Thursday, June 16, 2011

Economics and Ecology: The Search for Solutions by Mark Madison

Great discussion commenters, thanks for contributing.

Following “The Anthill Chronicles” section, this part of the book has a wonderful description of another hierarchical, workaholic society—Harvard University. Wilson knows this social system as well as he does insects and his description of the inspiring and eccentric professors and their bull sessions rings true. When I was at Harvard the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology Department was a wealth of riches. In addition to E.O. Wilson and his revolutionary sociobiological explanation of human behavior, the department also included Ernst Mayr, one of the pioneers in bringing evolution and genetics together, and Stephen Jay Gould perhaps the best nature essayist since Darwin. It was a heady place at the forefront of evolutionary thinking and there were many intellectual groups to join and discuss topics of the day—many led by the professors.

Yet one group I missed was “Gaia Force”—the hugely unlikeable eco-warrior group described in Wilson’s book. In the 1990s the Harvard environmental groups were rather mild-mannered, more along the lines of the Harvard Rainforest Alliance than Earth First! Yet dramatic necessity and poetic license created the Harvard chapter of the fictional “Gaia Force”—oddly named after the Gaia hypothesis a rather new age, peaceful, holistic theory. The Gaians in Anthill believe in the use of ecosabotage to protect mother earth and unlike their real life counterparts (like Ed Abbey and Dave Foreman) they are a rather humorless bunch. Raff recoils from the extremes of the Gaians and thereafter seeks the middle road. He becomes convinced that “nature-versus-jobs could not be solved by outright victory of one side over the other” and he begins plotting to steer such a moderate path in his beloved Nokobee.

This raises some interesting questions.

Can you think of examples where the middle road worked—both jobs and nature benefitted?

Are there ever examples where there is no win-win environmental solution?

As usual I look forward to reading your answers, comments, and real-life examples to this fictionalized conundrum.

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