Thursday, July 23, 2009

Human Impact on the Environment - UCSD lecture series

An interesting summer course in Biology on the University of California San Diego (UCSD) is BILD 18 - Human Impact on the Environment by professor Milton Saier. (feed, website) As usual with UCSD courses, one is advised to download all lectures as soon as possible as they will be taken off line immediately at the end of the course.

In Saier's course the human impact on the environment is nothing to be proud or happy about. The nut shell example is the history of Easter Island. When humans first set foot on the island, it was a lush place with palm tree forests and a rich variety of fauna. For humans it was a good place to live. Plenty of food was to be had. Not just from the vegetation and animals on the island, but also, with the help of canoes, they could go out fishing and enrich the diet even more, notably with dolphin flesh. The famous statues of Easter Island are a distant memory on how rich life on Easter Island has been once upon a time. Yet, in order to build the canoes and move the statues about, the palm trees were cut. Once they were gone, so was part of the fauna and eventually also new canoes. The inhabitants had destroyed their habitat and fell to war and cannibalism.

In Saier's mind climate change, pollution and the rapid extinction of species on the entire planet are a large scale repetition of Easter Island's fate. So while he teaches the specifics of how humans impacted the environment, the facts speak for a normative conclusion. We bear the full guilt of the planet's impending collapse and radical change is needed to prevent disaster and contain the huge damage done already.

More Human and the Environment:
Defining Environmental History,
Climate Change will make us pay,
Electric Cars,
Good climate for everyone,
Lord Lawson and the alarmists,
Hot, Flat and Crowded,
Stern Review.