Invoking Misconceptions About “Ecosystems”

Another in our seemingly endless series about the “balance of nature” and other intellectually bankrupt eco-babble concepts [see also here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and many others].

The Ecosystem Illusion

Review by Mark Sagoff, professor at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy in the School of Public Affairs at the University of Maryland, College Park. 2000. [here]

of: Defending Illusions: Federal Protection of Ecosystems, by Allan K. Fitzsimmons. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999, 330 pp.

The protection of nature is a goal easier to embrace than to explain. If by “nature” we mean everything in the universe-all that is bound by the laws of physics-then our protection of nature is not required. Since we cannot perform miracles, our actions are as natural and fit as much into nature’s design or plan as the behavior of any object or organism. The opposite of nature in this sense is the supernatural, defined as anything to which the laws of nature do not apply. …

In Defending Illusions, Allan Fitzsimmons, an environmental consultant, argues persuasively that nature in this sense, above the level of the organism, possesses neither organizing principles nor emergent qualities that biologists can study. It has no health or integrity for humans to respect. The only laws or principles in nature are those that apply to everything and that human beings cannot help but obey. …

Historically, racists, sexists, and tyrants of all sorts have invoked conceptions of nature or of the natural to condemn whatever they happened to oppose. Fitzsimmons believes that environmentalists who appeal to the notion of the ecosystem similarly misrepresent their own preferences as those of Mother Nature. Because science must speak in secular terms, it refers to ecosystems instead of to Mother Nature or to Creation and ascribes design to ecosystems without any mention of the Designer. This conception of nature as orderly, however, derives not from any empirical evidence but from assumptions and beliefs that are essentially romantic or theological.

Fitzsimmons quotes Jack Ward Thomas, the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service in the Clinton administration: “I promise you I can do anything you want to do by saying it is ecosystem management. . . But right now it’s incredibly nebulous.” The utter nebulousness-indeed, vacuity-of the ecosystem concept accounts for its amazing prominence in environmental policy and planning, because researchers can absorb any amount of funding in trying to understand concepts such as ecosystem health, integrity, and stability. These concepts, Fitzsimmons argues, will always mean what anybody wants them to mean and thus will only add confusion to the already impossible goal of keeping nature free of human influence.

Fitzsimmons also quotes environmental scientists such as Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco, who concedes that the goal of sustaining ecosystems “is difficult to translate into specific objectives” in practice. He adds that “no amount of training-theological or ecological-can give substance to such notions as ‘the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.’” This does not imply, however, that Fitzsimmons opposes well-defined efforts to provide green space, protect wetlands, add to the nation’s parklands, preserve endangered species, and so on. Rather, he argues that vague imperatives implied in theories of ecosystem management provide no clear goals and offer no way to measure progress in these efforts. ..

For the entire review, please see [here].

23 Nov 2008, 9:23pm
by Fred G.

Dr. Sagoff nails it - again.

“Invasive Species” is a subset of the “native ecosystem” garbage that has plagued resource folks for many years. For the most precise critique of this, do a web search for Sagoff + invasive species.

Like the anthropogenic global warming nonsense, “Invasive Species” and “native ecosystems” are a drag on our stressed-out economy. But don’t look for any cuts from the political class. It is owned or intimidated by The Nature Conservancy and lesser members of Big Green.

23 Nov 2008, 9:42pm
by Mike

For the latest invasive species affront to basic Constitutionally-protected property rights, see [here].



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