Thursday, July 10, 2008

Environment and Ecology

In the 1960s I recall the relatively new term "ecology" becoming popular. At first some used the term synonomously with the word "environment," as in certain practices being “bad for the ecology.” Environmentalists were not unhappy with this misuse of terminology; they favored increased attention to environmental problems. Today, public understanding of the term is greater than ever before.

Two words are commonly used in definitions of ecology--relationships, and interactions. The natural world is one of the best examples of the maxim “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The many branches of ecology, such as microbial ecology and forest ecology to the social sciences such as cultural ecology, are making scientists and the public more aware of the importance of inter-relationships of organisms in our environment. The declining health of even one species can often adversely affect other species. This could trigger a negative cascade of events.

Examples abound. The tragic colony collapse disorder afflicting our honeybees may result in poor pollination of flowering plants and reduced fruit and vegetable harvests. A mysterious disease of bats in the northeast may mean the loss of agricultural insect pest consumption if it continues. There are also many historical examples of unhealthy proliferations of animals. For example, rabbits were introduced by man in Australia in 1788, and they have been battled by residents ever since because of the destruction millions of these animals have wreaked on crops. Less disastrous are the Asian lady beetles introduced in the U. S. to help control soybean aphids; they also became a nuisance when seeking winter refuge inside human dwellings.

Our Creator has supplied the earth with millions of diverse species which interact with one another and with humans. Sometimes the impact of man’s activities on these interrelationships has negative effects. Man’s knowledge has solved some of our self-made problems, such as our endangered eagles and scarce bluebirds(Welcome back!). As God’s highest order of created beings, we are given the ability to manage and work out these affairs. Surely the scripture in James 1:5 applies equally to our knowledge of ecology and to our quest for spiritual truth: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (NAS translation).