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A Lesson in Sustainability - Articles Surfing

Scientists are currently conducting a study on loblolly pines. The study utilizes a ring of carbon dioxide generators that surrounds patches of these trees. The purpose of the study is to determine the effect of an increase of CO2 in the air on these pine trees.

So far, they have noticed that the trees seem to be growing and reproducing much faster than before. They are also developing more needles - an average of 17% more needles than typical loblolly pines. At first blush, this looks like a good thing. Trees hold carbon dioxide inside them, keeping it out of the atmosphere. It appears that the CO2 problem will be self-remedying: more CO2 produces more trees which absorb the additional CO2. The system appears to be self-stabilizing.

There is a dark-side of course. For one, other species of trees probably won't enjoy the additional growth spurt. This means that the loblolly pine could spread quickly, pushing out other species of trees, such as oak or maple. This can change the entire landscape of an ecosystem ' for example, squirrels and black bear rely on acorns from hardwood trees. If the loblolly pushes out these trees, the populations of squirrel and black bear will have to move on or die.

Another issue, and the one we can learn a lesson from, is sustainability. The rapid growth of these trees is using up soil minerals much faster than they would normally. According to scientists, the trees will eventually run out of nutrients and fixed nitrogen, and then growth will come to a crashing halt, and may even reverse itself. So, by using up their 'fuel' in order to create 'rapid growth', they will eventually run out of 'fuel' and growth will stop or reverse itself. Does anyone else see a parallel to our own civilization here?

Nature is self-regulating. This is where my fellow liberals and progressives often get things wrong. Nature does not need man to protect it. Nature does not care if man abuses it. As our conservative bretheren are fond of pointing out, the Earth has survived much worse natural disasters than anything Man has been able to throw at it, and life has always found a way to survive and to thrive. Sure, it can take millions of years, but it does survive. . . and what is a few million years to a planet that is 4 billion years old?

Conservation is not an end unto itself. Conservation is not necessary to protect the Earth. No, conservation is necessary to protect and aid Mankind, not nature. Destroying rainforests, burning fossil fuels, overdeveloping the land. . . all the result of our species spreading and growing and consuming resources. Nature will correct this. We will run out of rainforests, we will run out of fossil fuels, and we will run out of developable land. Our sources of food and clean water will be depleted; our sources of medicine and other critical products will be depleted. The growth of our species will come to a crashing halt, and will reverse itself. It will reverse itself back to sustainable levels ' however, the 'sustainable level' will be much lower then than it is now since we will have used up almost all of what we need to keep going as a species and as a society.

Malthus was the first to predict this. He showed that, unless something else checks the growth of a species, the species will eventually 'crash.' Catastrophic disaster will inevitably reduce a species' numbers well below the sustainability level. In other words, if humans don't regulate themselves willingly, nature will regulate us, and nature is far less selective or merciful about how it accomplishes this.

When we speak of growth now, we are not just talking about growth in numbers, although that is part of the equation. We are talking mostly about growth in consumption of resources. Even if our population was stable, our consumption will continue to increase as the develping world becomes more and more developed. This growth in consumption, like the growth in numbers, is subject to the same law of Malthus ' if we don't regulate it ourselves, it will be regulated for us, and it will be regulated by catastrophe rather than planning.

Submitted by:

Terry Connors

Terry Connors is a Gen-X family guy with 2 step-kids and a loving, supportive wife. He frequently blogs about current events, with a focus on news items with a scientific angle. You can read more of his articles at: Another Stupid News Blog - http://news.virtualdominion.net

All work is copyright, Terry Connors 2005



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