Ecology, Leadership & the End of Civilization

Colleagues holding question mark signs in front of their faces

This morning I revisited two amazing articles which I wanted to share with you all this weekend.

One is from March of this year, published in the New York Times and written by E.O. Wilson, a renowned Harvard professor emeritus of biology who argues…

….Civilization is at last turning green, albeit only pale green. Our attention remains focused on the physical environment — on pollution, the shortage of fresh water, the shrinkage of arable land and, of course, the great, wrathful demon that threatens all our lives, human-forced climate change. But Earth’s living environment, including all its species and all the ecosystems they compose, has continued to receive relatively little attention. This is a huge strategic mistake. If we save the living environment of Earth, we will also save the physical, nonliving environment, because each depends on the other. But if we work to save only the physical environment, as we seem bent on doing, we will lose them both.

Dr. Wilson advocates that we need to save over 50% of the world’s habitats to maintain a healthy global ecology. He asserts that we simply cannot loose to extinction all the plants and animals required for the healthy functioning of the world’s habitats…. but in particular, all the unsung organisms like algae, bacteria, fungi and the like.

The other article is a December, 2014 PBS interview with Anthropologist Arthur Demarest, a student of failed civilizations. Dr. Demarest has found “…the key strengths of civilizations are also their central weaknesses. You can see that from the fact that the golden ages of civilizations are very often right before the collapse.”  Leaders, he asserts, are unable to…

“respond to problems or crises, they often simply intensify their efforts in their particular defined sphere of activity – even if that’s not relevant to the real problem. To do otherwise requires taking on entrenched practices and asserting power in areas where it often will not be well received. And leaders tend to see major crises more as threats to their own position rather than as systemic challenges for the societies that they govern or the institutions that they manage.

“Tech-ing” our way out of environmental problems or over dependence on market-led solutions, for example, may blindside us from simpler, less costly and faster conservation and policy means to address impending ecological collapse. Dr. Demarest is not optimistic about our chances given our penchant for short-term thinking and decision-making. This, he claims, has been a a “universal factor leading to collapse” of all once mighty civilizations.

Both articles provide critical insights not only to the ecological problems we face but what we might do to resolve them.

Have a thoughtful weekend.

Photos in this post are taken from New York Times and PBS Newshour websites where the original articles were published.


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