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World Changing Ideas

To Save The Planet, Should Humans Divide And Conquer Specialized Ecological Niches?

If we mimic animals in nature, we may be able to save our overstressed resources just in time.

To Save The Planet, Should Humans Divide And Conquer Specialized Ecological Niches?

[Photos: Flickr user Emma Forsberg]

In the natural world, each species has a specific slice of the world that it exploits for food or shelter, and this enables a stable ecosystem, despite pressure on those resources. Certain birds feed on certain fish or insects, certain bees take nectar from certain flowers, and the list goes on and on.

A paper from the University of Edinburgh proposes that humans do the same. As this century wears on, pressure on renewable natural resources will continue to grow, so we need to manage our use of them. One way to do this would be to specialize, thus increasing efficiency and reducing waste.

Let's take fishing as an example. Instead of fishing as we do now, with everybody competing to get the same fish, we would instead specialize, with one group allowed to fish for each different species—one taking cod, another tuna. This, says the paper, would lead to both greater efficiency, as technology would be concentrated on specializing. "This would enable technology to advance for each specialism, leading eventually to harvesting of single fish species with little or no by-catch," says a University of Edinburgh press release. This in turn would allow, says study author Martyn Murray, for the raising of sustainable quotas.

In the world of the free market, where anybody is free to take whatever they want, and however they want to do it, this regulated approach seems like a commie plot. But unregulated markets are an ecological disaster. Something needs to be done before these resources are gone, and what we're doing right now isn't working.

"Better management of resources could help protect against many environmental problems, such as shrinking forests, disappearing lakes and rivers, empty seas, and overgrazed pastures, together with their aftermath of poverty, conflict, and hostilities," says Murray.

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