Why It Matters
What is this Balance of Nature that Ecologists Talk About?
—Stuart L. Pimm, The Balance of Nature1
That there is a balance of nature is one of the most deepseated assumptions about the natural world, the world we know on planet Earth. For as long as we humans have had the ability to think seriously about our world we have attempted to find order in chaos. The world is vast and surely appeared vaster when our collective knowledge was far less than it is today. Humans living, say, 10,000 years ago, at the dawn of agriculture, must have perceived nature as impossibly complex, perhaps beautiful, very mysterious, and surely fairly scary. These perceptions have changed to various degrees. Today Homo sapiens has emerged as the dominant species on the planet, as measured by its collective effects on Earth's ecosystems. No single species in Earth's history has caused more changes on the planet than what we are doing today. We need to understand and act on this reality. But why? Begin by allowing me to take you on a journey beyond Earth, through a bit of space and time, and you'll soon see “why it matters.”
We live in the Stelliferous era, the time of the stars. There was a previous time when there were no stars, and there will be a time in the far distant future when there will be only cold and dark remnants of stars, when absolutely no form of life will exist anywhere in the universe. All traces of human existence or any other forms of life will presumably have long since disappeared from