The worth of land use: a GIS-emergy evaluation of natural and human-made capital

Sci Total Environ. 2015 Feb 15;506-507:137-48. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2014.10.085. Epub 2014 Nov 18.


Natural systems make their natural capital and ecosystem services available to human economy. A careful analysis of the interplay between natural and human-made capital is needed to prevent natural capital being overexploited for present economic benefits, affecting lifestyles and wellbeing of future generations. In this study, the emergy synthesis is used to evaluate the natural and the human-made capital of Campania region (southern Italy) by accounting for the environmental support directly and indirectly provided by nature to resource generation. Furthermore, geographic information system (GIS) models are integrated with the emergy accounting procedure to generate maps of the spatial patterns of both natural and human-made capital distribution. Regional storages of natural and human-made capital are identified and evaluated in emergy units (seJ). The human-made capital of the Campania region (6.29E+24seJ) results to be about 11 times higher than the natural capital (5.69E+23seJ) due to the past and present exploitation of the natural resources needed to generate it over time. Moreover, by overlaying the total natural capital map and the total human-made capital map with a map of the protected areas within the region, only the 19% of the regional natural capital appears to be concentrated within protected areas, while most of it (81%) is concentrated outside. These findings suggest that the conservation of natural resources is also necessary outside protected areas by means of suitable policies, directives and investments. The human-made capital is mainly concentrated (88%) inside non-protected areas and interacts with the local natural capital. A management of the interactions between the two categories of wealth is crucial to prevent that the growth of human-made storages degrades the natural ecosystems and the environment. The proposed emergy-GIS framework reveals to be a useful tool for environmental planning and resource management aimed to conserve and protect the regional environmental heritage.

Keywords: Campania region; Emergy; GIS; Human-made capital; Natural capital.

MeSH terms

  • Conservation of Natural Resources / economics
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Ecosystem
  • Environment
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Geographic Information Systems*
  • Italy
  • Models, Theoretical