Wu, J. 1995. Biodiversity and Landscapes: A Paradox of Humanity (Book Review), Journal of Environmental Quality 24(3):554-556.
Biodiversity and Landscapes: A Paradox of Humanity
Edited by Ke Chung Kim and Robert D. Weaver, Cambridge University Press, The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 1RP. 1994. 431 p. $69.95. ISBN 0-521-41789-9.
A half century ago, W. I. Vernadsky, an eminent Russian scientist, wrote, "Mankind taken as a whole is becoming a mighty geological force. There arises the problem of the reconstruction of the biosphere in the interests of freely thinking humanity as a single totality. This new state of the biosphere, which we approach without our noticing it, is the Noösphere. " The word "noösphere," first introduced by a French mathematician and Bergsonian philosopher Le Roy, is composed of two Greek terms: noos (mind) and sphere (envelope of the earth). Vernadsky declared that because man has unprecedentedly become a large-scale geological force, the noösphere is a new geological phenomenon on the earth, and yet the last of many evolutionary stages of the biosphere. Considering that it has been only about a half million years since the emergence of modern humans (Homo sapiens ), a tiny fraction in the history of the biosphere, the anthropogenic consequences are astonishing. This phenomenon of human dominance and its environmental consequences have been increasingly recognized in the past several decades. Indeed, human dominion over nature by conquering it has been a central idea in both Western and Eastern cultures. While humankind has experienced and celebrated its spectacular advances in agriculture, industry, and science and technology, undoubtedly it is now faced with a plethora of formidable social and environmental problems, such as human population explosion, species extinction, ecosystem deterioration, pollution, and global climate change.
Biodiversity is the symbol and essence of the biosphere and nature. On one hand, the proliferation of human population and the development of the technological society have depended on biodiversity on both utilitarian and non-utilitarian bases; on the other hand, abundant evidence indicates that accelerating anthropogenic activities are primarily responsible for the current global crisis of biodiversity, increasingly jeopardizing the only life-support system for human survival. For the sake of a sustainable biosphere and the human society, it is imperative for humankind to reckon with this apparent conflict between biodiversity and humanity.
Biodiversity conservation is the most pressing yet most difficult task humans have ever faced with, which involves not only science, but every aspect of the human society as well. This is the subject matter of the book, "Biodiversity and Landscapes: A Paradoxof Humanity, " which evolved out of an international meeting, "Biodiversity and Landscapes: Human Challenges for Conservation in the Changing World," held at the Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pennsylvania between the 22nd and 25th of October, 1990. Twenty-five contributors from a variety of fields, such as conservation biology, landscape ecology, resource management, environmental engineering, economics, history, philosophy, and sociology, presented different perspectives on the role of human values, technological society, and social and political processes in the creation and solution of the biodiversity-humanity paradox.
The book is divided into seven Parts and twenty-two chapters. The introductory chapter by Ke Chung Kim and Robert Weaver, the only one in Part I, sets the theme of the volume through a comprehensive yet concise review of the essential aspects of biodiversity, humanity, and the paradox. In Part II, the relationship between human values and biodiversity are discussed in three chapters. In his review of the work by Thoreau and Leopold on science and values, Bryan Norton (Chapter Two) addresses the question: What is the value of biodiversity? He distinguishes between the utilitarian and anthropocentric view that emphasizes the instrumental value of biodiversity, and the moralistic view that humans are obligated to protect all species. The awkward choice between these two approaches has been labeled as "the environmentalists' dilemma." Norton analyzes and compares Thoreau's transformative values and his science (mainly human analogy to other animals at the levels of organic nature), and Leopold's land ethic and "scientific contextualism" which was inspired by ecology and evolution. Chapter Three by Holmes Rolston presents a nonhumanistic view on species diversity and conservation, the "Noah's environmental ethics." He doubts if anyone can be a conservation biologist without a respect for life that, he claims, was created by God. The last chapter in Part II by Eric Katz (Chapter Four) discusses the relationship between biodiversity and "ecological justice." Having recognized a crisis in moral value and problems of anthropocentrism in the preservation of biodiversity, Katz believes that the real solution to the biodiversity-humanity paradox is the development of a nonanthropocentric "ecological ethic." According to Katz, the ecological ethic is inspired by Leopold's (1970) assertion: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." Katz argues that the implementation of ecological justice will require opposing "ecological imperialism" and critically examining and revising current environmental and developmental policies throughout the world.
Parts III and IV , each having four chapters discuss the relationship between human processes and biodiversity, and biological perspectives and approaches to biodiversity conservation. In contrast with a relatively common view of preindustrial man as the quintessential environmental conservationist, William Sanders and David Webster (Chapter Five) argue that individual human beings have always been myopic, namely lack of concern with long-term environmental consequences of their activities. Based on archaeological data, they analyze the collapse of Classic Maya civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula after centuries of prosperous development, concluding that environmental degradation caused by intensive use of land was primarily responsible for the catastrophic decline of the ancient population. Back to the present time, Chapter Six by Robert Peters reviews literature on vegetation shift and problems and strategies for conserving biodiversity in response to global climate change. While little is known about how global climate change affects the structure, function, and dynamics of ecological systems, anticipated detrimental impacts on biodiversity across a range of scales should be considered in biological conservation. As noted therein, much of the information in this chapter was previously published by the author and collaborators in several other places. With astonishing facts ensuing one another from a variety of sources, Norman Myers (Chapter Seven) passionately talks about population explosion and various resultant environmental problems across continents. Accelerating anthropogenic perturbations from local to global scales make both in site and ex site preservation of genetic resources increasingly important to biodiversity conservation. Germplasm conservation is reviewed in Chapter Eight by Garrison Wilkes, but only its role in agriculture is discussed.
Eugene Hargrove (Chapter Nine) starts Part IV with examining two different views of the human-nature relationship: human as part of nature and human apart from nature. Much of the discussion involves how humans value biodiversity and landscapes, which are covered in greater details in other chapters in Parts II and V. Chapters Ten, Eleven and Twelve focus on conceptual and practical issues in landscape management and restoration. Zev Naveh (Chapter Ten) presents an European landscape ecological perspective, emphasizing biocybernetic features in man-dominated landscapes. Based on the total human ecosystem concept, explained in depth in his several other previous publications, Naveh discusses the relationship between landscape heterogeneity and management approaches at the regional scale, with examples from Mediterranean uplands and European agricultural landscapes. Focusing on the deciduous forest in the eastern United States, Leslie Sauer (Chapter Eleven) speaks of the urgency and measures for conservation and restoration (e.g., establishing a system of forest reserves, integrating native ecosystems with development, controlling exotics, and enhancing banking and dispersal of native species). James Karr (Chapter Twelve) further elaborates on landscape ecology, mentioned earlier by Naveh, recognizing four central components: scale, dynamics, patches, and inter-patch linkages. Through case studies of aquatic, wetland, and forest ecosystems, Karr illustrates human dependency on biodiversity, the role of landscape ecological studies in ecosystem management, and the importance of studies of spatiotemporal heterogeneity of ecological systems in theory and practice.
Part V, with three chapters, deals with socioeconomics of biodiversity. Robert Weaver (Chapter Thirteen) explains the need, concept, and methodology for economic valuation of biological diversity, viewing biodiversity as a public good and limited resource. He maintains that economic valuation of biodiversity is useful although its nonutilitarian values do exist. In Chapter Fourteen, Alan Randall argues that only recognizing economic values of biodiversity is not adequate. To avoid what he calls the "slick terrain" problem, he encourages a search for fail-safe approaches to biodiversity conservation. Chapter Fifteen by Christopher Uhl et al. reviews the land use history and discusses the problem of sustainable development in the municipality of Paragominas in the eastern Amazonia.
Six chapters in Part VI discuss strategies for conserving biodiversity and resolving the humanity-biodiversity paradox. Robert Weaver (Chapter Sixteen) believes that the relationship between economic activities/development and biodiversity/ environmental management can be mutually beneficial, although the contrary has been evidenced for the past three decades. While I agree with the author that greater international cooperation is clearly needed in future, his conclusion that "substantive means" are available for "erasing" the impacts of human activities on biodiversity is undoubtedly an overstatement. In Chapter Seventeen, John Cairns, Jr. argues that the conflicting relationship between technology and biodiversity conservation is getting worse. He insightfully points out the problem of fragmentation that exists in human societies (lack of a holistic view), the educational system (isolation of disciplines), the political system (special interest groups), and the regulatory community (lack of interagency efforts). Several recommendations are made accordingly. Chapter Eighteen by Howard Odum introduces the concepts of "emergy" and "transformity," which, as he claims, provide a common measure for evaluating human ecosystem performance that involves both nature and economy. Although this approach has shown interesting results in some ecological socioeconomic studies, its usage in biodiversity conservation remains to be seen. Harold Tukey (Chapter Nineteen) briefly argues that plants and gardens should be considered as part of biodiversity. This is the only chapter without any references although some of the literature on urban landscape ecology would be relevant. Chapter Twenty by M. Rupert Cutler emphasizes the role of nongovernmental environmental organizations, whereas Chapter Twenty-One by Michael Bean concludes Part VI by giving a succinct survey of legislative and public agency initiatives in biodiversity conservation.
In the concluding chapter of book (Part VII), Weaver and Kim attempt to give a comprehensive synthesis on the biodiversity-humanity paradox and to outline a new paradigm for solutions. They recognize that biodiversity conservation must be based on a much broader interpretation than the traditional species-centered concept. Recent literature in conservation biology and landscape ecology supports the notion that biodiversity consists of compositional, structural, and functional components across genetic, population, community, and regional landscape levels. While I understand the intention, I am not sure that the interpretation of biodiversity by Weaver and Kim as "encompassing ecological systems and the biosphere" would be more useful. These authors discuss the essence and origins of the biodiversity-humanity conflict, and challenges and options for resolving it. They assert that human values and human cognition are crucial determinants of the conflict, and that the solution must, therefore, focus on "fundamental transformations of human cognition and values, and environmental values and ethics, as well as the social, political, and economic equilibria of our technological society."
Overall, the book presents an excellent blend of diverse views on biodiversity, landscape management, and humanity, which is not commonly found in other volumes on the subject of biodiversity conservation. It provides a valuable reference book for graduate students, professors, and other professionals in ecology, conservation biology, environmental sciences, and policy makers who are conscious of the sustainability of our life-support system.
Shortcomings do exist, however. Some chapters are affluent in enthusiasm for biodiversity conservation but fall short in providing convincing data or evidence to uphold arguments. Missing or miscited references occur in several chapters. Having recognized inevitable overlap in topics and difficulties in arranging them under categories, I still think that a few chapters are out of place. For example, it seems more logical to place Chapter Nine (Hargrove) in Part II (Human values and biodiversity), Chapter Fifteen (Uhl et al.) in Part IV (Management of biodiversity and landscapes), and Chapter Eighteen (Odum) in Part V (Socioeconomics of biodiversity).
To conclude, let's remember what Aldo Leopold said over sixty-seven years ago: "The balance of nature in any strict sense has been upset long ago.... The only option we have is to create a new balance objectively determined for each area in accordance with the intended use of that area." -- JIANGUO WU, Biological Sciences Center, Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada System, Reno, NV 89506.