[Ecology] I think I'm nuts about ecology

  1. fluidistic

    fluidistic 3,336
    Gold Member

    As an aspirant scientist, physicist to be more precise, I believe it would be "normal" to be an ecologist. In fact I've always taken care of the Earth in my life since I've been taught to be respectful toward it. This means don't throw objects in nature, don't kill amphibians, don't burn plastic, etc. My parents never used a car either, nor will I.
    The great man E.O. Wilson is a fervor ecologist. He has an enormous understanding of nature, species and how their number is reducing nowadays. He also knows that life had several huge crisis called extinction events. This is basically why I don't understand why we should worry about global warming and a new extinction event.
    In my understanding, even if we wanted we could not kill all forms of life on Earth. There are bacteria living without oxygen, up to 100 meters underground if I remember well. Some are extremely resistant to nuclear radiation.
    Looking at wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_event, let me quote a sentence:
    and yet life went on and took back its level it had before that major crisis, even though it took a while.
    So I wonder, why exactly greenpeace and many ecologists would like to "freeze" the climate as it was some decades ago or a century ago when our role in climate change was minor? The climate on Earth has never been static, why would we want to make it that way? To me it looks like utterly antrophocentric and we only think on enlarging the lifespan of humans.
    Or why would we want to stop a new extinction event? I mean, this is not something new and we know that life won't cease to exist, so where's the problem? We could disappear, I agree. Is this the problem?

    I know these are stupid questions, but the more I think about it, the less special I think we are. The more miniscule I believe we are. We aren't doing anything new to life in general and to the Earth.
    I feel like I'm a special case, that I'm being nuts here.
    What are your thoughts on the matter?
  2. jcsd
  3. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    The worry isn't that we're going to wipe out all life on earth through environmental damage, it's that the knock on effects will damage us and our interests. Disruptions to ecosystems that lead to the extinction or significant population reduction of species that are vital to our economics, industry or indeed survival is a pretty big issue.
  4. fluidistic

    fluidistic 3,336
    Gold Member

    Thank you Ryan. So basically we're kind of selfish if we're ecologist. We want our own survival above anything else. It implies the survival of other species too, and that's why we want them to survive as well as maintaining the climate not too different from what it was some years ago.
  5. Ryan_m_b

    Staff: Mentor

    I think we need to be clear on terms here:

    - An ecologist is a scientist who studies ecology

    - An environmentalist is someone who advocates priority care for the environment

    It's not always about species survival though. There are aesthetic and moral arguments for environmentalism as well. I wont go into the latter because it's too much a question of values but the former is easy to see. It may be possible to live in a world with massively reduced biodiversity and biomass but do we want to? Would that be aesthetically pleasing?
  6. fluidistic

    fluidistic 3,336
    Gold Member

    I see. Ok I meant environmentalist :)
    Of course living in a reduced biodiversity would not be funny (unless we remove mosquitoes and some arachnids :P) for most people. But it's one more of our selfishness. We want to keep species not only because they are either helpful to us but also because we find them "beautiful".
    Life itself doesn't need us to save anything, it won't disappear by us.
    I'm in favor of environmentalism, but it's always good to know the reason(s) behind it. Now I know why :) A bit of selfishness.
  7. They don't (a cite to what you read would be helpful -- you may have come across someone's opinion about what they think someone at Greenpeace thinks, or something suggested by a "nimby environmentalist" (aka nonscientist) who wants nothing to change.
    Ecology changes. Natural rates of change are known fairly well. The 10x to 100x faster rate of change happening now is the concern, as ecosystems fall apart.

    "... maps of plant species shifts can be reconstructed with considerable accuracy for the past 18,000 years...."

  8. fluidistic

    fluidistic 3,336
    Gold Member

    A quote from the website of Greenpeace:
    See the reference at http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/.

    I'm well aware we are witnessing an extinction event (if the article is on this) as I stated in my first post of this thread. I can't read your last link though.
  9. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    We have billions of more people on the earth right now than in any time in the past. It is no mystery why we are destroying habitats and using up natural resources faster than any other time in the earth's history. The world's population is destroying and changing how the earth "used to be". There's the problem.

    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  10. fluidistic

    fluidistic 3,336
    Gold Member

    I fully agree with your statement Evo.
    But it's important to keep in mind that the Earth or life should I say, has passed by really huge extinction events, so one more is not a threat to life itself. It's a real threat for us humans (and most big animals we know today) however and that's basically the point of environmentalism. Basically to prevent or reduce the damages we're going to make to ourselves and the species we're used to live with, today. Life itself will go on no matter what we do, even if we would bomb the whole surface of the Earth life won't go extinguished although of course we'd do.
  11. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    Absolutely agree. So unless people wish to discuss reducing the human population in a good way, just let things take their course. Nature will reduce our numbers, and it won't be in a good way. Starvation, pestilence, wars. Unfortunately we will be taking down a lot of other species with us, but perhaps if humans are destroyed, the earth will heal itself and maybe a better species will replace us.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  12. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    All my perception/opinion:

    Environmentalism is a bit odd in that while environmentalist groups seem to dominate the public dialog, it is my perception that their real-world impact is virtually nonexistent. They focus narrowly on obstructing specific projects they don't like (which is sometimes successful) or broadly on issues with no real substance (via protests). But the place where they could have the biggest impact is through supporting/writing legislation (Clean Air Act) and industry standards (ASHRAE, LEED, EnergyStar). Politicians get criticized when they let energy companies write energy laws/policies; well there's no reason environmentalists couldn't do the same thing with environmental policies. But the major organizations seem to be too unfocused/immature/extremist to engage on that level.

    The major worldview difference appears to me to be that most people prioritize humans over the environment while environmentalist organizations prioritize the environment over humans. That's the difference between preserving the environment for our own benefit (whether practical or aesthetic) or stopping/erasing human influences completely.

    But sometimes the priorities overlap: I'm working with a major pharma company that has a mandate for a 20% corporate-wide energy/resource use reduction over 5 years, which is on track to succeed. I suspect being in the same room with a pharma exec would give a Greenpeace exec a siezure, so who does the company partner with in the effort? The electric company(!) and government.

    Now, the pharma company isn't doing this out of love for the environment: it is about marketing and individual projects must have a 5 year payback (yes, environmentalism can make economic sense), but so what? This is a program with a real impact and the sort of thing that should be encouraged. There isn't anything wrong imo with being an environmentalist for selfish reasons, in that way. But I think to a group like Greenpeace, this would be too much of a compromise in principles, so instead they accomplish essentially nothing.

    So to sum up, my perception of who comprises the two types of environmentalists ryan mentioned:
    1. Prioritize the environment over humans: mostly fringe environmentalist groups.
    2. Prioritize human use of the environment: most other people. (a Nimby would be a subset of this group)

    Though I know that's a common view, it is one I strongly disagree with. I'm not a believer in it for the simple reason that most of the issues related to overpopulation can be reduced to energy issues and money issues and as a result, they can be fixed with clean sources of energy and financial choices.

    Ask yourself this question: where in the world are we seeing ecological disasters? Most developed nations are relatively stable and clean WRT their impact on the environment. It is the developing nations who are ecological disaster zones. Our wealth gives us the luxury of having clean air, clean water and clean land.

    To be more specific, looking over the wiki page on overpopulation at the common concerns about its effects, I don't see any that are necessary byproducts of our current population level: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Overpopulation#Effects_of_human_overpopulation

    A few examples from the top of the list, in order:
    -Fresh water? We can make it: it is a totally inexhaustible resource.
    -Depletion of natural resources, especially fossil fuels? Fossil fuels are mostly a choice. We can simply choose to stop using them if we want. Why don't we? Convenience and economics. Most other resources are not in danger of running out, but even if they were, we could recycle them.
    -Pollution? Stop using fossil fuels and it nearly totally goes away.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  13. mheslep

    mheslep 3,402
    Gold Member

  14. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    We're still ~ 6 billion humans above where were where in 1800. We are using up resources, we are wiping out ecosystems, we are killing off species.

    Russ, how can this many billions more people in the world not be adversely affecting the ecosystem? We are wiping out rainforests at a rate that cannot be replaced. We are paving over huge amounts of land. We *are* the problem.

    Slight reductions in world population aren't going to fix things.

    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  15. russ_watters

    Staff: Mentor

    Who is wiping out rainforest and why? According to the wiki, the vast majority is for agriculture and the rest is for fuel.


    So if population growth stops and/or modern farming is expanded and we stop using wood as fuel, deforestation should stop, right?
    Ok....so what? What does that have to do with overpopulation as it relates to ecological destruction? Ie, if population stabilizes, won't the paving-over stop?

    Overpopulation means (as you have said) that we would need to reduce population to stop the depletion of resources. But the worst problems are ones that appear to me to be issues that would at worst stabilize with a stable population.

    Caveat: I generally consider fossil fuel resource depletion a bigger problem, but environmentalists don't really consider fossil fuels to be a resource worthy of protection - and I generally agree. Still, I can't think of a logical reason to treat the forests differently beyond aesthetics.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2013
  16. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    The amount of cures for disease and cancer alone are worth saving the rainforests.

  17. Well there are certainly selfish reasons for environmentalism, but do you think that wanting to prevent future generations of humans from experiencing mass starvation and war from lack of resources is selfish? *Not* acting to reduce the impact of change to the environment is also selfish (as you say, the Earth doesn't care whether we are selfish or not, so selfishness is really only defined in relation to other humans, or future generations).
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 12, 2013
  18. mheslep

    mheslep 3,402
    Gold Member

    Yes for energy resources buried in the ground, as discussed in any number of other threads. Aside from energy, I don't know that "used up" is accurate. There's just as much copper, water, iron on the planet as there was 2000 years ago.

    I see more and more sources pointing specifically at invasive species as a cause for extinction, rather than the broad brush cause of human population. I expect invasive species would continue at half the current population as long a people continue to stay on the move.

    In the developed world I don't think that is any longer the case, or rather the same land is being paved over repeatedly.

    Example: Main forest cover
    1760: 92%
    1840: 87%
    1869: 68%
    1872: 53%
    1917: 76%
    1933: 86%
    1995: 90%

    That time series also suggests a caution: compelling people to not develop and sort of suspend themselves in time may trap them in lifestyles that are the most environmentally damaging.

    There's also some non intuitive research (and results from practice) that suggests desertification of grasslands is solved by adding roaming herds of game or livestock.
  19. mheslep

    mheslep 3,402
    Gold Member

    They're necessary for support of the ecosystems.
  20. Aesthetics and morals have their place in the discusion. It's the main reason beautiful places and megafauna are usually overemphasized in these types of discussions. But again the issue is really all about the economy. Lots of money will be lost, effort wasted, and likely many famine deaths will be the end result.

    Warehouser would be making an order of magnitude more money right now if they had followed their sustainable forestry plan they had in effect until the eighties where they went for max profits in a couple of years, which not only has become economically stupid when you compare the money they'd be making right now and for years to come, but also devastated the Oregon economy due to lost logging and mill jobs. In effect a small group of investors stole resources from the state, from future investors and the company as a whole, and out of working families pockets simply because we as a society emphasize short term profit and greed above long term and overall profits. It should be criminal to do these things, yet our laws emphasize self destruction for the short term benefit of a few individuals.

    The economy is the biggest reason why protecting the environment is important, and this is interrelated to other important issues such as health. Bottom line is being "conservative" about the environment really just means being short sighted and willing to make a dime today to lose a dollar tomorrow.
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 13, 2013
  21. Evo

    Staff: Mentor

    Phungus, it's sad that you only care about the money, IMO. But overpopulation has begun to cause an economic impact in that there are too few jobs for the number of people and it's only going to get worse. We can't just keep increasing the population and expect jobs to match the number of people that need jobs.

    But this is completely off topic. The thread is in biology and is about the ecosystem. So all posts must be on ecology.
    Last edited: Mar 13, 2013
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