in ecological problems is by its character a pursuit based on multiple
specialties, not unlike the study of oceanography that requires physical,
chemical, geological and biological information and much, much more. We
must rethink how we think, learn and act.
In the sense that
the context is essential to knowing anything and that we also cannot scientifically
know enough facts well enough to predict outcomes, we are faced with a
Consider that biological reactions among creatures are less predictive than are chemical reactions. Chemical reactions in known concentrations are certain to occur when conditions are
at known temperatures, pressures, or pH. Acid water inhibits the development
of fish eggs or insect larvae, but how any two different albatross birds handle the mercury they
ingest from ocean fish is an unpredictable metabolic question.
uncertainty is woven into the heart of ecological
problems and that physical uncertainty grows when using models or
assessing desired out comes that involve biology. Social biology adds
yet another kind of uncertainty to the significant background errors which
we confront. For example, fifty two, raw sewage out-falls in Vera Cruz,
Mexico have killed the coral reef
that once guarded the entrance of the bay. People still swim in the filthy
water, but the corals are dead and the fish are
gone. What is uncertain is how long, if the water from the out falls was
treated and cleaned, would it take for the reef to revive and what do
we mean by revive?
require a multitasking, educational perspective, exercised on multiple
scales, because several time dependent changes
occur in some defined but hard to predict ways.
the oceans are warming and the conveyor belt of deep ocean currents
driving surface waters is at risk of slowing the flow of the Gulf Stream.
Deep ocean water
is warmer now and has caused thermal expansion of the ocean leading
to additional sea level increase.
toxicity in seventy species of ocean fish poses a health risk to people
who eat fish more than twice per week.
species on land and in the sea are going extinct at a rate faster than
human population growth and at a rate faster than the aggregate rate
of species decline.
Predators in the
ocean have declined in size steadily since 1950s based on fishery catch
data. The larger the fish and the older the fish the number of eggs
produced increases exponentially over the number of eggs produced by
younger smaller fish.
humans are still learning by means that may actually inhibit the capacity
to see across or deeply into the divides where disciplines spar over
the contextual meaning of detailed findings.
In the quest for
reliable order, meaning and predictability in reality,
science reveals further uncertainties about what we are doing because
of the way we live our lives today.
is enough sociological evidence to show that when confronted with huge
uncertainties related to known ecological or health problems, human subjects
initially deny that a problem exists. Realization of the veracity of the
problem leads to separation and assertions that the problem is due to
someone else's fault. Once someone recognizes their own complicity in
the problem there is a tendency to assert that economically rational behavior
will trap the perpetrator in socially destructive actions until talented
thinkers, using new technology, will create a means to solve the problem.
From pesticide contamination, acid rain, lead in gasoline, or nicotine
additives to tobacco products, to the testing of nuclear weapons, this
scenario takes years if not decades for the social learning curve to encompass
shifts in awareness strong enough to alter behavior.
what if, as the pace of deleterious changes quickens and the behavior
we are exhibiting produces long-lived pollutants, that we are faced with
a compounding problem which requires action sooner, than later? What if
the time we have to promote awareness into
behavioral change is less than the average time for such transformations
in thinking to occur? And finally what if the diffuse harm is incurred
by populations so far removed from the
perpetrator that traditional cause and effect models do not convince people
that changes are worthwhile, economically valued, or even healthy to engage
is the problem we are seeing with respect to the way multiple impact
is driving time dependent reactions into long-term cycles from which we
will be unable to foster effective responses. The clearest example of
this is the persistence of carbon
in the air and the rapid building up of carbon
dioxide in the oceans and the air. But climate
change or global warming, by whatever name is also occurring simultaneously
with human population growth, a loss of places adequate for species and
people to live, losses in wildlife and fisheries, rises in frequency rates
for human neurological disorders, and the disruptive yet interdependent
impacts of energy consumption
on nutrient cycles. The co dependent character of sulfur dioxide and mercury
pollution, not to mention carbon dioxide waste from the burning of
coal, oil, or garbage is but one small example of the combined impacts
being greater than the sum of the interacting
sulfur metabolizing bacteria, convert mercury deposited from fossil fuel
combustion into organically soluble mercury. This soluble form accumulates
in the tissues of fish and fish that eat fish, such that 70 species of
fish in the oceans, more than 10 states and Florida have mercury warnings
on the consumption of fish caught in interstate or state waters. But the
positive news, like the response to the ozone loss in the poles, is that
actions when taken to remove mercury from garbage incineration plants
leads within five years to measurable declines in mercury levels in surrounding
waters and in the denizens of these places. Thus human action makes a
considerable difference on the health risks associated with persistent
chemicals in the environment.
science is more than a mere method for understanding, describing and
verifying knowledge of the natural
world. It is a mesh of strands from disparate disciplines woven together
to reveal the importance of places, forces and knowable outcomes, even
where human behavior, the greatest unknown
is a significant factor.
We are the heirs
of an unfathomable ancient legacy of dreams, mistakes and hunches gone
wrong, modern science's
value lies in the fact that it provides a method of detecting errors as
we discover an integrated, if not a sublime meaning to our conscious
we consciously become aware of the earth's living seas, its diverse bird,
fish and animal life, or worship our culture's many prevalent idols, we
are the the earth's children. That is because we are the daily product
of bacteria and plants, just as we are the historical descendants of the
biological ancestors who built this world and that record is seen in even
our genes. Before we can think about this fact of dependence on simple life forms, we may or may not realize that we are the recipients of the biological
wealth of the planet because we breathe the air produced by bacteria and
plants. Before we become aware, we consume the food and fuel of animals
and plants both existing and geologically transformed fossils,to live.
Before we question the meaning of our existence, we are enabled to be
what we are because of the geology and biological geography of the planet.
Gaia's child, we are tethered to our mother still by the unseen umbilical
chord, whose entwined systems of water transport, nutrient exchange, waste
recycling that we study as separate strands, is really one entity nourishing
our lives in an otherwise immense universal emptiness of quarks, atoms,
galaxies and time holes that swallow matter as fast as the cosmos swallows
our imaginations on a star lit evening.
We need a new approach to comprehending the complexity of the tethering hold this water planet
has on our beings, the importance of human choice in how we live healthy
lives and consume the land's bounty, or else we will perish as our ancestors
did in full ignorance of our responsibility in cutting the ties that bind
us to the world that gave us birth, nourishes our senses and provides
us with the luxury of illusions.
we can decide if the intrusions we have made into our life support system
will yield knowledge to help us repair the damage, quibble over the means
to restore our nourishing seas, air and life, or live in the illusion
that we are "thinking," ethically imaginative and creatures
capable of changing our habits.