Tag Archives: ecology

E. O. Wilson on preserving biodiversity

5 Mar

This week he publishes his 32nd book, Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, in which he argues that we must set aside half the earth a preserve for non-human life. Claudia Dreifus interviews him in The New York Times:

Q. Why publish this book now?

A. Because a lifetime of research has magnified my perception that we are in a crisis with reference to the living part of the environment.We now have enough measurements of extinction rates and the likely rate in the future to know that it is approaching a thousand times the baseline of what existed before humanity came along.

Reading your book, one senses you felt a great urgency to write it?

The urgency was twofold. First, it’s only been within the last decade that a full picture of the crisis in biodiversity has emerged. The second factor was my age. I’m 86. I had a mild stroke a couple of years ago. I thought, “Say this now or never.”

And what I say is that to save biodiversity, we need to set aside about half the earth’s surface as a natural reserve. I’m not suggesting we have one hemisphere for humans and the other for the rest of life. I’m talking about allocating up to one half of the surface of the land and the sea as a preserve for remaining flora and fauna.

In a rapidly developing world, where would such a reserve be?

Large parts of nature are still intact — the Amazon region, the Congo Basin, New Guinea. There are also patches of the industrialized world where nature could be restored and strung together to create corridors for wildlife. In the oceans, we need to stop fishing in the open sea and let life there recover. The open sea is fished down to 2 percent of what it once was. If we halted those fisheries, marine life would increase rapidly. The oceans are part of that 50 percent.

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Tim Morton: Chants and the World

6 Aug

From Timothy Morton. The Ecological Thought. Harvard UP 2010, p. 104:

What’s wrong with the “re-enchantment of the world”? There’s nothing wrong with enchantment. It’s the prefix “re-“ that the source of the problem. This prefix assumes that the world was once enchanted, that we have done something to disenchant it, and that we can, and should, get back to where we once belonged. We simply can’t unthink modernity. If there is any enchantment, it lies in the future. The ecological “enchants the world,” if enchantment means exploring the profound and wonderful openness and intimacy of the mesh. What can we make of the new constellation? What art, literature, music, science, and philosophy are suitable to it? Art can contain utopian energy. As Percey Shelley put it, art is a kind of shadow from the future that looms into our present world.

The fact is, enchantment is as more about us than it is about the world. It is WE who are or are not enchanted by the world. But what good does our enchantment do the world?

Not much.

What need does the world have of our enchantment?

Not much.

If there’s disenchantment, that too has more to do with us than the world. If we want to we can get over it. If we can’t, well, no sense it looking to the world. Its got its own problems. It could care less about our disenchantment.

The world, like Old Man River, just keeps rollin’ along. And we can learn to chant anytime we so wish.

Politics is Life: Tim Morton explains the Mesh

13 Jul

Politicians give politics a bad name. That’s not how politics is, deeply, it’s just what it’s become in this money-driven death trap we saddled ourselves with in the last century or so. We need to rehabilitate our sense of politics so we can pursue it with joy.

Let Professor Morton begin the rehabilitation.

* * * * *

From Timothy Morton. The Ecological Thought. Harvard UP 2010, p. 29:

The ecological thought does, indeed, consist in the ramifications of the “truly wonderful fact” of the mesh. All life forms are the mesh, and so are all dead ones, as are their habitats, which are also made up of living and nonliving beings. We know even more about how life forms have shaped Earth (think of oil, of oxygen—the first climate change cataclysm). We drive around using crushed dinosaur parts. Iron is mostly a by-product of bacterial metabolism. So is oxygen. Mountains can be made of shells and fossilized bacteria. Death and the mesh go together in another sense, too, because natural election implies extinction.

If that isn’t politics, I don’t know what is. Not politics in the sense of Democrats and Republicans, Socialists and Tories, nor feminists, plutocrats, and anarchists. But politics as negotiation, coalition, and competition. We’re all trying to survive here, make our nut, live and die with grace.

There’s the math: game theory. The great John von Neuman—and he was great, believe me, the Einstein of the 20th Century—invented it as World War II—the great political maelstrom that also gave us the atomic bomb and the digital computer, both of which had von Neuman’s fingerprints all over them—came to a close. Game theory is a mathematics of rational agents in interaction, generally competitive, but not necessarily purely. And the rationality, that’s a peculiar abstract notion not quite the same as the ordinary language word of the same pronunciation and spelling.

Game theory quickly became a tool of economists and political scientists. Pentagon planners used it in war games and plotted strategy against the Russkies, who, I am sure, returned the favor. No mere abstract mathematical exercise that, not when it was that close to the finger poised above the Hot Button to nuclear disaster. And if game theory had urged the finger to depress that button?

BOOM! Massive environmental impact event. Some live, some die, life goes on. Continue reading

Tim Morton: Beyond Apocalypse

11 Jul

From Timothy Morton. The Ecological Thought. Harvard UP 2010, p. 19:

The ecological thought must transcend the language of apocalypse. It’s ironic that we can imagine the collapse of the Antarctic ice shelves more readily than we can the collapse of the banking system—and despite this, amazingly, as this book was written, the banking system did collapse. The ecological thought must imagine economic change; otherwise it’s just another piece on the game board of capitalist ideology. The boring, rapacious reality we have constructed, with its familiar, furious, yet ultimately state whirl, isn’t the final state of history. The ecological society to come will be much more pleasurable, far more sociable, and ever so much more reasonable than we imagine.

Yes. By all means, transcend apocalypse, transcend capitalism. The future CAN be better.

At the same time I want to imagine the worst. Climate change: Whooossshhhhh and crunch. Billions will suffer and die. Humans, but not only humans. Other flora and fauna as well. Trillions upon trillions.

We humans may well climate-change ourselves to extinction. But the earth will survive. Life will survive. And thrive. Not the same life that was here a billion years ago, a million years, ten-thousand, one-hundred, yesterday. But life will go on, and flourish, without us. Continue reading

Raccoons Chase, Attack Washington State Woman – NYTimes.com

11 Jul

LAKEWOOD, Wash. (AP) — A Washington state woman says she was attacked and bitten by raccoons after her dog chased several of the animals up a tree.

Send that raccoon to Washington, D.C. There’s some politicians there that need its most solicitous and gnawing attention. And check out Pom Poko, a great Studio Ghibli film in which raccoons–well, not raccoons, they’re tanuki, Japanese raccoon-like dogs)–rebel against the destruction of their land. They institute guerilla warfare against the humans.

It could happen here! 

Note: The tanuki are shape-shifters. Rumor has it that Occupy Wall Street was started by tanuki.

via Raccoons Chase, Attack Washington State Woman – NYTimes.com.

The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to ‘Urban Growth’ – NYTimes.com

25 Mar

New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward was devastated in Katrina. It’s coming back, slowly. What does this slow recovery teach us about resilience?

The closest analogy to what happened in the Lower Ninth, Blum says, is a volcanic eruption on the order of Mount St. Helens. The next closest is the tsunami that hit Japan’s northeast coast a year ago. This is what distinguishes the Lower Ninth from the most derelict neighborhoods in cities like Detroit and Cleveland. Katrina was not merely destructive; it brought about a “catastrophic reimagining of the landscape.” As in Japan, a surge of water destroyed most human structures. In much of the neighborhood, nothing remained — neither man, plants nor animals. The ecological term for this is simplification. “In 2007, before rebuilding started, when you went down there, it was like going to an agricultural field,” Blum says. “Literally it was wiped clean.”

What happened over the intervening years has made the Lower Ninth one of the richest ecological case studies in the world. Ecologists hypothesize that, after a catastrophic event, human communities and ecological communities return at the same rate. But this theory has not been tested in real time. Blum is among a coalition of scientists — ecologists, ornithologists, botanists, geographers and sociologists — that is studying the Lower Ninth’s recovery to learn how man, and the environment, will cope with future catastrophes.

via The Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans Gives New Meaning to ‘Urban Growth’ – NYTimes.com.