Careful with that
Tscientists developed a program to kill off non-native cats on the island of
Macquarie, a United Nations World Heritage site, because the felines were preying
his is what can happen when you mess with Mother Nature. In 1985, Australian
on native burrowing birds (see the February 2009 Journal of Applied Ecology online).
Freed from the predators, the island’s rabbits, also non-native, bred as rabbits tend
to do devouring native vegetation and wreaking havoc on Macquarie’s landscape and
Now ecological intervention isn’t new, and clearly this isn’t the first time that managing
an ecosystem has produced unforeseen complications. Those who are loyal to the idea of
balancing resources in accord with the needs of humans are far from buffaloed. Today
prominent scientists, world leaders and citizens are calling for more unified systems of
Earth’s management – systems that would grow out of cooperation among leaders in
research, technology, politics, social science and economics. Critics dismiss the ideology
as arrogant or, at best, a pipe dream.
Ready to meet
Not so fast. Our early failures are not much different from those that preceded some of our
greatest achievements. History suggests that, with time and industry, we may succeed in
developing new, enlightened and resourceful ways of balancing our lifestyles, our planet
and our resources.
Almost 90 years ago, Soviet geochemist Vladimir I. Vernadsky wrote that humans were
becoming a geological force, shaping the planet much as geological forces such as water,
wind and earthquakes do. He envisioned a society enlightened by science that would
lessen the impact of humans on Earth and its resources, calling it the “noosphere,” a
planet of the mind or “life’s domain ruled by reason.”
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“We’ve come through a period of finally understanding the nature and magnitude of
humanity’s transformation of the earth,” Harvard biologist Dr. William C. Clark told
Andrew Revkin of The New York Times in 2002. “Having realized it, can we become
clever enough at a big enough scale to be able to maintain the rates of progress? I think
I magin e the invisible
The satellites, imaging technology and computers already exist, and there are voluminous
libraries of data and imagery already collected. Earth summits are becoming more plenti-
ful and environmental concerns more familiar.
Infrared spectroscopy has grown up.
It is leaving the protected world of
scientific labs to enter the production
floor for quality control, identification
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In many senses, we’re just out of the gate. The tasks are daunting: Tens of thousands of
decisions must be made to gain every inch of progress. Hurdles such as cost, consumption
and the hoped-for alliance of vastly different countries, cultures and governments lie
ahead. But weigh that against the prospect of a world coalition dedicated to monitoring
and balancing all the forces on the planet.
Imagine that. I can.