Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Unsettling Invasive Species

Thinking about invasive species can be an unsettling task. They are everywhere and affect everything. So, many of us would prefer just not to think about the issue at all. Invasive species are a problem for some, but for me they are a symptom of a coequal and coevolving challenge: the challenge of adaptation to current changes in climate and the needs of humanity. So large is the issue that many choose to deliberate only once in a while when compelled, if even then. Invasive species issues are part of the great question of our environment and our existence, and solutions tend to produce unintended consequences, but inaction produces equally unpleasant results. Doing nothing is of course always a choice which rarely leads anywhere in the long run.

As we stir the climate pot and add heat, not necessarily where you live, but over the entire globe we begin to alter the ecosystems which supported our human domination of the earth thus far. But heat alone is not the entire challenge, but one part of a complex alteration of precipitation and the change in chemical make-up of the atmosphere. Some interested parties would have us go back, others would have us ignore or disbelieve; I simply call for adaptation in a sustainable sense.

Examples of unintended consequences such as the poor Australian Island abound lately as well as climate effects on invasive populations. The dynamics are bewildering and are coming faster as the pot begins to figuratively boil. The complexities of trying to do the right thing environmentally produce disconcerting results. A housing development in California is built to save the trees which were there before development. The homeowners “valued” the trees, and created a retreat and an enhancement for their community. Unfortunately, trees and wildfires and California go hand in hand, and so market preference pressures, including insurance and public safety considerations create a market decision for removal of the trees as a result of risk/benefit assessments. An invasive species introduced to control erosion covers the old Confederacy, the unintended consequence of trying to stop the destruction of levies and railways. The introduction of “pest” free garden plants partially planted to reduce the need for pesticides brings plants to the local ecosystem which can not provide habitat or food service to the system and, therefore, may out-compete local natives, reducing diversity. The desire to bring firewood home to heat the house unleashes an insect that has devoured over 20 million acres in the mid west and may eliminate baseball bats as the ash trees die.

Part of our societal challenge is that we want linear direct quick solutions that have limited side effects and can be “decreed” so that we can go back to the business of personal self interest and immediate needs. Unfortunately, environmental issues are a kind of wicked problem, a wicked inconvenience when it comes to invasive species. The non linear nature of the problems and the lack of fixed solutions, the never ending problems so to speak, invite distress and discomfort. We have an obligation each and every one of us to come to the discussion, to be fully engaged and to be right about our views in order to weld a new direction and consensus of adaptation for tomorrow.

We have choices, we have issues, we have challenges and we have the world. We can find a new paradigm which says that a world of limited resources and growing populations needs a new way of thinking. We can take from the past, and we can boldly create a new world for tomorrow. Invasive species compel us to decide, do we want to live in a weed patch or in a garden?

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