Tuesday, June 25, 2013

"Naturalness" is a Terrible Concept

But what does it mean? Photo credit: armedwithvisions.com

Yale e360 has an interesting piece about the demise of "naturalness" as a meaningful concept in ecology due to research piling up showing that human impact on environments isn't a recent development in any sense. A deeper trend is the realization that ecosystems are much messier and more random than previously thought. Sustainability, static equilibrium, and even niches are all ecological concepts being re-evaluated in favor of more nuanced approaches like patch dynamics, resilience, and dynamic equilibrium models.

An important question is whether these academic trends will be fully adopted by ecosystem managers and government agencies in charge of overseeing public open space. By decomposing the vague "naturalness" idea into explicit goal-based management frameworks (ecological integrity, hands-off methods, historical fidelity, resilience, etc.), we get clearer performance standards and more opportunity for experimentation and comparative analysis. An added political benefit of organizing ecological management theory along discrete value dimensions is an increased opportunity for novel coalition-building. The zero-sum stand-off between environmentalists and cornucopians entrenches perverse policymaking incentives and masks the tremendous potential for action. Conservationists, insurers, loggers, and the tourism and real estate industries probably have sufficient collective policy influence to spur radical action over wildfire and natural disaster issues.

1 comment:

  1. It is good that we have finally discounted ''naturalness,'' something we have cared far too deeply about for far too long... It certainly is an outdated concept, but maybe simply because we have destroyed anything that could be thought of as an independent ecosystem. The very complexity and resultant resilience of natural systems is what makes their effective human management so unlikely.

    I guess I see no difference between this effort and older methods of forest management in the US, Germany and Japan that were seen as compromises but have resulted in a loss of all old-growth. Under our current system, a compromise almost always means a loss for the environmental movement. Out of its complete and utter annihilation over the past few decades, now it seems to have even lost sight of its goal - always less some kind of absurd idea about ''pristine' nature,'' a straw man if there ever was one, but rather the aim of a feasible balance between mana and nature, a nature that exists along with, but not dependent on humanity.

    This, I find a more realistic perspective - http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/7277