Monday, February 18, 2013

Science is complicated - that's why not many people do it

Trees provide many things, including oxygen, carbon storage
 and happy dogs.
Science is complicated; that's why not many people do it and it doesn't always make sense to people that aren't educated about it. Science is also an incredibly varied field. I suspect that not everyone in the science of Sustainable Agriculture would agree with the scientists who create genetically-modified organisms. Many great disoverers had to battle for their theory to be seen and tested and proven true.
However there are times when lots of different sorts of scientists agree on things. One of those things is climate change.
Change is the word...things will change..A LOT. Some areas will be drier and hotter. Some areas will have devastating rains. There will be a lot of displaced people. These are simple observations, based on some really complicated science. Scientists don't know the exact details of whats going to happen because it is a really complicated system that has many variables. But overall, it looks like we've messed up bigtime and we may not get much of a chance to do anything about it (though I am still hopeful, otherwise I get sad and freak out!)

There are numerous links in an ecosystem between many different species. One tree, for example, can have hundreds of organisms living within its leaves, branches, bark and roots. Many of the smaller organisms may not even have scientific names but they could be really important. Without all the little decomposer beasties working for us, for free, there would be an awful lot of waste built up around us. The tree will also provide shade thereby cooling the air, and dirt and dust are also removed from the air as it passes through the leaves. Trees allow rain to soak into the ground, where the water is recycled through the tree, produces oxygen as a by-product (lucky for us) and releases moisture back into the atmosphere. Given enough trees that moisture forms clouds. One simple cycle among many millions of interactions that go on in nature , many that ecologists haven't had a chance to learn about yet.
Unfortunately many people think of trees simply as wood or paper, killing the tree and stopping it from doing it's many ecosystem services that it would provide for free. What are ecosystem services you may ask?

Ecosystem services.
Ecosystem services are the many 'resources' and processes that we get for free from nature.
These free services of nature fall into four categories: Provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural.
Let me show some examples:
Provisioning: foods (plants, animals), water (rivers, lakes, dams), medicines (largely plant based), energy (hydropower, solar, wind).
Regulating: climate, carbon sequestration (forests, ocean), air quality (forests), pest control (beneficial insects), flood control (coral reefs, mangroves).
Supporting: Primary production (mining, agriculture, soils), nutrient cycles (fertilisation, decomposition), seed dispersal and soil building.
Cultural: Aesthetics, recreational, scientific discovery (medicines), spiritual.
There are many more things that we often take for granted, but there's a good chance it comes from nature.
This magnificent spot in the Helena-Aurora Range is in danger of destruction through mining. We shouldn't tale all that nature has to give us. We need to leave some for nature.

We have been using and abusing these free services for some time, without giving most of them a chance to recover. Not all of them are renewable either. Crude oil will run out, only so many minerals can be dug out of the ground before they run out too. Yet we continue to pollute and destroy large areas. Hasn't anyone noticed we're running out of habitable area? As cities expand they are build onto the very soils that enabled the city to be based there in the first place. How are we going to keep feeding people when the arable land is being over used and built upon?

An abandoned house in an abandoned town in the Goldfields.

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