Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment

By Paul R. Ehrlich; Anne H. Ehrlich et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Disruption of
Ecological Systems

I suggest that the earth's biota is our single, most important resource. While protecting it will not assure wealth and grace for man, its decimation will assure increasing hardship for all

- G. M. Woodwell Success, Succession, and Adam Smith, 1974

The direct effects of pollution on property, on human health, and on the quality of life are varied and important, but they may ultimately prove to be less critical for society as a whole than the less obvious effects of pollution and other human activities on the ecological systems that sustain human life.

Crucial to these systems are the green plants that are the basic energy source for all other forms of life on Earth, and green plants are provided with the material ingredients of growth by the nutrient cycles of the biosphere. Those cycles do routinely what human society as yet cannot do -- convert wastes completely into resources, using energy from the sun. The crops of civilization are watered, nourished, and protected from potential pests with considerable help from natural processes, which include the formation and preservation of soil itself. The agents and carriers of human disease, like crop pests, are controlled more often by natural enemies or by environmental conditions than by human action. Climate and the composition of the atmosphere itself are regulated by geophysical and biological processes that may be susceptible to human interference.

These and other "public services" of the global ecosystem cannot be replaced by technology now or in the foreseeable future. This is so in many instances because a process is not understood scientifically. And, even where scientific knowledge might be adequate, the sheer magnitude of the tasks performed by natural

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