Re-examining our approach to ecology

September 10, 2012 • Daily Email Recap

Re-examining our approach to ecology

Rex Weyler, July 2012


“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” — Gregory Bateson, An Ecology of Mind

Piecemeal ecology isn’t working.

Forty years have passed since the founding of Greenpeace and the first UN environment meeting in Stockholm, fifty years since the groundbreaking Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, and 115 years since Svante Arrhenius warned that burning hydrocarbons would heat Earth’s atmosphere.

Today, we have more environmental groups and less forests, more “protected areas” and less species, more carbon taxes and greater carbon emissions, more “green” products and less green space. These failures are not necessarily the fault of environmental groups, who have helped slow down the destructive impacts the industrial juggernaut, but the failures do demonstrate that all our collective efforts are not yet remotely enough.

For example, observing the “Living Planet Index” of species diversity, we find that after 1980 – even with the creation of new endangered species regulations, parks, and protected areas – terrestrial and marine species have declined. For the last thirty years, even with a massive increase in wilderness groups, species diversity has plummeted and the rate of decline has accelerated.

Likewise, as we gain 30% energy efficiency in heating buildings, we double the average space-per-person and then add more people, resulting in 300% more space to heat. The Rio+20 Conference proved once again that government conferences change nothing. After thirty years of climate deals, we have more CO2 emissions each year, not less. After forty years of international ocean dumping bans, the oceans are more toxic and more acidic, not less.


In July 2011, Camilo Mora, from University of Hawaii and Dalhousie University, and Peter F. Sale, from the UN University in Ontario, Canada, published “Ongoing global diversity loss and the need to move beyond protected areas.”

Their report shows that since 1965, land based “Protected Areas” (PAs) have grown by 600% to 18 million square-kilometers. Marine PAs have grown by 400% to about 2.1 million sq-km. However, in both cases – on land and in oceans – biodiversity has declined, and the rate of decline has increased.  Since 1974, terrestrial biodiversity has plummeted by about 40% and since 1990, in twenty years, the marine index has declined by 21%.

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