Too Much Success

It’s amazing the abilities some species have. But that brings up a question. If they are such an advantage, why doesn’t every species have equally amazing abilities? This particularly comes to mind with perceptual abilities.

Human senses are fairly mediocre. We can’t sense much of the world that many other species can. We make up for it with opposable thumbs and cognitive development. Just imagine how much more bad ass humans would be if we could see like a hawk, hear like an owl, and smell like a wolf.

Maybe there is no evolutionary advantage to having the best possible abilities in all ways. It might actually be a disadvantage, both for the species and for the ecosystem or even biosphere. Any given species being too successful might throw off the balance between species. Evolution isn’t only seeking the survival of species but also the survival of complex relationships between species.

Consider one of the earliest microbes, cyanobacteria. They were so successful that it led to what is called the Great Oxygenation Event. Most other microbes at the time were anaerobic and oxygen was toxic to them. It caused earth’s first mass extinction. Even the cyanobacteria didn’t benefit, as there numbers also precipitously dropped.

Too much success can be a dangerous thing, for all involved. This is a lesson of evolution. It’s the success of the entire system of species that matters, not the success of a single species. The survival of the fittest species is secondary to the survival of the fittest ecosystem and biosphere. As Phil Plait put it (Poisoned Planet):

“It’s an interesting tale, don’t you think? The dominant form of life on Earth, spread to the far reaches of the globe, blissfully and blithely pumping out vast amounts of pollution, changing the environment on a planetary scale, sealing their fate. They wouldn’t have been able to stop even if they knew what they were doing, even if they had been warned far, far in advance of the effects they were creating.

“If this is a cautionary tale, if there is some moral you can take away from this, you are free to extract it for yourself. If you do, perhaps you can act on it. One can hope that in this climate, change is always possible.”

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What’s Nature’s Economic Value?

(Full video: http://fora.tv/2010/08/03/Pavan_Sukhdev_What_Is_the_World_Worth)

I wish more people understood this very basic view of nature and the biosphere that supports all life and all civilization.

Species are going extinct and ecosystems are being destroyed at fast rates. I’ve looked at the data before and it’s impossible to really comprehend. There is nothing more important than the biosphere and yet there is nothing that humans treat so badly. People tend to only look at nature in terms of the worth that can be gained by destroying it, but few consider the worth of not destroying nature.

If we don’t collectively start acting according to the precautionary principle, we will inevitably destroy ourselves and possibly most of the biosphere as well. This isn’t an exaggeration. It’s hard to comprehend and most people would rather ignore the problem in hopes it will go away, but sadly reality doesn’t conform to our wishes.

There are still large numbers of people denying man-made global warming despite all the scientific research and despite the consensus of scientists and scientific organizations around the world. When ever I see someone denying the most basic facts of science, I just want to punch them in the face. I don’t get it. Will the average person only wake up when we’re on the brink of extinction? We really need to improve science education in this country and around the world. The only problem bigger than mass destruction of nature is the mass ignorance of the average person.

The following is a good analysis of the failure of ‘free market’ advocates to truly understand the problems of how external costs get placed upon third parties (in terms of our present corporatist/fascist/inverted-totalitarian system, this means pviatized profits and socialized costs).