Sunday, 16 November 2008

Ship Assistance and other human/ natural system considerations

Found this nice little flickr site about birds on a geophysicists boat out in the Gulf of Mexico.

I presume ship assistance is a fundamental aspect of transatlantic vagrancy. The Yellow-billed Cuckoo (above) which I photographed on Corvo in 2007 showed some dark smudging down its breast. I noticed this sort of staining on one or two other cuckoos on the island in the past. I presume this is some kind of deck wash residue or grease from ships and off shore installations.

Some birders are uncomfortable with the idea of ship assistance but for me it is just another aspect of human activity that affects planetary systems. In this case offshore shipping traffic and installations appear to be regularly utilised by migrant birds. Presumably this factor must have some effect on the ecology of these birds. I suppose it is no different to birds using farmland to feed on or nesting in roofs of houses.

I like the idea that humans are part of nature and I think that not realising that can have significant costs. By saying one thing is natural and one thing is un-natural is a philosophical mistake. The consequences of that mistake is that planners and visionaries consider systems which are missing fundamental parts. The result is a devoid, uninspiring and bleak human environment. In my opinion anything that humans do, can be performed in a way which is complimentary to the natural world. We can build roads with nice verges and planted carriageways, we can farm in a way that generates beautiful countryside teeming with wildlife, we can build houses with stunning gardens with all sorts of garden wildlife, we can build business parks full of trees, shrubs, ponds and feeding areas for birds, Even industrial estates can be planned better and I have spent a lot of time looking at sewage farms, outfalls, settling lagoons, rubbish dumps etc which are all significant areas for birds and wildlife so know very well their importance in natural systems.

In short what I am saying is that this technocrat/environmentalist divide is an imagined divide generated by a philosophical flaw. Eco-warriors do not need to be at war with developers- the two groups should be sitting round the same table planning the human environment. They need to share a few values- no good being polarised. For me anyway, the problem is not development but the nature of that development. Better to go with something and make the most of it rather than fight the inevitable.


Benno Art Blog said...


If I may add to your wonderfully enlightened post;
I know that many (most) naturalist, environmentalist, biologists hold to the philosophy that any human interference with wildlife is "unnatural" and therefore wrong.

This may be so in a pristine environment, but does not hold true for any part of the earth that has been touched by humans.

Once any habitat is destroyed or land is altered the playing field is changed. No matter how small or insignificant it may seem, if a family of (let's say) cedar waxwings were inhabitating an area and then were forced to leave (due to human activity that removed this habitat) than that automatically changes the equation. This happens thousands or millions of times a day. We destroy or alter the land to build a subdivison, a parking lot or any structure/ or we harvest resources that other species were using.

As you said, that doesn't have to equate to a polarizing of interests. Unfortunately, the land developer often holds no interest in creating an environment which benefits both humans and nature. Money nearly always wins out.

As for those, such as myself, who make the decision to feed wildlife. There are many reasons to think carefully about creating an unnatural food source for animals. For anyone considering it, please do a web search of "don't feed the wildlife" and you will see that there are serious, valid reasons.

Having said that, since humans are responsible for altering or destroying habitats and food sources... it seems only fair that we should go out of our way to provide help (without creating a situation of dependence)when possible.

I do feed the birds and squirrels (and other small mammals) in my yard. I make an effort to supplement rather than create a situation where they become dependent. I know that my neighbors probably hate me and the naturalists do as well, but so be it.

The vast majority of wildlife vs human conflict is due to our growing need for land and resources that were being used by other species. Mountain lions coming into populated areas is due to the fact that they are being driven out of their natural habitat. Where are they to go?

Their only concern is much like ours... to seek food and shelter. It is our responsibility to do our best to balance our needs with those of other species. So far, IMO, we aren't doing a great job.

Unfortunately, this viewpoint elicits extremely strong reactions in many people. It's as if one is suddenly anti-human, it's an us versus them sort of attitude. In the case of the naturalist, assisting a species (whether intentional or not) is often seen as detrimental.

Why can't we learn to have a more inclusive viewpoint and understand that this is not a black or white issue. It is very complicated and needs serious consideration.

If we destroy habitat, then we should take a step toward assisting the species that are displaced. We simply cannot continue to disregard the fact that we have already disrupted much of the land... and thus have created vast artificial environments.

I understand the veiwpoint of the naturalist, but such a rigid stance does not reflect reality. We disrupt the natural flow of the ecosystem every second of every day. It doesn't seem logical or fair to then espouse a theory that it is best not to interfer with nature. The deed has already been done.

Peter Alfrey said...

Cheers Cynthia,
Most thought provoking:

Symbiosis- dependancy between species is perfectly routine and commonplace.

The British Isles are approximately 75% farmland with the remaining, including urban areas, moorland and uplands (also managed human environments)and a very small fragment of archaic habitats.

That means that there is next to nothing 'natural' on this island and all animals and plants are dependent on this human environment.

I suggest we manage it in a way that reflects all beautiful things- people, landscapes, architecture, wildlife, culture etc etc. I am not ashamed of being a human. I feel the human managed environment can be one of the most inspiring environments on earth.

As for money-I love greed. I don't believe that true economic gain comes from generating un-sustainable bleak and un-inspiring, often vulgar environments where humans are manipulated by negativity. This leads to short term gain which is not only un-rewarding and elitist but often unstable and ephemeral (hence the current credit crisis). If you are truely greedy, like me, it makes much more sense to invest in long term sustainable strategies, where the environment is valued correctly and where humans are valued. This leads to true stable wealth and a great sense of satisfaction of creating something amazing and inspiring.

I am not talking about a by-gone era- I am talking about a future that has yet to exist.

Benno Art Blog said...

Well Peter,

I too am not at all ashamed to be human. Our species has such potential to bring about a better world for all.

I consider myself both an idealist and a realist. The two can work at cross purposes but, when confronted with a dilemma, the one balances out the other and brings me closer to thinking in terms of real remedies.

I applaud the ideas you set forth in this original post. Everything you mentioned, such as, bringing nature, people, architecture, etc., together is an ideal that would serve us all well. As you say, It need not be approached from an adversarial position.

However, in your own words you acknowledged (in another post) that are society is indeed taking a turn for the worse.

Is it possible that we can change for the better?... of course it is. It's going to take more than few bloggers agreeing on principles or philosophy.

My own experiences, observations and knowledge gathering tells me that our species is not, at this point in time, advanced enough (in our thinking or culture) to give serious consideration to the ideal conditions you so eloquently described.

It all sounds so perfect and even so possible, if it were not for the fact that the vast majority do not think in such visionary and inclusive terms. It is not negative thinking to acknowledge what is evident.

The idealist in me continues to hold onto the possibility that someday we will be willing to create a world where all can exist peacefully and thrive ~ together.

Peter Alfrey said...

I totally agree- in my little fantasy world I see myself a builder (one of millions) of something that will be finished in perhaps 1000 years time.