Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Why are so many people teaching and preaching a “way” for us to go to preserve the planet? They are missing one of the most important principles of nature: variety is the key to survival of a population.
There are two types of variety that we should not only accept, but embrace.
All organisms need an environment rich in diversity of plant, animal and microbial life. The stability of the ecosystem depends on plants that take carbon dioxide from the air to produce food, and, in so doing, release oxygen into the atmosphere. Animals use the oxygen to “burn” their food fuel to stay alive, and in so doing release carbon dioxide back to the plants. Microbes can do either, and will also cause dead organisms to decay, reducing all materials to a form that can be used again. The greater the variety, the more stable the ecosystem will be. Competition for the resources in an area controls the size of the populations present. If there are ample resources, life will thrive.
Enter man. What is our worse environmental practice? It is simplifying the environment.
Our highways and cities with skyscrapers may look extremely complex, but the number of species in a city is much lower than the number that originally lived in the area. And, on our farms, we plant acre after acre of a single crop, which practically wipes out competition within that area. The only animals that remain are those that can feed off of the crop. Because there is so much food, that population grows exponentially and becomes a pest population. They weren’t pests in small numbers. We make them pests by changing the environment. Then, we have to spend money, time, and energy to keep the pests from feasting at the banquet that we laid out for them in the first place! We may even have to resort to the use of poisons to keep them from eating our food. (Organic farms escape this scenario by rotating crops or planting a variety of crops in the same fields, keeping a variety of animals that compete and maintain small populations.)
What happens to the animals that can’t feed on our crop? They migrate to find food or they die. (Please note: Extinctions are a natural part of our planet's history, with the majority of extinction events occuring prior to the arrival of humans! Are we going against nature when we try to prevent extinctions?)
Therefore, the WORST thing that the government could ask us to do would be to do the same thing! If we ALL drive the same kind of car, use the same kind of light bulb, have the same kind of effect on the environment, we will simplify it even more and weaken the natural forces of survival.
Another kind of variety that is essential for life to continue on Earth is genetic diversity. Differences in individuals are necessary for the survival of the population.
Here’s a scenario. Little furry animals live in an area. An ice age is coming. What can they do to survive it? Invariably, someone will answer saying, “They will grow thicker hair.” Do me a favor. Stand up right now and grow thicker hair. You can’t. No animal can unless it has the genes to do so like dogs or Arctic hares that grow thicker hair during the winter and shed it during the spring.
But, in every population, there is variety. Some little animals naturally have thicker hair and some have thinner hair. If the ice age hits, the thin-haired animals die or move away leaving only the thick-haired animals behind. Since dead animals can’t make babies, only the thick-haired animals contribute genes to the next generation. Most of the babies will be like their parents, so, over time, the population (not an individual) changes. It no longer has thin-haired members. It will, however, have some that are thicker than others!
If your teacher told you that some fish flopped out of a pond and grew legs, forget it! That teacher was wrong. No scientist ever said that. No one with any sense believes that. Populations, not individuals, change as they adjust to environmental change.
So, again, the worst thing that we could be advised to do would be to strive to be alike. Humans would be much more likely to become extinct if we were selected by government mandate for certain characteristics. The use of abortions, eugenics, euthanasia, sex/gene selection, cloning and other processes would greatly weaken our genetic strength.
If we want to keep Earth healthy, we need to stop going against nature and let the human species compete in a variety of ways, using a variety of resources. Period.
Carol Kelly (B.S.-University of Montevallo; M.Ed.- Auburn University) taught environmental biology for 20 years at Auburn University and with Montgomery Public Schools (Alabama).