January 13, 2009
This idea of nature's harmonious balance has become not just the bedrock of environmental thought, but a driving force in policy and culture. It is the sentiment behind Henry David Thoreau's dictum, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." It lies behind last summer's animated blockbuster "Wall-E," in which a single surviving plant helps revive an earth smothered beneath the detritus of human overconsumption. It underlies environmental laws that try to minimize the damaging influence of humans on land and the atmosphere. In this line of thought, the workings of the natural world, honed over billions of years of evolution, have reached a dynamic equilibrium far more elegant - and ultimately durable - than the clumsy attempts humankind makes to alter or improve them. According to the paleontologist Peter Ward, however, nothing could be further from the truth. In his view, the earth's history makes clear that, left to run its course, life isn't naturally nourishing - it's poisonous. Rather than a supple system of checks and balances, he argues, the natural world is a doomsday device careening from one cataclysm to another.more from Boston Globe Ideas here.
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