The Second Version

24/01/07

The Conservation Dogma

If you want to read about an interesting alternat theory regarding recent climate change, and an interesting debate on the issue, pay a visit to Winds of Change. A commenter there asked a couple of fundamental question, that everyone interested in the climate change controversy should ask too:
Is there an optimal temperature (or range of) for the planet?

If so, what is it and why?
This is the pragmatic approach that ought to be taken, but it clashes with the dogmatic approach of a large fraction of environmentalists.

Their dogma, that I shall henceforth dub "Conservation Dogma" is that humans should cause minimal or even better no change to the environment and ecosystems in which they are living. Nature must instead be conserved.

I am using the term change for a precise reason: it is neutral. Change can be either positive or negative and the dogma is opposition to change regardless - while reasonable people can agree on the fact that negative change (say, severe pollution) is not auspicable.

That this position is dogmatic can be understood asking to most environmentalist why we shouldn't modify our ecosystem, or should do it within extremely narrow limits. Most of times, their reply is along the lines of Just Because, or a circular argument. Some may add that we shouldn't leave a worn, depauperated Earth to our descendants, but also this is only a partly satisfying answer. Because if in one century or two Earth will miss the Spotted Owl and a few species of tundra lichens, will it really be such a worse place? In fact, most of the humans won't even notice.

Now, my readers should not think that I rejoice contemplating the destruction of Nature. In actual fact, I enjoy being in nearly-uncontaminated places at least for a while; and considering that a lot of my fellow men manifest the same appreciation, I conclude that there must be reasons deeply seated in our human essence for such behaviour. A caffeine high makes me write definitely better.

But in the balance, I have a higher considerations for humans than other lifeforms. If the well-being of millions in the developing world cannot be achieved without the sacrifice of, say, dolphins, I'll throw flowers in the ocean, donate a sum to the Dolphin's Memorial Fund and maybe mutter somber words, but won't see myself as a novel Adolf Eichmann.

One reason for the Conservation Dogma is sheer ignorance. Nature is seen as a static - or, in engineer's speak, steady-state - system in which not much changes if not as the result of an external perturbation. But this view is utterly wrong. In fact, all material objects have to change and finally decay at some point. Species evolve, prosper and then disappear, leaving descendants or not. Mountains rise only to be eroded away; seas and lakes are filled - by the same materials the once made mountains - or squeezed dry between mastodontic pieces of rock floating around on the Earth's mantle. Climate mutates from hot to cold, dry to wet. Stability is unnatural, while change is certain and perturbations come from within the system - maybe from our Sun, which is far away but must not be forgotten: a simple burp of its immane nuclear furnace, barely worth noticing in astronomical terms, could wipe out most of the life from this planet.

But there is a more worrisome strain of anti-humanity in the Conservation Dogma. This considers human as the Great Perturbation, as an aberration of Nature that will ultimately cause Her own demise. From this base, conservation is only the beginning: the final objective is extinction of Homo Sapiens, or at least its reduction to sparute tribes unable to build anything more advanced than mud huts, if that. I do not sincerely know the genesis of such a position, but I firmly hold the opinion that it is a perverted aberration. It goes against the commandment that seems to be written in anything from the simplest genetic codes upwards: SURVIVE! And as a corollary, prosper, any way you can. Be stubborn, be curious, leave no alley unexplored and no stone unturned.

We humans arrived at our civilization's achievements because we were worth more than the chimps, whose highest achievement remains sticking a twig in an ants' nest. Call me when you'll see them chipping stones into some shape that did not occur naturally. We had a relatively frail body, but an astonishing mind, and we put it to work. If the first tiger slaughtered by lance-armed early humans could speak, its last words would be along the lines of "Oh shit! These little bastards are packing!".

I totally reject tthe idea that humans are unnatural. Though, I am aware of the fact that we broke the rules of an ancient game of mutation, selection and survival and we should spend some time pondering that. Because being able to do many amazing deeds does not mean we are omnipotent and can escape the consequences of wrong decisions. But the game will nevertheless continue with the new rules, and there will again be winners and losers.

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