Quora – When, if ever, is it okay for humans to change the weather and physical landscape of Earth?

Quora – When, if ever, is it okay for humans to change the weather and physical landscape of Earth?

[ 19/2/20 ]

I agree with Jörg Sattle’s answer to this question.

And I would add the dimension that yes certainly, one of the key defining characteristics of humans is that we are infinitely flexible and inventive in the ways that we alter the environment to suit our needs (or at least attempt/intend to do so, but complexity often works out different to our intentions), and that needs to be balanced with keeping representative samples of the ecosystems that were present before we did our thing.

And for many species it is too late. Our ancestors already exterminated megafauna across much of the planet. The Aborigines in Australia dealt to the megafauna there about 50,000 years ago, the Maori killed off the megafauna of New Zealand within the last thousand years (the giant flightless moa, and even the gigantic Haast’s Eagle), and the same seems to have happened throughout Northern Europe and the Americas about 15,000 years ago to many of the large species there – the ground sloths and mammoth and cave bears in particular, the elephant bird and dodo of Madagascar, etc. We can be non-specific predators and highly adaptable.

So I am all for innovation, creativity and freedom, and there does needs to be a reasonable balance of sufficient natural ecosystems that we do not drive any more species, that are not actually direct threats to us, to extinction.

We ought to be smart enough to achieve that.

And it is complex. It is not a simple right or wrong, black or white sort of situation. It is extremely complex, constantly changing, with effects that ripple through time and space that cannot be entirely predicted ahead of time and require constant adaption. No fixed rule set can possibly deal sensibly with such a dynamic system – it requires constant and often rapid adaption at all levels. One of those levels is the eternal and ever expanding search for balance between freedom and order (which includes notions like rules, laws, lore, culture, etc). There can be no hard boundaries, at any level, in such a system. Any attempt to put hard boundaries in place is likely to lead to total system failure (at some level such rigid boundaries become brittle and fracture, rather than adapting to changing contexts and various levels of shocks).

One of the difficulties is allowing the “representative samples” to be big enough to be able to allow all species within to survive all of the reasonably foreseeable combinations of shocks (worst drought, and worst disease and worst fire etc – or to have active mitigation strategies in place to limit those worst cases).

Australia hasn’t been able to limit the bush fire danger with their existing strategies. I live a thousand miles away across ocean and have had many cold dark days this summer due to the sun being blocked by clouds of smoke from those fires. The idea that we can leave systems alone and expect them to survive, with all the many levels of change we have made and are making, is simply not a viable idea. We have made so many changes to so many aspects of the environment, that we have to be active in our management if those ecosystems are to survive. The idea of natural systems without human impact is now entirely mythological or historical. By reducing the size of systems, we increase their vulnerability to many sets of risks, requiring active mitigation strategies on our part to bring the risk profiles back to something approximating the pre-human condition.

So as I see it, it is ok, and it comes with responsibilities.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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