Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We need to "tread softly" on Earth's grand cycles: Whitfield

Professor Michael Whitfield, the direcctor of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, writing in the scientific journal, Nature, declares:
"We should (rather) understand our dependence on Earth's grand cycles, and learn to tread softly in their presence."
When asked, "What do you mean?" by this comment, replies (to Thomas Homer Dixon in his book, The Ingenuity Gap, "We really don't know how many important features of Earth's grand systems work...For example, the MBA has begun a program to gather information on the impact of human beings on marine ecosystems along the English Channel. We're asking: What is the assimilative capacity of the coastal sea? How much rubbish can we dump? And how much fish can we take out? But this is an almost impossible task because we don't really know which species inhabit the waters of coastal Europe. We don't have a proper count of the species there; of those species we have identified, we often don't know what they do; and we therefore can't possibly know how the whole coastal ecosystem operates. We do know, from out studies of other ecosystems, that some species aren't essential to the overall functioning of the ecosystem. But others are 'keystone' species, and if we remover them we will gravely damage the whole system. In the case of the English Channel, determining a particular species' role is often staggeringly difficult.
Our ignorance is compounded by the fact that human societies and many natural systems operate on radically different time scales. It takes countless millennia for nature to build up biological capital--to build up, for instance, the capital represented by the diversity of species in the English Channel--yet we can wipe out much of that capital in an extraordinarily short time. As we exploit these sytems of natural resources at a very high rate, we don't appreciate the length of time it took nature to create the resources in the first place." (From Thomas Homer-Dixon, The Ingenuity Gap, p.47)
Given the blind eye that many of the western countries, especially Canada, are turning to the issues of our relationship to the environment, we have not read, let alone digested, the impact of Professor Whitfield's words. We continue to pour tonnes of carbon gases into the atmosphere. We continue to avoid even talking about implementing a carbon tax to begin the process of lowering our emissions. We continue to watch projects like the "tar sands" oil project operate with minimal environmental restrictions, in our headlong pursuit of sales of those fossil fuels. We continue to keep our collective, political heads in the sand, in you will pardon the pun, on all matters relating to our wanton disregard of the ecosystems, and their complexities. And we continue without so much as a pause to reconsider our simple arrogance.
Some even go so far as to consider the questions about environmental atrophy irrelevant, redundant and unscientific.
While there are pockets of both understanding and concern, there is not a general public commitment, expressed through our leaders, that we need to take the issue seriously.

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