meaning for public awareness. Finally, the general public responds to indicators that have clear and simple messages and are meaningful to them, such as the UV index and the air quality index.

External links

* [http://www.ec.gc.ca/soer-ree/ Environment Canada's State of Environment Infobase]
* [http://www.oecd.org/department/0,2688,en_2649_34441_1_1_1_1_1,00.html Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development]
* [http://www.environmentandresources.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=En&n=6F66F932-1 Canadian Environmental Sustainability Indicators:2007]
* [http://www.csin-rcid.ca/ The Canadian Sustainability Indicators Network (CSIN)]
* [http://themes.eea.europa.eu/indicators/ Indicators about Europe's Environment]
* Fraser Institute's [http://www.fraserinstitute.org/commerce.web/publication_details.aspx?pubID=2958 Environmental Indicators (6th Ed)] - has an academic article devoted to its flaws: McKenzie and Rees (2007), "An analysis of a brownlash report", "Ecological Economics" 61(2-3), pp505-515
* [http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/solec/ State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference]
* [http://earthtrends.wri.org/ Earth Trends]

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