Posted by: Dan | July 3, 2006

Of Concerns and Biophilia

It’s about time that I revisit the concerns that drove me in my previous blog, A Concerned Scientist, including how my thoughts have progressed in such areas in the broader scheme of things. Perhaps the most revolutionary insights into the issues I’ve been wrestling with come from Edward O. Wilson, who coined the term biophilia, referring to the human affinity towards “an innate love of living things,” in the grand tradition of Henry David Thoreau.

Much has been said in the past several decades on the themes of biophilia – the environmentalist movement is rooted in the philosophy that life has intrinsic value, and that we must never forget that we, as humans, share our fate with the fate of the rest of life on Earth. Humans are not above Nature, we are a part of it. The sustainability movement also shares this ethos, and argues that we have a responsibility to effectively manage Nature’s resources.

With that, I will be starting to write more on biophilia and related concerns, including (but not exclusively):

  • The potential impacts of climate change in the decades to come, including increased variability in the hydrolic cycle (more droughts and floods) and rising sea levels
  • Overpopulation as an antecedent to many other society and global problems, desertification, overconsumption, disease, famine & war, pollution, mass extinction, and so on.
  • And biodiversity loss and habitat/ecosystem degradation, specifically.

This last topic will receive the greatest amount of attention, for reasons already mentioned, and articulated much better by Wilson. My focus, however, will often deal more with case studies of sentinel or keystone species as barometers of ecosystem health, as characterized by the August Krogh Principle: “For many problems there is an animal on which it can be most conveniently studied.” In the case of ecology, this principle takes the form of identifying key species that balance the food chain, or function like the “canary in the coal mine.”

But, again, all of the posts to come on this theme will keep in mind Wilson’s undeniable observation (Biophilia, 1984, page 121):

The one process now going on that will take millions of years to correct is the loss of genetic and species diversity by the destruction of natural habitats. This is the folly our descendants are least likely to forgive us.


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