Sunday, May 12, 2013

The fear of interfering

I remember a friend buying an early integrated circuit block to make up some great electronic device in the 1970's . Cost him $30 and he wired it in and blew it up.After that costly and fruitless investment  in  technology,  we both stuck to simpler circuits  .Our fears with technology running ahead of us were well based and to be taken seriously.
The more we know about nature too it seems the more we need to show caution . Unlike technology , nature is very sensitive and can collapse;  having hard to define limits at  those critical moments .We can waste $30 of hard earned investment in technology but copper silver and gold in circuits can be recycled .
What about ecosystems and agroecosystems Will we lose our investment in Agriculture, forests and fishing ? Is it all on a degraded path ?
Clearly not ; and clearly not easily in the future - the limits to resilience  are hard to define but they are there , elasticity works and boundaries do exist .And the presettlement natural Australian fire dependant ecosystems that some worship are huge monocultures of non divesrity and natural degradation ( look up acidification of soils)
But how do we know where sustainable ecosystem boundaries lie ?  How can we be sure we are working within the elastic limits ? . Can we map the boundaries  ? No we can't map them The boundaries of risk are not fixed by the resources,  but often by the users .
The only way I know to define the boundaries to risk and resilience though  is to know the forces that operate in an area of soil or water. We can try to map some elements of soil  , but risk is really about soil water and technology together .Our soils are not being lost as much as they were and are infact doing more recycling than ever in their history.
The most useful maps for defining possible habitat boundaries are probably soils but even they are only a start . The maps of soils I have seen in my lifetime are just not accurate enough and so provide little concrete guidance for planners. While its useful to map existing vegetation, that too will not define part or future phases of habitat development . Salinity risk too,  is dependent on specific soil and water management in the area . the real element, not mappable in the risk equation is,  as Jung said,  is man himself . If the landholder is prepared to understand and treat his resource well,  then we will all do well - just as we have done better in the last 50 years especially . Hope for the rest of the world if we truly understand the limits .
The fear of interfering is a natural and good thing when you don't live there to see its resilience boundaries ( 99% of Australians) .
What Australia and the developing world needs is people who study the elements and equations well enough on the site to interfere wisely . Not panic but studied caution . The current tendency to close off all agriculture is not warranted .After all , we are part of both degrading and aggradings systems and have a choice when to interfere in both.
Agriculture and forestry on the Australian landscape has probably increased biodiversity overall because the soils recycle nutrients better and mixed landscape elements increase both shelter and feeding potential in the same areas.  Time to train,  not to abstain or avoid the complex risk features , but to face the realities of both resilience and degradation head on again .