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« Tim Crane on Animal Minds | Main | Philosophy Bites: Links to the First 168 Interviews »

December 03, 2011



Melissa commented that sustainability is:
"In a narrow sense, ...maintaining the ecosystems, services and functionings that human society depends on, a way that will be sustainable over time and...  ...won't be self undermining."

The words suggested tending the earth like a wise gardener, ensuring today's plantings lay good foundations for future years.

And I wondered whether thinking of humanity as aspiring to be a wise gardener would help us.

And then I recalled reading that, although lions, giraffes and other big mammals appear to dominate the plains of Africa, in fact, they make up only around 10% of the animal life. Invertebrates like insects actually dominate the animal life of the plains. The big mammals are almost incidental to the ecosystem.

And I wondered whether we might be the same as the mammals of the plains: apparently dominant but actually almost incidental?

Perhaps we also exist by tapping into a complex system which is far larger than ourselves?

If this is correct, then what does it mean for the idea of humanity as a wise gardener?

That the gardener must focus on maintaining the life of a largely non human ecosystem, so that humans can tap into it!

But then I looked around at the vast number of people and houses and roads. And I thought about the millions of mammals like cattle and sheep that support us. And I wondered where the ecosystems were to support our mammals and ourselves. Where was the mass of invertebrates which, if the plains of Africa are a guide, will have about ten times the biomass? And where were the plants to feed these missing vertebrates?

Are they in the remaining wilderness areas of the world - which often remain because they don’t support rich ecosystems?

Are they in farmland - in spite of the spraying of insect pests?
Or did they live many millions of years ago, and do we tap into them now by using oil, coal and tar?

And so Melissa’s podcast suggested two questions:

Should we think of ‘sustainability’ as maintaining the life of a largely non human ecosystem, so that humans can tap into it, rather than dominate it?


If the plains of Africa are a guide, then where is the missing 90% of animal biomass on which we and our mammals depend?

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