Saturday, December 04, 2010
Invasive species – quietly change our world
Invasive species cause problems for us. Invasive species issues are a member of the set of current "really" big problems that we consign to the realm of national or global politics but react to locally and personally. At some level most of us understand that when we participate in the global market we are facilitating the homogenization of the world's human cultures and biological systems. Our needs and desires conspire to demand produce and products to address our current conditions in a more cost effective way; that is we ask for more choices at lower costs. This market force creates pathways of products and systems to move them cost effectively through out the world. In order to drive down the costs the pathways externalize some of the operational costs on to the global environment including the opportunity costs of the accidental or intentional introduction of a novel species into a local ecosystem or even our personal space. We condone this externalization of costs in the global market because we feel that nature has several qualities that allow us to do so at no cost. These qualities include a feeling that nature is in some sense infinite and its forces are asymmetrically arrayed against human activities. In other words, the force of nature can overwhelm and reset any small imbalance that may arise from our dumping or moving market-place excesses from one ecosystem to another. Simply put we have a history of dumping unwanted or unneeded things over the garden fence into wild, natural areas in the knowledge that nature will somehow decompose this refuse. With such thinking a small animal, insect, or plant that accidently comes with our latest consumer needs in the shipping packing and escapes into our natural areas is of no immediate consequence, and in the long term will be absorbed by the overwhelming infinite forces of nature.
Another quality of nature that comes into play for many of us is the idea that human artifice enhances or betters the "work' of nature. This idea reflects the view that nature is waiting for us to add value through human activities and technology. Nature is a resource to be exploited (in a positive sense of the word) for the well being of humanity. In order to support the growing population of the world, technology will have to reset and reorder natural processes for it is understood that the carrying capacity of the world's ecosystems as presently constituted are inadequate to projected increase in human population. In a local sense this is called development and falls under the politics of land use. The issue of the impact of an invasive species on a local system can seem to pale in consideration of the impact of a new shopping malls parking lot. The idea of saving the natural world is juxtaposition with the need to exploit its services for the betterment of mankind. In this scenario an invasive species is simply an early symptom of the change that is coming to the ecosystem and therefore the cost of prevention is too high and not justifiable.
Invasive species are symptoms of humanity's footprint, and they are agents of environmental change . This dual nature makes it hard to pin them down for they can slip between the two concepts of symptom and agent. Because, quoting Bertrand Russell, everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise, invasive species are conceptually so slippery that they provide no common basis for understanding or consensus. What this means is that even with a common set of :facts a stakeholder can arrive at equally valid but completely different outcomes. One view may lean towards denial of entry and presumption of caution tending to zero risk, while another would tend towards management of risk by setting on a level of acceptable impact. We ignore the ecosystem impacts that invasive species create because it suits our near term desires and our cost benefit analysis. With our heads firmly in the sand, a sturdy sense that technology will rescue us in a world overflowing with crises we take comfort in ignoring the quiet ecological alterations that we choose to ignore.