Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Why is ecology different?

We live in a society that is designed to conquer life, to control and restrain nature. This is not the first society to do this; I am by no means blaming Western style capitalism for this ideology (but anyone that has a good argument for this please feel free to rise to the challenge!). It has far deeper roots, monarchies, communist states and oligarchies that exist today and in the past have all shared this desire, to dominate and control nature for the benefit of man. Man is conquering space and the atom, the deserts, the oceans and the elements. According to our culture, this is what we were born to do.

Much of modern science approaches nature from this perspective. Engineers build bridges, cars and weapons. Chemists control and manipulate oil into all manner of chemicals. Biotechnology seeks to master DNA and transform organisms with the genes of others. Physicists smash atoms together and force new types of matter to emerge. All of this is for the betterment of man. Ecologists observe nature, we record what has transpired, the experiments here are carried out by nature itself. We do not induce ice ages, form clouds or purposely introduce new species (well some people do, but not ecologists these days). The Ecologist observes what is happening and attempts to predict how it will affect not just man, but every organism in the ecosystem.

Not all ecology is like this, a great deal is still human centred for example a great deal of effort is put into analysing risk and assessing the loss and damage to economies caused by biological change. Yet still there is much that sees a fundamental difference in viewpoint, that man is not the centre of creation. The world was not built for us, life will continue to evolve and to change and that our actions have far reaching consequences often beyond what we think we can control.

I think it is encouraging that many modern researchers see nature not a foe to be conquered, but something to be studied, marvelled at and enjoyed. Yes we can draw conclusions, use our large well adapted brains to explore our world, but this doesn’t mean we have to master and control our surroundings. I think our aim should be to do no harm, to each other or to the world. We need understanding and analysis to perform these feats but not radical dominating technologies.

I am not trying to say that human centred technologies are always evil and that we should give up all that we have and go to live in caves again. I just think there needs to be a shift in viewpoint to incorporate ecological ideas into other areas.

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