My professor, Malcolm Hill, once remarked that mosquito are here to pay back the blood debt we owe to nature. Though I fervently agree, I also think they are more than nature’s tax collectors. They remind me that no matter how hard we try, we are part of nature, interwoven into an unimaginably complex, dynamic web of exchange between animal, mineral, vegetable and life-forms that continually elude classification – the global ecosystem.
Notice the prefix eco, from the Greek for household, shared by the well know and perhaps less understood “economy.” In fact, ecology, the study of ecosystems, is often known as “the economy of nature;” however, I think that economics is actually the ecology of money. As Wikipedia aptly states, ecology is “the scientific study of the relationships that living organisms have with each other and with their natural environment.” These relationships include exchanging nutrients and carbon on an astonishing number of levels between a currently unknown amount of species (an estimated 8.7 eurkaryote species and an untold number of prokaryotes). Thinking of nature economically, these species are constanty exchanging (and competing for) currencies like, territory, nutrients, reproductive success, etc.
The primary difference between ecology and economics is the currency. “Anthropogenic” economies are as natural as the exchange of nutrients between animals. “Economics” is the study of the one specific currency that is relevant to human ecology — money. I say one aspect because human ecology depends on all of the listed and unlisted factors that ecologists consider when studying other species. Ecologists use modeling techniques developed by economists and vice versa in an effort to try to understand the world around us. The point is, the two are intertwined, and the study of them together is known as Economolgy (http://www.economologos.com/Economology%20Journal.html). Focusing on money, in human ecology (i.e. demography coupled with economics), is important, but we cannot miss the forest for the trees. There is a lot of evidence that long-term ecologically beneficial goals with result in economic benefits in the long term as well. Everything is connected.
There are many philosophical and theological debates on whether or not nature and man are separate, centering around the “validity” of evolution, but I am convinced by the evidence that the two are inseparable. Notice the diction here. Again I draw from Malcolm. I do not believe in evolution, I am convinced by the evidence that it has been and is currently occurring. Faith is not a factor here. Indeed, my faith in the supernatural, said with no negative connotation, is not limited by my understanding of evolution. If anything, an understanding of nature has done nothing but increase my wonder at the complexity and inter-connectivity of the natural world.
I will save the theological discussion for another time. For now, I will say that I am being bitten by mosquitoes, and although I still grumble and swat a them like a tax payer at collection time. I am pleased something is here to remind us that we are still a part of this world. Today, I helped remove over 3,000 pieces of garbage from the ocean, and I had a lot of fun doing it (special thanks to Dive Friends Bonaire and CIEE Research Station Bonaire for making volunteer events like that possible). Could the next step in our evolution be to become our own natural tax collectors? If climate change is an ecological “recession,” will our species be able manage the waste we produce?
I know this post seems all over the place, but I am going to work on it a little more because it was fun to write.
Below: Picture of clean up dive at same location three years ago. One volunteer diver can pull this much trash out of the ocean in only a few hours.
- Ecology is the break down of structure and content (knowledge-ecology.com)