ALL RELATIONSHIPS ARE INCLUSIVE AND PRODUCTIVE
I have often heard people say that a particular piece of land is “unproductive” and needs to be “brought under management.” Here, it must be rendered clear that every relationship is productive of a cause that has an effect, and the effect, which is the cause of another effect, is the product. Therefore, the notion of an unproductive parcel of ground or an unproductive political meeting is an illustration of the narrowness of human valuation, because such judgment is viewed strictly within the extrinsic realm of personal values, usually economics—not the intrinsic realm of Nature’s dynamics that not only transcend our human understanding but also defy the validity of our economic assessments.
We are not, after all, so powerful a natural force that we can destroy an ecosystem because it still obeys the biophysical principles that determine how it functions at any point in time. Nevertheless, we can so severely alter an ecosystem that it is incapable of providing—for all time—those goods and services we require for a sustainable life. Bear in mind that the total surface area of the United States covered in paved roads precludes the soil’s ability to capture and store water or that we are currently impairing the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide (one of the main greenhouse gases) because we have so dramatically disrupted the population dynamics of the marine fishes by systematically overexploiting too many of the top predators.1 All of the relationships that we affect are productive of some kind of outcome—a product. Now, whether the product is beneficial for our use or even amenable to our existence is another issue.
For example, scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, tracking plankton-feeding Pacific manta rays, found them drawn to a ring of islands between Hawaii and American Samoa that are covered with native forest and non-native coconut palms. The rays, for their part, inevitably ended up in waters adjacent the indigenous forest as opposed to the coconut palms. Observation pointed to the rays’ propensity to favor the native forest because migratory birds preferred to roost and nest in the trees, which results in their droppings falling to the forest floor. In turn, the droppings contain an abundance of nitrogen that which is washed into the sea each time it rains, where plankton and other organisms feed on it. The data show three times more plankton—part of the rays’ daily diet—along the coast with native forest than in waters adjoining areas dominated by imported coconut palms. Although people often think of oceanic and terrestrial systems as separate entities, such is clearly not the case—once again illustrating that an independent variable cannot exist within any kind of relationship, because all relationships are interactive by definition.2
Moreover, my travels through the years leave me with no doubt that actions taken “at home” affect the world in ways we cannot begin to fathom. And the reverse is true as well; what happens around the globe ought to matter to us because, while we may feel far away, we are not immune to the effects.
1. Chris Maser. Earth in Our Care: Ecology, Economy, and Sustainability. Rutgers University Press, Piscataway, New Jersey. (2009) 262 pp.
2. Manta Rays and Trees. American Forests, Fall (2012):12.
Text © by Chris Maser 2010. All rights reserved.
This series of blog is excerpted from my 2009 book, Social-Environmental Planning: The Design Interface Between Everyforest and Everycity, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 321 pp.