Category Archives: reconciliation

Collateral damage in our ongoing war against wildlife

It just astounds me how much, and how cavalierly, we continue to poison our wildlife and ecosystems, in ways that often also harm us, just to maximize perceived profit from ranching, farming, or other industry. Why do we do this to ourselves, our fellow creatures, and our homes on this planet?

Here’s an example: casualties of so-called “predator control” poisoning programs run by a US govt. agency, apparently at the behest of ranchers (more likely some ranching/farming lobbies), to control “predators” that may cause some harm to whatever product is being ranched/farmed. Is there any science behind these management decisions?! Or is it ok to just drop these poison-baited mines all over the landscape based on a perception of threat?

The video offers a link at the end to the website of Predator Defense where you can get more information, and even join the effort to have at least these two poisons banned, even if it takes longer to minimize these predator control programs.


Did a dog run the Sea Lions off of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco?

This is rather worrisome, coming right on the heels of my post about poor farmers in India allowing migratory geese to coexist with them!

One of our favorite things to do in San Francisco is to wander down to Fisherman’s Wharf for a nice walk breathing in the salt air, get some chowder in a bowl (or crab if feeling rich!), and go hang out on Pier 39 to watch the Sea Lions lounging out on the floating wooden docks most times of the year. You may have read my post about this, or seen these pictures:

Earlier this week, @GarySoup raised an alarm by tweeting that the sea lions have moved on, accompanied by this photo of the empty docks at Pier 39. This was immediately picked up by a couple of writers at Wired magazine, @pgcat and @alexismadrigal, with the latter digging into the story further to post this report, which includes this quote:

“We have no idea where they moved on to or why,” said Shelbi Stoudt, who manages a team that helps stranded animals in the San Francisco Bay from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California.

The sea lions’ disappearance is as strange as their initial colonization of the pier about 20 years ago, in late 1989. They just started showing up one day and as their numbers increased, their traditional hang out, Seal Rocks, became less populated. There are all sorts of theories about why the pier became a favorite haul-out spot for the sea lions, but no one knows for sure why the animals’ behavior changed.

Stoudt averred that the officials at the Marine Mammal Center weren’t worried about the animals’ disappearance from their standard location. The sea lions are migratory animals, after all, and it’s natural for them to move around.

No reason to worry then? Apparently there hasn’t been anything else unusual weather(or other)wise in the Bay this winter, despite the El Nino currently brewing in the Pacific. Yet:

The disappearance is unusual, though. The animals’ numbers usually peak in late fall and many stick around during the winter months before heading south for the summer. According to the Marine Mammal Center’s FAQ on the animals, “from late summer to late spring, 150 to 300 sea lions haul out here,” though their numbers can run much higher.

This year saw a massive influx of sea lions. In fact, a Marine Mammal Center survey conducted in the fall found 1,585 mammals hauled out on the spot, an all-time high. Some of them invaded a neighboring area, the Hyde Street Pier, where they may have been scared away by an itinerant fisherman’s dog.

Apparently some of the fishermen aren’t as enamored of the sea lions as us urbanites:

One recently told a local radio station, “They’re cute when they’re in here lying on the docks by Pier 39, but they’re not too cute out in the ocean when they’re stealing your livelihood.”

So it appears that at least one fisherman, and his pit bull/golden retreiver mix dog, managed to scare off the sea lions from Hyde Street Pier (which does not provide the exclusive protected docks that Pier 39 does, and therefore doesn’t normally get large numbers of these animals hanging out there), apparently to the relief of some there, the Marine Mammal Protection Act notwithstanding. While Pier 39 remained protected and far enough from that dog (or any others) hassling the beasts, one is still left with the nagging feeling that they may have decided that they’d had enough of this tenuous relationship with this human habitat. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time that a dog has contributed to local extinction of some species.

“It’s exactly opposite of what we’ve seen over the last 10 years,” said Sheila Chandor, Pier 39’s harbor master. “I think it’s food. Usually this time of year, we have a lot of herring coming through.”

Chandor said that some sea lions tagged by the Marine Mammal Center had been located south of Monterey but cautions that the link to the sea lions’ food supply is just “guesswork.”

A quick check on the Webcam mounted at the Pier 39 Restaurant proves the sea lions are definitely gone from Pier 39’s K Dock. A dozen or so remain on J Dock, according to Chandor.

The population of human sea-lion watchers remained steady.

Stoudt and her team aren’t sending out a search crew. The sea lions are, after all, migratory, she told

So, whatever the reason, the sea lions just up and left – but where to? And will they return? Or is it really “So long, and thanks for all the fish” time? After all, the sea lions may be aliens too, like their cousins the northern elephant seals that seem to come from another planet according to Rudy Ortiz’s recent talk at Fresno State.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Greylag Geese and a conservation story for the new year

As we count down to the end of the noughties (which in so many ways have been quite dismal for biodiversity on our planet), it is nice to find some rays of hope, some silver linings, so we can look forward to the next year and the coming decade not entirely bereft of optimism. I am glad, therefore, to share with you, this guest post from Sumit K. Sen who offers just such a story of reconciliation ecology in action in one of the poorest regions of India:

Greylag Geese and a conservation story for the new year
The new year is always a time for good cheer and hope. It has been some time since I have found anything to cheer about in terms of conservation success as far as birds are concerned. All I have seen and read are about the struggle of selfless individuals against the forces of destructive development. But for me the best stories are the ones that are spontaneous – those that come from enlightenment and not mere education. To witness such spontaneous acts of conservation has been a life-enriching experience for me – and I have found some true conservationists in places like faraway Mizoram, and closer home at Santragachi and Rajhat.

Last Saturday, Bhaskar Das and I ventured on a 250 km drive from Kolkata to a small unheralded village in Birbhum District of rural West Bengal – to the agricultural settlement of Parulia. Parulia is an impoverished village living on the brink of existence. Its inhabitants, like most people of the district are a mix of tribals and other locals. All meat-eaters, and many partly hunter-gatherers. Little is known about Parulia except that it came into prominence in early 2008 because of the spread of bird flu in the district. There were talks of cull of migratory ducks and tales of local resistance – one villager being quoted as saying: ” The birds come here every winter. We love them.”  That was about all that was known about Parulia as a place for birds or about its conservation success.

The existence of Parulia and its association with birds would have passed into obscurity for us had it not been for Mr. Anup Kr. Dey. Mr. Dey is a bird lover and his passion for birds and birding was fueled by the internet and the presence of websites such as ‘Birds of India’ and forums like ‘Bird Photo India’ and ‘Bengalbird’. In these he found cyber companions to encourage and support his lonely  pursuit of birds of Birbhum District – and I was lucky that he chose to share his pent up passion with me over mail/phone. Being a District Engineer, Mr. Dey knows every nook and corner of his district, and it was his description of Parulia that urged our 4.30 am departure on a cold and foggy morning.

We reached Parulia by 9.30am, guided by Mr. Dey from Suri onwards. An agricultural landscape dotted with small ponds took us to a square irrigation tank 170 meters across. In it were about 400 Greylags – some  feeding,  others resting while the rest of the village went about their business ~ with some even washing utensils while the geese swam past. It was an unbelievable sight to us from eastern India – a sight which is proof that conservation is way beyond some forest guards doing their duty or some highly educated people making their passion and presence felt. This is grassroot conservation from the heart and I wish that there are many more like these.

I could not think of ending 2009 with a better story. Here is hoping that there will be more like this in 2010.


1. Parulia is here: . It is 3kms north-east of Santhia town.
2. Greylag Geese: Greylag Geese are winter visitors to India from eastern Europe and Asia from the Urals eastwards. Asad Rahmani & Zafar-ul-Islam in Ducks, Geese and Swans of India (BNHS 2008) estimate that about 15,000 winter in India. 1% population (150 in this case) in a single area is considered significant for conservation. This is the biggest known single site for this species in West Bengal at present times.

Roots and Shoots: Moyers interviews Goodall

I somehow missed this on Bill Moyers’ Journal a few weeks ago: his excellent extensive interview with Jane Goodall, along with a profile of her wonderful program Roots and Shoots. Fortunately (and unlike so much other good stuff on PBS that is not on YouTube or embeddable – why, PBS, why?), the entire interview is available, so I can share it here – watch and get inspired!

Let’s start with Roots and Shoots:

And here’s the interview, in two parts:

A Christian student reflects on Eugenie Scott’s talk about Evolution/Creationism

At the podium-3 copyWhat an overwhelming response we had at Eugenie Scott’s wonderful lecture last week on “Why the fuss about Darwin and Evolution?“! Thank you, Genie, for such a great talk, for inspiring and recharging those of us in the think of the evolution/creationism culture war in the Central Valley, for showing us how to address these issues in a graceful, polite, and inclusive manner. And thank you, all of you who came to campus that evening and overflowed the Satellite Student Union. For those that couldn’t come that evening, you can still enjoy the talk, in parts via videos posted on Scott Hatfield’s blog, and also a full-length podcast of the slides with audio that I’m working on (as soon as classes are out of the way this week!). More on that soon.

For now I want to share an essay written by one of my students who attended the talk, identifies himself as a Christian, and has, starting from a religious background that made him suspicious of the E-word, come around to accept the evidence for evolution, while retaining his faith. I thank Eric York for allowing me to share his synopsis of and reflections on Genie’s talk here. Having a standing-room audience is one thing – and a great thing for sure – but a personal testimony from a student who has made some real progress in their thinking because of what we teach, that is the best kind of response we teachers can hope for. Note that I am posting his essay as is, although I have (and you can guess where) some quibbles with a couple of the things he says in his synopsis. You should also read Scott’s summary of the talk, which has a bit more on the core-fringe model of knowledge. If you attended the talk, feel free to share your reaction in the comments section below. Here’s Eric (continued below the fold):

“Why all the fuss about Evolution?” –Eugenie C. Scott

Eugenie Scott provided a lecture outlining the basics of evolution, followed by a detailed synopsis of the evolution vs. creationism debate. She started off the debate by outlining the different facets of evolution, and the various sciences it is deeply entangled with. These included astronomy, biology, geology, and anthropology, which are each considered evolutionary sciences. The main distinction is that evolution doesn’t necessarily address the origins of life; rather it attempts to explain how organisms have gotten to their present state, via descent with modification.

One of the complaints about evolution is that humans don’t like the idea of us being “descended” from monkeys. However, Scott cleared this up by stating that we aren’t descended from monkeys or apes. She compared this to a family tree. I descended from my dad, and my dad descended from my grandpa. My grandpa also had another son, who in turn had a son, who is consequently my cousin. I am not descended from my cousin, but we do share a recent common ancestor. This parallels the concept of descent with modification.

Scott brought up a book called, “A Consumer’s Guide to Pseudoscience.” This claims that the core ideas of science that are well tested, such as gravity and orbit, are at the center. Around the core ideas are the frontier portions, which include the current experiments and hypotheses that sciences are actively testing. Finally, surrounding the frontier is the fringe. This discusses the why and philosophical aspects of science, and includes ideas such as natural selection and perpetual motion.

Scott spent a significant portion of the time discussing the debate between creationism and evolution. She suggested that instead of looking at both as a dichotomy in which you have to choose one over the other, look at them as a continuum. This continuum starts with conservative Christians that take the Bible literally. This includes those people who, as Scott stated, base their belief on the written Word that simultaneously makes the statement that the earth is flat. This argument is based on Scripture that pictures the earth as circular. Arguments against this claim are that the old Hebrew language didn’t have an adequate term for the word spherical, or that by saying the earth was circular was merely describing its general properties and not its absolute shape. This is only one of the many arguments between evolutionists and the conservative Christians who take the Bible literally.

From the literal interpretations of the Bible comes a transition into young earth creationists, who believe the Earth is only 10,000 years old. They believe that the Earth has only recently been created, and accept that if evolution does occur, it must act much more rapidly than currently accepted. Next are the old earth creationists that believe in creationism, but accept an older earth with the possibility of evolution. This is based on the interpretation of Genesis that the seven days of creation aren’t actually 24 hour days. This is based on the Scripture that says, “To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.” By this reasoning, the seven days of creation could in fact imply thousands, millions, or even billions of years. Under this claim, evolution could be a feasible method that a creator used to derive the extant organisms that are alive today. This is followed by materialists, who don’t believe in creationism, and are skeptical of evolution. They are basically an in between category and don’t go one way or the other. Finally are the fundamental evolutionists. They are the ones that explicitly believe in evolution and the direct descent with modification.

Altogether I felt this was a very interesting and enlightening discussion. I personally am a Christian and take the Bible as inspired by God, which leaves several aspects up to interpretation. However, I am also taking evolution with Dr. Crosbie, and through this have learned the mechanisms, consequences, and impacts of evolution. Consequently I have come to believe that evolution via natural selection and descent with modification is in fact responsible for how organisms have changed over time to get to their present state. Although my belief is in contradiction to most views held by Christians, I personally think that science and creationism can in fact go hand in hand, and don’t have to be mutually exclusive of one another. As mentioned, I have slowly reached this conclusion by taking my evolution class, along with analyzing past and present research. I felt that it was appropriate to include as part of my analysis for this seminar the influence that Scott had on confirming my ideals, and expounding upon the inclusiveness in my own thinking of creationism and evolution.

How do you not, in the wild, bite these people’s faces off?

That was Jon Stewart asking Jane Goodall about her remarkable equanimity and balance in the face of extremism – from animal rights activists criticizing her birthday cake in this instance. It is remarkable that the person who has inspired so many to care about animals, dedicating her life to understanding chimpanzees and to wildlife conservation, herself remains so down-to-earth and rational about it all. What a beacon of sensibility in an irrational and increasingly extremist world!

Here’s the entire interview:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Jane Goodall
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[From Video: Jane Goodall | The Daily Show | Comedy Central]

Al Gore lays out Our Choice to Jon Stewart, extendedly

You may have heard that Al Gore has a new book out about the climate crisis and what we need to do about it, titled “Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis” (and as I discovered in adding that Amazon link just now – there is even a young reader edition!). His book tour brought him to The Daily Show last week for a fairly interesting interview, with Jon Stewart asking some typically insightful questions, including about whether the constant doom-n-gloom in books like Gore’s may be turning off ordinary people from a message they really ought to hear. Gore argues that “we have all the tools to solve the global warming crisis except for political will.” But is the message getting through to generate that political will? It seemed a couple of years ago that “An Inconvenient Truth” played some part in (or coincided with) turning public opinion around on accepting the reality of global warming in this country. Recent polls, however, suggest that the fickle American public has shifted again and global warming has lost some ground as an issue of concern in the US. Will Gore’s new book help stem that erosion again?

Anyway, here are two parts of the extended interview which obviously didn’t fit into the usual 22-min time-frame of a Daily Show episode, but which is available on their website in its entirety:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Al Gore Extended Interview Pt. 1

Daily Show

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Political Humor Health Care Crisis

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Al Gore Extended Interview Pt. 2

Daily Show

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Political Humor Health Care Crisis

The PEST solution is the best solution for conserving biodiversity!

My friend the tropical rainforest ecologist and eco-restorer T R Shankar Raman of the Nature Conservation Foundation shares this wonderful news of a brand new approach to conserve biodiversity by focusing significant economic resources to incentivize nations to protect evolutionary processes! Here’s an excerpt from TRSR’s blog post on this market based initiative at eco logic, the NCF’s blog:

In what is being heralded as one of the most visionary efforts in recent times to stem the extinction crisis, a collaborative effort by ecologists and economists from India, Brazil, and the USA has developed a novel solution for biodiversity conservation. Announcing this amidst great excitement today at a packed press conference at the Carneghee Lemon Hall at Park Avenue in Washington, D. C., senior scientist of the Natural Conservation Fund, Dr Ramon Gonsalves, said, “This is the solution. With this, the great wave of extinction will soon be behind us.”

[via The PEST solution | eco logic]

You simply have to go read the rest of this! NOW!

A Kinglet for Furlough Friday

A Kinglet, Ruby-crowned!

I caught (in pixels) this Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Lost Lake Park just north of Fresno last weekend, when we spent an afternoon there with visiting friends (including the biology colloquium speaker last week). Kinglets (Regulus spp.) are among my favorite warblers in north America, revealing my Old World bias – for they are the closest relatives on these shores to the Phylloscopus Leaf Warblers I spent almost a decade chasing during graduate school. Indeed, Regulus were classified as within the same family, Sylvidae, as the Phylloscopus, but now have their own family Regulidae. I first encountered the Kinglets’ Asian congener cousins, the Rubycrest and Goldcrest among the forests of the Himalaya where I strove to catch a glimpse of their “crests” and learnt to listen to them to tell them apart from so many other little green jobs flitting about restlessly among the dense foliage often high up in the canopy! That was over 20 years ago, and I’m still fascinated by the lives of these wee creatures (although I haven’t studied them formally for a while – maybe its time to resume?). For wee they may be, indeed (weighing a mere 6 grams or so!), but they are quite capable of long-distance flight! Like so many of their Sylviid cousins, these Ruby-crowned Kinglets are also migratory, breeding all they way up north from Alaska to Newfoundland, and down into the conifer forests of the Sierra Nevada in California, and wintering at southern latitudes and lower elevations across north America. Around here in the San Joaquin Valley, they just showed up a couple of weeks ago and will hang around until April or so, in all kinds of tree-filled habitat, ranging from the “natural” riverine forests to urban parks to backyards, and even parking lots (see image below!).

I like having them around, and thought I’d share the above and a few more images below the fold with you on this friday when I’m off campus on furlough for the day!

A ruby-crowned kinglet caught in flight!

Caught in flight at Lost Lake Park

A shy Kinglet!

A shy Kinglet – this is how you glimpse them most often!

Fighting reflections in a human-dominated world

But not too shy of taking on a challenge! Although this one is unfortunately boxing at shadows we throw up in our strange habitats! I found this bird in a parking lot in Los Banos a few years ago.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet on SUV mirror

Finally at rest atop the conquered foe!

Thoughts on climate change in the wake of winter’s first storm

California got one of its classic winter storms yesterday after a prolonged drought. You know, the kind that starts way out over the Pacific ocean, building up steam from the ocean’s moisture, taking a few days to make landfall along the California coast, and emptying itself over lands that have been parched for too long. The kind of storm that was the lead character in George Stewart’s 1941 classic of meteorological fiction: Storm. Except, in Stewart’s incomparable novel we get to watch and follow along as the storm grows from a baby off the coast of Japan into a classic monster of a storm that explodes over the California coast and rages for several days soaking the valleys, burying the mountains in snow, and making rivers strain against the levies. Last night’s storm was a bit different, being a remnant of a typhoon that had already raged over Japan a week ago, and poured itself out in a little less than 24 hours – but it did bring record precipitation in the mountains of the central Sierra Nevada: upto 14 inches in some places, almost monsoonal in its magnitude! This storm, while it did down its share of power lines and cause worries of floods and mudslides, especially in parts of the state that were aflame in summer’s forest fires not too long ago, didn’t quite pack the same kind of heavy punch that Stewart’s storm did.

Here’s what our campus looked like this afternoon, softly breathing air that had been washed clean by the downpour, basking beneath scattered remnants of the storm playing hide and seek with the sun:

Campus refreshed from winter storm

As I watch these clouds, remnants of the storm marching along slowly towards the mountains in its wake, I marvel at the sudden realization that the water vapor in those clouds was part of the Pacific Ocean, just a few days ago, perhaps all the way across that vast ocean! These magnificent and sometime fearsome storms remind me of the elemental powers of nature, of sun-warmed oceans and water vapor and wind, and how connected everything is on this little blue marble floating in the cosmos. And how we, along with all other forms of life we know of – every last living thing we’ve discovered thus far – cling to the thin layer of life, the biosphere, near the surface of this marble, and how much we really depend upon all that energy being churned up in these storms!

Here in California, the summer was particularly heated due to ongoing human battles for control over water: whether farmers or fish had more right to it, whether water should flow through its natural river channels or out of its way where we force it closer to where the food grows! The great central valley of California is one of the world’s great bread-baskets, a valley we humans have transformed from a semi-desert into a tremendously, almost preternaturally productive agricultural region. Yet it remains part of the dry American southwest, a region that has been drying up for quite a while before humans appeared on this continent, and that has continued to exhibit wide variation in climate, especially rainfall, in the manner characteristic of deserts. Indeed, the inherent unpredictability of rainfall around here has already swallowed several human civilizations that flourished here for a few centuries before crumbling into the sand and dust against that slow long drying trend, well before our current and most hubristic iteration of the game of civilization started but a century or two ago. So intent are we on “civilizing” ourselves and our habitats, and so supremely overconfident in our technologies that we think we can really tame all the forces of nature, that we can move mountains, change how, where, and when rivers flow, grow rice and cotton in this desert, and build ever-growing cities, without consequence to ourselves, never mind all the other living beings that have inhabited these places for a lot longer than us African upstarts.

Don’t get me wrong, I dig the sheer gumption of our species in adapting to almost every shade of environmental variability our planet has thrown at us – and thriving in the unlikeliest of places, even if briefly. Indeed, one reason I so love Stewart’s novel is that it is both a celebration of the elemental forces of nature, and of humanity’s ingenuity and resilience in the face of such natural forces. For in that sprawling multidimensional, multi-disciplinary book the great author gives us a lesson not only in the birth, life, and ultimate explosive end of a great Pacific storm, he also gives a wonderful sweeping overview of the myriad ways by which humans had transformed California by the 1940s. While the storm itself is the leading lady of the story, the supporting cast of human invention is varied and impressive too, ranging from highways, railroads, and power lines that cut across some of the highest mountains on the continent, to dams that hold back water to harness its power, and to divert it through a network of canals to places where we want it to go before it ends up in the ocean, to the cities where people grow increasingly alienated from the earth and its varied powers. Back in the 1930s and 40s, even as the region was being transformed by large-scale government investment in the wake of a crushing depression that drove many a Joad family westwards, Stewart hurled his richly imagined storm against a tenacious human population, and his vision remained largely hopeful and optimistic. Its harder to maintain that optimism now, when we find ourselves in another economic depression, this time amid whole new threats from recent anthropogenic global warming which threatens prolonged drought cycles for the American southwest, turning many of our farms into dustbowls. And we continue to squabble over how fast we want to use up the little water we do have so we can continue farming in this cadillac desert!

How about we tone down some of our hubris, tone up some much-vaunted humility, and take a closer look at how other species have dealt with these same environmental challenges? For these arid regions aren’t exactly depauperate of other species. And many other species have survived and adapted to cycles of climate change on this dynamic planet of ours throughout life’s history. Clever as we think we are in our technological and cultural ingenuities, are we clever enough to learn from other lifeforms other ways of surviving on this planet? Do you think we are ready, as a species, to do this when faced with serious challenges? I don’t know if we are, but allow me briefly, on this Blog Action Day highlighting climate change, to share some observations and provocations to get you thinking about how we may reorganize our lives, indeed our entire society, to develop some real resilience to survive through the onrushing global changes:

  1. The universe and our planet are highly dynamic (and nonlinearly so) places, and so is Life! Life has evolved and thrived on this planet mostly because it is able to adapt to changing environments and evolve new ways to spread and grow in novel places.
  2. Humanity’s outlook, on the other hand, remains largely static or linearly progressive, a result of our relatively short life-spans, and our brain’s unique ability to extrapolate based on experience, which is both an asset and a constraint. Because we haven’t (personally for most of us) experienced drastic fluctuations in the environment, we find it hard to visualize its consequences, or even believe it is possible. Our collective memories are also fairly short for we don’t seem to learn from the failures of collapsed societies.
  3. Other species (and even our ancestors) best exhibit their dynamic resilience in the way they move and disperse across the planet when faced with changing climates. Those that do not or cannot move as their habitats change are likely doomed to extinction, while those who disperse to new environments are more likely to survive even if in a new form. Like our ancestors who sought fortunes outside Africa as the climate changed there, populations of successful species tend to flow across the planet even as habitats and zones of physiological suitability ebb and flow across latitudes.
  4. Recently however, the human response to changing, unpredictable environments, is to actually change the environment to dampen and control that variability! We don’t move ourselves so much as we develop technologies that give us our physiologically favored climates wherever we may be! This evolutionary peculiarity is perhaps unique in our species although many (most) other species also exhibit some limited levels of local climate control. No one has taken things as far as we have!
  5. Many (most) species exhibit some level of site-fidelity and territoriality, and many have come up with ritualized ways to control access to resources in the face of competition. Territoriality is mostly reserved against members of the same species, or a handful of other species who may compete for the same resources. We, however, are perhaps unique in extending our territoriality not just to conspecifics or actual competitors, but to virtually every other species in our habitats! As part of controlling our environments, we want to control populations of every other species occupying those environments, restricting their distributions according to our property boundaries!
  6. The human cultural notion of property, of ownership of land/water – chunks of this planet – containing natural resources, has fueled much of our rapid socioeconomic growth, but I think it is also a maladaptive trait over evolutionary times. For the notion of property, esp. private property, is an extrapolation of our territoriality which becomes a serious constraint when coupled with our static/linear, short-term mindsets. We so tie ourselves to specific places now that we have broken the evolutionarily adaptive flexibility (see point 3 above) that allowed us to survive major environmental changes in the past. We have sought to impose a static structure on the landscape wherever we live, and struggle furiously to hold those static lines we have drawn on the landscape in place against climate change.
  7. And perhaps the worst consequence of our static thinking about the landscape and our pan-specific territoriality is that we’ve doomed so many other species to becoming stuck into static compartments of their habitats, those boundary lines we’ve drawn on maps (where we decide whether they may live or not), where they are no longer able to flow to new places as the climate changes. Not only have we cleverly painted ourselves into corners of habitats while the climate changes, we’ve doomed many other species to extinction simply be being unwilling to let them come and go according to their own rhythms.

A good friend of mine in India, a keen naturalist and natural philosopher, once remarked that “movement is a very bad thing“; he was referring to the incessant movement of human beings across the planet which is inexorably linked to the destruction we have wrought to habitats all over the world, not to mention the invasive species we have moved along with ourselves to decimate native floras and faunas everywhere. The global reach of our activities can perhaps be best exemplified by the vast plastic flotilla now circling the great Pacific gyre, our plastic bottles and packaging and toys which have ended up thousands of miles from shore in the middle of the biggest ocean on earth. The same plastic gyre over which, no doubt, this winter’s first Pacific storm grew in strength last week.

As I contemplate the remnants of that storm float across the skies of this central valley city, I now disagree with my friend: movement, far from being a bad thing, is in fact the very thing that has allowed life to flourish here on earth. What’s bad about our current predicament is that we have (despite occupying the entire planet), in some very important ways, stopped moving even as the world continues to change around us! And as we paint ourselves thus into an evolutionary cul de sac, we seem hell bent on taking down as many other species with us as we can! So the large looming challenge of global climate change boils down to one key question for me: will we rediscover our adaptive flexibility and start moving with the world again (and allow other species to move as well)? Or will a future major storm wash away the vestiges of our civilization, cleanse the earth, and give a fresh start to life in our aftermath?

Cloudlets chasing after a depleted storm center