Nature’s been ruling the world for 5 billion years. Plants have flourished and animals have roamed the blue planet for nearly as long. Although we started off on the right foot, we have much to learn from the planet’s inhabitants. Thousands of years ago people lived a simple life with horses for transportation, handplowing the Earth and handfelding the lumber. Farm animals were raised, following the ways of insects, birds and other animals. Even the pioneers saw the wisdom in employing nature’s secrets to manage crops, wild life and pracitcal medicine. We have, however, developed into a governmental megagopolous, devouring all the precious, natural resources in our wake. Have we lost our way?
As governments bureaucratize, they seem to lose track of their purpose. As governments grow, those in powerful positions become much more concerned about their tenure than protecting the environment they swore to take care of. Their goal winds down to collecting taxes and protecting bureaucratic jobs. Why have our governments forsaken us?
Recently, however, a resurgence of a bunch of small groups, scattered among various disciplines, have emerged to study exactly what it is we need to know to best serve man kind. Among these, artic scientists are now measuring glacial ice sheet retractions in Greenland and Antarctica. Their efforts were documented by Velicogna, I. 2009. Increasing rates of ice mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets revealed by GRACE. Geophysical Research Letters. 36, L19503, Geophysical. Another documentation effort that supports Greenland and Antarctic ice melts was performed by Research Letters, Vol., 38, L15501, 5 PP., 2011 doi:10.1029/2011GL047872 doi:10.1029/2009GL040222. Many of these resourceful groups have discovered small lakes that appear on top of the ice sheets and then suddenly and mysteriously they disappear. Scientists observed one and discovered that these lakes find a weak spot on the glacier and drain down to the bottom, creating a lubricating action on the glacier. This will speed up the processing of the ice sheet as it slides into the ocean. It is only with study and pursuits like these that scientists are uncovering the deadly secrets that nature hides from us. What we’ve uncovered here is a way to examine our environment and figure out what to do about the changes that might negatively impact human survival.
Rafe Sagarin has written a supreme book that deals directly with how observing natural processes can aid us in an effort to safeguard our borders, enhance our eco-system, stabilize our nation—in short, secure our place on the planet. All this is packed into his amazing new book, Learning from the Octopus. Read the review
Sagarin subscribes to an idea once celebrated in Sinclair Lewis’ novel, Arrowsmith. Martin Arrowsmith quickly learns the value of observation and patience as he acquires good study skills in the medical trade from Professor Max Gottlieb. He learns to pay attention to all the small details taking place in an environment before attempting to draw any conc
lusions about it. Such advice can do wonders for those grappling with major problems that plague the modern world.
While Sagarin promotes developing the enormous wealth of assets and natural dynamics of the plant and animal kingdoms, human beings share little with other animals and plants outside of basic biological processes. After all, we are mammals and share the same mammalian characteristics, possessing two eyes, a nose, a mouth, lactating breasts (of females) and four limbs. But, Sagarin admonishes, we need to take heed how the planet gives warnings of upheaval, how plants respond to stress and how instinct serves animals.
Perhaps human awareness has reached a crossroads. Sagarin proposes a way to tap this vast resource by analyzing the nature of well-established and well-ordered reproductive systems, such as the salmon cycle. How do salmon know exactly which water flows into the ocean will lead them back to their spawning grounds from which they emerged? The answer is a resounding and acute awareness of the environmental cue they sense along the way. Water temperature, chemicals present that can be sensed, sounds—practically anything that amounts to a road sign, is vital to this undertaking.
Sagarin talks about wild animals as though each one wielded a library of information, a GPS for navigation and a computer system for tracking. One of the more obvious questions raised in the book concerns how dogs and cats seem to perceive dangers long before humans do—despite our sophisticated technological sensors. We are yet to figure out how certain oil-eating organisms consume oil from oceanic oil spills, how dogs predict tsunamis, sniffing for cancer, drugs or anything else that humans would like to know about. We know that ladybugs like to eat aphids, but why do ants corral aphids and farm them like cows, milking them for the sweet nectar for food that they ooze when squeezed by the ants. We need to know how the praying mantis and green lacewings attack pray with voracious appetites. How does computer and cell phone tracking effect the quality o
f our lives? Then big brother is watching us with ever-encroaching cameras hovering over us everywhere.
We better wake up. With a world population soaring past seven billion and the continuing of world petroleum demands and global warming, any impending dangers that could invade our safe haven at any time, plus the scourge of waste threatens to collapse the ecosystem. We need to take heed from scientists’ warnings. I sincerely hope that the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012 does not mark the end of the world.
D. Wayne Dworsky addresses the importance of being informed of Currents in Science & Nature by participating in science & nature book reviews, writing feature articles, aviation and preparing students for State examinations in mathematics and language arts. He’s been reviewing science and nature titles for Sacramento Book Review for the last two years.
In addition to his own literary career, he hosts a radio talk show on Blog Talk Radio’s Alpha Centauri & Beyond . And he writes a blog at his website, Alpha Centauri & Beyond.com. He remains active as an airman and writes articles for American Chronicle.