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robertogreco : yrjöhaila   1

Is it time to cut adrift from island thinking? – Libby Robin – Aeon
"Island-mindedness is born in island places, but the islands of the mind have a broad appeal. Is this hard-wired? Recognising an island of safety and refuge might have enabled our hominin ancestors to find stepping stones out of Africa in times of environmental stress. The concept of the island has long been prominent in literature and useful in science: biologists and geographers, national park managers and archaeologists, linguists, geneticists and evolutionary theorists have all turned at times to the model of the island. Yet it might no longer be a great model for the new needs and concerns of our rapidly globalising century."



"An island is as much metaphor as it is physical place. Nature and wilderness reserves became the real nature for quantitative biological theorists. They could ignore the complex stuff of urban development and human communities. An island could stand for the Garden of Eden, in an age when wilderness was the highest ideal for conservation.

Islands are also devices for thinking mathematically, for simplifying the real world and leaving out messy variables. MacArthur and Wilson were conscious of the complexity of the processes they wished to explain quantitatively – processes such as dispersal, invasion, competition, adaptation and extinction. An island-based theory, they acknowledged, left out ‘many of the most troublesome – and interesting – problems’. Ecological principles need sound theories and statistical significance if they are going to attract support from governments and policymakers. Ultimately, they argued, islands and continents need to be understood together, but the island was the basis for mathematical certainty – for laws – in the management of nature. Their final chapter, ‘Prospect’, argued that biogeography was mature enough to ‘be reformulated in terms of the first principles of population ecology and genetics’."



"The island had seemed an ideal field for ‘experimentation’, but island biogeography did not take sufficient account of time and history, and the assumption that the island’s ecological future was heading steadily towards some sort of ‘balance’ was misplaced. In 1986, the Finnish philosopher-ecologist Yrjö Haila argued that the equilibrium model had ‘ossified into a simple formula that began to suppress creative thinking instead of stimulating it’.

Haila advocated ‘a broader, pluralistic appreciation of the role of theories in general’. But ecologists have found it difficult to let go of the elegance and parsimony that equilibrium theories embody, and to see the way life works afresh without theoretical assumptions. In 2006, the ornithologist and oceanic island specialist David W Steadman argued: ‘Data that fail to support an ‘elegant’ model are often regarded as noise or the exception that proves the rule. Elegant models made by deified people die hard.’

Wilson’s fame gave the equilibrium theory a longer life than its data supported. The balance of nature was attractive beyond science, and it has a romantic following, particularly among conservationists and nature lovers who support the national parks and ‘wilderness’ ideals. The US Wilderness Act is now 50 years old, and things have moved on during the Great Acceleration of change in the same period.

Even as the theory of island biogeography was gaining supporters, the critique of the balance of nature was gathering pace within ecology. National parks and nature reserves management took for granted that nature could somehow heal itself, if protected from humanity. Experimental ideas about islands drove – and at times limited – the conservation agenda, because managers still indulged the idea that nature could be fenced off, or isolated from the threat of humanity. In the past half-century, during which the human population has more than doubled, theories for protecting nature from our overexploitation have proliferated. Biological extinctions have accelerated unabated."



"In the ‘post-national’ 21st century, borders are no longer as fixed as national jurisdictional law suggests. Australia has, at times, excised itself from its islands to handle the politics of asylum‑seeking. Would-be migrants, seeking refuge in Australia, are held on offshore islands until their status is legitimated or denied. By this means, successive Australian governments have deprived vulnerable people, including children, of basic human rights. For the sake of domestic political convenience, the nation of the plastic stencil sometimes defines itself without the islands where refugee boats land. The fact that people abandon nations and passports because of global pressures, because of the impossibility of being at home where they were born, is part of what is changing the nature of nations in a global world. People are no longer from where they came from. They become citizens of where they wash up, or the world. Island-mindedness – the separation of places from other places – is no longer an option.

In this global world, it is flows and circulation, rather than land parcels, that are important. Just as Google maps and GPS have become widespread, territoriality is changing. Flows are about land-and-sea-and-sky-and-people – a collective consciousness that is hard to represent on a 2D map or a phone app.

The island-minded idea of nature, separated from culture, has also changed. Some say we are at the ‘end of nature’: there is now a human signature on all the global flows: the biophysical system is also cultural, as the new epoch of the Anthropocene is imagined. To rework the poet John Dunne, no island-nation is ‘entire of itself’, nor can any island-nature be other than ‘involved in mankind’. Perhaps the bell now tolls for the last island: the blue marble of planet Earth, an island in the infinity of space."



"Surtsey is still bleak and black, but mosses and lichens, windswept grasses and stunted shrubs now soften its edges. All its creatures still live as much with the global systems of winds and storms as on the precious fragment of land that erupted 50 years ago. Surviving on such a remote island is, paradoxically, a mark of cosmopolitanism. Only plants and animals that travel easily will flourish there."
libbyrobin  via:anne  2014  iceland  islands  science  isolation  cosmopolitanism  judithschalansky  picoiyer  surtseyisland  peterveth  charlesdarwin  alfredrusselwallace  galápagos  alexandervonhumboldt  newzealand  australia  bali  lombok  ecology  biology  life  robertmacarthur  edwardowilson  ecosystems  discreetness  nature  wilderness  complexity  extinction  dispersal  invasion  adaptation  competition  biogeography  geography  lordhoweisland  yrjöhaila  equilibrium  conservation  adrianmanning  jakobvonuexküll  flows  circulation  borders  people  humans  separation  anthropocene  darwin 
december 2014 by robertogreco

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