Invasive species are altering, destroying and irrevocably altering the ecosystems that we all depend on for clean air and clean water, genetic diversity, food and forests, recreation and social health. Except for a few charismatic species such as pythons, mute swans, tiger mosquitoes, lion fish, lythrum or kudzu, invasive species impact the systems mostly unnoticed because their scale of operation is too slow for normal human perception. Like a very slow forest fire, invasive plants, pests and pathogens are “burning” up our natural spaces without much notice on the part of most people. The change in local complex ecosystems is simply too slow to see, let alone imagine, in our fast paced world.
The oil located some 13000 feet beneath 5000 feet of and ecological system that is part of the Caribbean is flowing up and out and over to the shallow water of coastal North America and thence up on to the shore coating all life in its path with black gold. This is not a natural disaster like an earthquake or a volcano, but, rather, a man-made ecological catastrophe. The wants and needs of 6 billion people are fueled by hydrocarbons created from the remains of dead plants and animals over distant past eons. The destruction unfolds in a human-scaled time though the scale is beyond individual comprehension. The human time scale is measured in hours and days and weeks; the creation of the oil deposit is well beyond any point of human understanding of the passing of time.
The tension between a desire to managed our environment to maximize our expectations for life based upon our millennia of agrarian history that is reinforced by cultural norms found in our common stories of what constituted the good life in our past is on conflict with our outrage that our actions are destroying the lives and industries of fellow citizens as well as destroying wildlife and habitat for reasons not clear at first. We line up on one side of the issue or the other; either the eminent destruction is a consequence of modernization and our economic market place, or the search for oil is an evil that can be stopped by not drilling. Those who clamor for more oil want it so they can drive and visit recreational venues such as the gulf coast or so they can dine on fresh sea-food, both choices of which they will find beyond their grasp when the oil completely changes the very ecological dynamics they needed the oil for in the first place. The proponents of no drilling are willing to commit to a new life style immediately without too much consideration as to the unexpected outcomes of a rapid withdrawal from the oil fired economy of the world that may choose to continue using the oil they freely choose not to use.
For the oil-spill, the politicians are willing to take sides and stakeout positions. The damage the impact and the playing out of the problem are happening to ecosystems at a rate of time we can understand. We can see the destruction happening as it were and pick our positions accordingly. When pythons slip the surly bonds of captivity and slink into the Everglades their release is like a drip of water from a faucet with a faulty washer. When a lion fish or two or three or so are accidentally freed by forces of nature, or “freed” into nature because of a care takers change of heart, the impact grows like some exponential curve too slowly at first to notice. When the gardener continues to import and plant garden species that may also transport diseases or even worse be a natural area weed, there is little thought as to either the damage they may cause over time or to whom the bill should be presented to remove them when they skip the light fandango. For as surely as the waves of oil will change dramatically in the short term the ecosystems of the gulf and impact species in ways we can only imagine in the long run, so too invasive species shall similarly change the last best remembrances of a natural world..