Getting Real About the Environment, Pt.2

Originally posted here.

“Invasive Species” is a strange concept

This is a bitter point for me, as it was a dislike for olives and fennel throughout the remnant vegetation of South Australia which drew me to time at university. In many ways I’ve since been brought around by 180o.

Firstly, as far as I can tell, the difference between natural and artificial selection is one base entirely on the human ego. Life persists only when it can adapt to the environmental pressures being placed on it. We are a force of nature! Our species reasons something and pressures to make it so. Those species that get in the way of this pressure either adapt or die out.

It’s a gut-wrenching truth, but a truth nonetheless. The ancestor of domestic cattle, for instance, is no more but the evolved form of it thrives in the human made environment.

Likewise, species now have a distribution potential that they would never have had prior to us. Sure some migratory birds distributed seed and small aquatic species, but it was us who placed the camel in the outback and the horse through the New World.

Whether it was some new adaptive trait within a population or climatic pressures, the range and niche exploited by a species have always been fluid (well, at least in those whom persist in passing on their genes). If something about them gave them the edge against competitors within the new range, they took the resources at the expense of the losers. However, it could just as easily go in favour of the original niche exploiters or possible that some “equilibrium” is achieved (again, populations of interacting species are not stable).

For many species now considered “invasive” eradication, while a nice idea, is probably an impossibility. Feral cats, rabbits and dogs in Australia could never be removed – regardless how many billions of dollars are thrown at the problem – especially while we decide we like to keep them as pets in our yards! The same goes for any number of the nationally recognised weeds which have additional recruitment from agricultural and ornamental garden stocks. Furthermore, it takes only one avid hiker to scuff their foot in the soil seed bank or one flock of parrots to enjoy the fruit of a feral olive tree or one windswept roadway or babbling brook or…

It doesn’t matter which example you select, human activity has provided a new window, no; has opened a new floodgate – for species distribution (whilst, at the same time, destroyed many of the “natural” pathways through landscape fragmentation) far beyond that would have otherwise have been and species have replied in the way they are built to; by attempting to adapt and carry on their genes to subsequent generations.

Management is, of course essential to our movements forward, but eradication and control are largely beyond our capacity. Rather than waste huge amounts of money fighting “plagues” of “feral” species, we need to address the question of what we want from our environments (ie. “artificial selection”) and what would provide the greatest benefit to our activities and in maintaining the greatest diversity in the gene pool of an ecosystem.

As previously stated, the pristine world is gone, however, there is no reason why an environment that we helped to develop cannot be diverse, productive and beautiful.

We will not power down

A common idea that persists within the more environmentally engaged community consists of a utopian ideal of low energy consumption. A return to basics.

This is self-evidentially not going to happen. It is increasingly becoming essential, for instance, for a successful member of affluent countries to keep smart phones on themselves. We are communicating like never before and the wireless age of mass information sharing is upon us.

Even in developing nations, mobile phone ownership is becoming common place and to expect them, within their development to forgo the energy dependant technologies that have made our standard of living possible is simply selfish. The way forward is one based on technological advancements and not a move backwards into de-industrialism. To place this argument even further from debate one needs only to mention medical science – in what it has achieved over the course of the industrial era and how dependant it is on electricity (so much so back-up generators are a fundamental component of care).

Rather than obsess over a world less technological, we should hope to support research and development that allows for technological revolutions in efficiency of technology and of low emission electricity sources. This pathway offers greater potential for reducing carbon emissions in the shortest time frames (see Tackling Climate Change in the U.S. for example).

I am not saying to give up!

I know that in review, it looks as though I asking the reader to throw their arms up in surrender in this and the previous section. Here, I’ve attacked a number of environmental ideologies and have in my time criticised many others. I don’t do this because I’m an industrial wolf under the environmental sheep’s clothing, but because environmental management is so important to me!

We spend far too much time looking into the far future of possibilities or otherwise ask far too great a leap from our current position to reach an ideal conclusion. However, nice this may be, it doesn’t help our purpose. Asking people to give up a standard of living they have come to expect or asking people never to reach the comfortable heights they’ve seen in the developed world will only turn people away – they will ignore you until collapse undoes our progress.

We often ask others to make sacrifices, but we too need to make sacrifices. For us, the greatest sacrifice will need to be to get real about environmental management and to let go of many ideals. Another will be the luxury of complaining and blaming others.

I’ve tried to leave each point with some suggestions; many of which demand action. Rather than blaming “evil” industry, car ownership, lazy politicians, corporate greed or whatever else, we are the many – both the voter and the consumer. By voting (or not voting), by buying (or not buying) we create the communities in which we live.

We cannot expect an idealistic result and will drive away many potential supporters in the process. If we instead allow for compromise and directly our activities for “best possible” scenarios, we can affect development and societal behaviour changes for the better. It is more likely to begin with a change in our perspective and not by demanding change in others.


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