Need for conservation

The conservation of habitat and species poses an enormous challenge for humans in the twenty-first century. As the earth's population grows, human use of natural resources increases. Municipalities, reservoirs, aqueducts and roads impinge upon natural habitat, fragmenting it into smaller pieces. As people burn fossil fuels, remove minerals, harvest commercial species, or convert wild land into farms, they necessarily compel other species to adapt to or emigrate from shrinking habitat or other changes in the environment. As humans consume more of the world's natural resources, they are faced with environmental concerns that range from acid rain, carbon emissions, and ozone depletion to starvation and the emergence of previously unknown diseases. The loss of a species—unlike pollution, unlike hunger, unlike global warming—cannot be reversed. Once a species is gone, it is gone forever.

In a seminal scientific paper first published in 1968, Garret Hardin pointed out that such areas as the open ocean that are not considered private property inevitably suffer from overuse resulting from their being common to all. Hardin argued that because they belong to no one in particular, they do not benefit from anyone's stewardship; no one wants to make personal sacrifices in order to increase the profits of others. He called this phenomenon the "tragedy of the commons." Hardin's article began as a retiring president's address and later appeared in the prestigious journal Science. Subsequently his paper was discussed in academic contexts ranging from engineering to political science; his 600 reprints were exhausted in a matter of months. Hardin began his original essay with this citation from a 1964 article published in Scientific American by J. B. Wiesner and H. F. York: "Both sides in the arms race are confronted by the dilemma of steadily increasing military power and steadily decreasing national security. It is our considered professional judgment that this dilemma has no technical solution. If the great powers continue to look for solutions in the area of science and technology only, the result will be to worsen the situation." Today, this citation remains uniquely pertinent.

Wiesner and York's observation led to Hardin's incendiary suggestion that there are problems for which science has no solution. Scientists do their work under the explicit or implicit assumption that the questions they address have tech nical and logical answers. To suggest otherwise is to strike at a collective Achilles heel. Wiesner and York were speaking of the potential for nuclear war in their original article, but Hardin thought their words were equally relevant to ecological concerns. He applied their reasoning to the social goal first proposed by the nineteenth-century English philosopher Jeremy Bentham: acquiring the greatest good for the greatest number of people. In essence, Hardin was talking about human population control; he wanted to know if humans could have their cake and eat it too.

Deductively and simply he showed that the optimum population is less than the maximum, although he admitted that the latter term is difficult to quantify. Humans want the maximum good for the maximum number of people, but differ among themselves in their definitions of "the good." Hardin used the term "tragedy" in its original Greek sense of downfall caused by a remorseless and inexorable fate rather than its modern connotation of personal unhappiness. He used the example of a herdsman who shares a pasture open to all herdsmen in a specific community. Since all who are using the pasture want to graze as many sheep as they can on it, the pasture eventually reaches its carrying capacity. Thereafter, when any herdsman adds another sheep to his flock, the result is that that herdsman has a net gain of almost +1. Because of the shared overgrazing, all others realize a net loss of some fraction of 1. The mathematics and illustration are simple but the results inarguable. Certainly the tragedy of the commons led to the near extirpation of the American bison, many cetaceans, tigers, rhinoceros, and the list continues. Dugongs and dodo birds were less fortunate. Moreover, the example of the commons can be readily extended to the use of rivers and streams for agriculture, hydroelectric power, or fishing (upstream = benefit, downstream = impoverished). It also may be applied to any contemporary marine fishery.

Hardin's logic extends further, but in the opposite direction, when he addresses such issues as the pollution of air or water and the disposal of wastes in leaky landfills or at sea. The tragedy of the commons includes putting certain things into the natural world as well as taking them out; thus it encompasses the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by industrialized nations that cause warming worldwide. When the herdsman states his case to a board of inquiry, few could argue with his rationale; he merely wants to add one more animal to his herd. Tragically, that is the conclusion reached by each and every herdsman. Hardin was speaking directly to the issue of human overpopulation that exacerbates the tragedy of the commons, but implicit throughout his message is the need for conservation.

Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

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