Experts Assess Globe’s Health

Report identifies key environmental indicators

A new report that details the state of the nation’s environment will help scientists and politicians understand how to respond to changes in the environment, according to a Harvard professor involved with the project.

The report, written by a team of researchers at the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington, D.C., provides the most comprehensive information available on, for example, the levels of chemicals in the environment, the extent of certain types of plants and animals and the use of land for recreation.

“Previously there was no place where we could see a comprehensive but succinct view of how we were doing,” said William C. Clark, who is Brooks professor of international science, public policy and human development at the Kennedy School of Government. Clark, who chaired the project, is a senior advisor to the Heinz Center.

Clark said the project aimed to “create for the nation a set of macro-indicators for the state of the ecosystem” similar to the information on unemployment and productivity that exists for the national economy. The information is designed to help policy-makers make informed decisions about the environment.

The report “identified significant gaps in our ability to describe our ecosystem,” said Robin O’Malley, the project director. “If the American people want to have a complete and rich picture of the state of our ecosystem, we need to address these gaps.”

The report identifies key environmental indicators and calls for annual updates in their data.


The project, which brought together experts from government, business and academia, is a rare collaboration among traditional adversaries.

Cooperation from these groups with such diverse policy interests was integral in the report’s success in such a highly politicized area, Clark said.

“Part of the project’s core design was that we had to engage a cross-section of society in the report to establish the appearance of non-bias,” he said.

The committee responsible for the report compiled information on many major ecosystems including coasts and oceans, forests, farmlands, fresh waters, grasslands and shrublands and urban and suburban areas.

For each of these areas, the committee agreed upon a set of 10 key characteristics to be monitored over time and ten indicators to measure each of the characteristics.

The State of the Nation’s Ecosystems is being published by Cambridge University Press and can be viewed in full at