Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The BioDiversity Blunder

    The following chapter from a book in preparation has been abridged from the version below and published in the December issue of BioScience as the introductory Viewpoint.   In it I call for a change in perspective in consrvation from an emphasis on species to an emphasis on landscapes. I suggest that the now long-standing focus on saving species has set conservation outside the mainstream of political and economic activity to the world's great detriment.


The Biodiversity Blunder

The IUCN (1948) 
It was a magnificent innovation: the Red List, a list of threatened species around the world published regularly by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The  Union was established in 1948 in the heady post-war years of hope and innovation. It was founded to offer the university academic community access to world issues of conservation and quickly became the icon of conservation, ever in need of funds to feed urgent projects. Supporters took what they saw as a large but necessary step in founding the World Wildlife Fund in 1961 with its international office in Morges, just outside Geneva, with the purpose of raising funds to support  IUCN initiatives. The design of the WWF was around specific national appeals including, of course, a US arm, WWF-US, which grew over the course of the next three decades to dominate the world organization. Not surprisingly, the national appeals developed their own programs quite independent of the IUCN. There were many innovations along the way but the Red List stood forth as a primary statement of the mission of conservation.  A listing  put the finger on species and sites requiring attention.
The approach was effective, remarkably so. By 1963 there was recognition of a need for more formal support for preserving species and the IUCN drafted the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species which became known as CITES.  The convention had received sufficient governmental recognition by 1973 that a meeting of  representatives of  80 nations could be held  in Washington  where a process was established for ratification and implementation. CITES entered into force in 1975 after 10 signers had ratified and become Parties to the Convention. By 2009 175 nations were Parties and the Convention was gathering muscle as nations developed their own internal rules for protecting species and were reaching for international leverage as well.  Additional attention was going into special international challenges such as whales, big cats,  and tuna.
In the academic world papers and books appeared around the truism that extinction is forever. The Red Lists became longer, overwhelmed in fact in the early 70’s, and it was clear that too many species were threatened and the challenge was to save the full range of species on earth. A shorthand developed.  “Biodiversity” emerged as a term consolidating all purposes in preserving species.  Defending biodiversity in all its imaginable forms became the core objective in conservation.
It was an unfortunate choice.  While the arguments advanced in the interests of preserving biodiversity were true and desirable,  the emphasis on species was inadequate to the point of misleading, both as a concept of science and as an objective for political action in conservation.  The inadequacy appeared only over time as both science and conservation slipped to the margins of human affairs and biotic impoverishment soared globally.  Biotic diversity was a useful concept but it offered no implement, no tool in science, and no model, no example of success, no clear cost of failure. It was a concept, ephemeral to most and not easily defined or measured or conserved in practical, specific, understandable terms.
But the concept was attractive to many scientists, bolstered by books, many compendia of papers written by the world’s best known scholars asserting articulately  the importance to all of keeping every sprig of the earth’s green mantle[1].   And research efforts were undertaken to find objective evidence that the metric of biodiversity, the number of species present, defined structure and function in landscapes and conveyed substance to ecology and succor in various forms to human interests[2]. The search intensified as scholars recognized that there are large differences in biodiversity around the globe: tropical forests for example have many more species than the boreal forest.  “Hot spots” of biodiversity are obviously more attractive and important as objectives in conservation than places less well endowed.  Or are they?
The logic refuted, or simply ignored, a  century of analysis and exploration by botanists who had struggled with the questions around the concept of  plant and animal communities which they saw as no less a product of evolution than the species themselves[3]. And to be sure, the interactions among species, the mutual dependencies,  and  structural complementarities  provided ample basis for the theories. An arm of science emerged under various names including phyto –sociology and ecology itself. In all of that discussion the species list was one of the richest elements, but only if accompanied by several of the other elements of structure and, later,  physiology and genetics[4],[5],.  In this new revolution in concepts all that history was ignored in favor, not of the species list per se, but simply of biodiversity  It was strange argument for it  prejudged species numbers and novelty as important and worthy of preservation.  It overlooked genetic variability, ecotypes, community structure, species dominance, minimal ranges, interdependencies and propinquity. It also overlooked broad, chronic, changes in environment such as chemical pollution and climatic disruption, that changed the environment out from under each individual, not a species, but each organism, each survivor of the competitive business of life, and every ecotype, selected for success in that place. In such a world saving a “hot spot’ of biodiversity is little more than a hope, a wish, certain to be dashed as chronic changes in environment accumulate and produce the inevitable impoverishment of land and water. The impoverishment offers no hope of restoration, for the neighboring ecotypes have all been lost as well, long before the species has been lost, and there is no resilience remaining. 
Never the less, biodiversity became the criterion for establishing an interest in conserving places, land and water;  hot spots of biodiversity and parks and reserves were established to preserve such sites[6].  The emphasis on local parks seemed appropriate and appeared to satisfy the needs of conservationists who, thinking of migratory animals, moved to attempt to connect parks with corridors left in their natural state. That, too, was an excellent if difficult plan.  But, again, the emphasis was narrow and specific. It  took “conservation” out of the main stream of politics and economics and left the rest of the world open to business as usual. Business as usual was in fact destroying all life on earth, despite the elaborate efforts at protecting biodiversity in parks.  Conservation had to become the business of government, the core business, if it were to be effective.  But the practitioners were busy with parks and reserves to support biodiversity.
In many cases the parks were far too late, even to provide a moment’s respite from the rasp of industrial expansion and exploitation. The examples are legion. I recall as a boy visiting family friends who lived on T-Wharf on the Boston waterfront. I  was enthralled by the throng of commercial fishing vessels that crowded that large dock several vessels deep.  These were small,  sturdy, diesel-powered wooden craft rigged with trawls that were put over the side and drawn aboard amidships:  “beam trawlers”, I was told, and I was fascinated as any boy would be.  Then, on family visits to the coast of Maine, I could hear and see the trawlers working the inshore fishery and hear the comments of the locals about how the trawlers were taking everything and there was nothing left.  And there was nothing left. The trawlers got everything….and sold it in Boston or Portsmouth or Portland or ……..There was no refuge,  no protected zone. The protected zones have come recently, but too late. Now there are no fish to protect.
Years later I came back to New England to live in the marine community of Woods Hole where Spencer Baird had settled to work on fish and fisheries in the 1870’s. Persuaded  that the fisheries were in peril, he managed to have the Congress establish the US Fisheries Commission. He became the first Commissioner, serving without pay.  He was correct, of course, about the fisheries but the depredations of that time were trifling by comparison with what was to follow over the next century. 
Recently 140 years later dead dolphins washed up on the shores of  the Gulf of Mexico, victims of the massive oil dump from a failed British Petroleum deep-drilling platform, the largest such catastrophe ever. The response was, of course, to try to cap the well and stop the flow. Nothing  worked and the gusher continued at tens of thousands of barrels daily.  To keep the oil from soiling the beaches and marshes of the Gulf shores, the company used dispersants, emulsifiers, to spread the oil through the water column and make it less conspicuous if even more available to marine life.  And the emulsifiers themselves constituted a further exotic chemical,  a toxin in fact. The effects?   
There was no marine laboratory in the nation that did not aspire to having staff members on the site studying the effects.  On the one hand it would have been  reasonable for the scientific community to withhold judgment on this unmitigated disaster until these scientists  had a chance to review the site objectively and make an appraisal. But, scientific analysis or not,  the fact is that it was an unmitigated disaster, inexcusable, and with a total cost to the world beyond appraisal. No amount of  scholarly review could mitigate that obvious fact. Nor will any technological insight or clever manipulation correct, reduce or deflect the disastrous effects of  a  prolonged, huge release of  toxins into the Gulf and, ultimately, into the global oceans.  The only mitigation will be the gradual decay of the oil, but residues will be around a century from now.[7]
Furthermore, the effects on the Gulf are predictable, both the biophysical circulation of the toxins, and the systematic biotic impoverishment of the entire Gulf of Mexico as the oil enters the Gulf’s gyre and is carried widely. Some will decay, some will be sedimented, some washed up on the beaches and marshes of the Gulf and some will be mixed  sufficiently to pass through the Straits of Florida into the Gulf Stream and into the North Atlantic gyre. The use of the emulsifiers assures us of that circulation.  We also know that the oil from the 1969 Florida barge spill in Buzzards Bay that washed into a West Falmouth marsh persisted in those sediments for decades [8].  We know that this latest insult is precipitating a broad crisis of biodiversity in the Gulf and on its shores and beyond. The effects are best described, not as a loss of species and a biodiversity crisis, but as part of the incremental biotic impoverishment of the Gulf, a completely predictable trend produced by any chronic disturbance.  The process is predictable and costly and  preventable. It produces the elimination of the larger, longer lived, slowly reproducing forms and assures the survival of the smaller, abundant, rapidly reproducing forms in all habitats.  The Gulf with its incredibly rich biotic systems moves toward the biotic structure of a sewage pool.  Avoiding that cumulative erosion of biotic integrity requires strict attention to avoiding chronic environmental disruption. 
   Has an emphasis on biodiversity  protected the Gulf from this insult? From the excess of nitrogen flowing from agriculture into the Gulf from the Mississippi drainage?  From the open-ended global warming? From the increasing acidity of all oceans as the carbon balance shifts with increasing carbon dioxide?   Biodiversity is not a part of the discussion and conservation and conservationists have protected nothing, even to the extent of allowing governmental regulatory responsibilities to be ignored, a failure that led inevitably to the most extensive and disastrous oil spill ever.  The problem is larger than species, by far. .. and writ large in our history and experience.

Back in the latter decades of the 19th century fishing vessels turned from wind to steam power and trawlers were developed and had their way. They worked the abundant inshore stocks of  fish, especially herring, mackerel and cod along the New England coast.  The cod were especially abundant and valuable in that they were large and could be “ flaked”, dried, salted and  traded far and wide. Those cod stocks, the inshore strains, despite their original abundance, are now gone and have never returned. Such populations were unquestionably ecotypes, genetically fixed to the inshore environments,  temperatures, depths, currents, food, place  and to all predators except the trawls. The cod disappeared along with the trawlers that fished them out, never to return. One might think the stocks would be replaced by populations from the deeper waters, but those populations, too, are ecotypes, fixed to their special places in the world, and they are under pressure from the newer innovation in efficiency, the stern trawlers, larger and far more powerful than their predecessors and able to stay out for weeks or more if necessary, hauling large bottom trawls that scoop up all life for miles. These smaller ships can feed a selection from their take to large factory ships nearby.  Conservation?  Biodiversity?  Great thoughts, but outside the discussion.    So, too, the once huge cod stocks of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, were destroyed by over-fishing and have not recovered despite many years of protection… and hope.  Again, their conservation was clearly the business of government and we have allowed ourselves to be distracted and have lost….. dismally: the fishing grounds, once the richest in the world,  now impoverished beyond recovery.

The fisheries are a model for the forests which once covered about 44% of the land area and now cover less than 28%[9] .  The forests, too, have lost ecotypes and the losses spin upward daily as the environment erodes out from under them.
Meanwhile, still seduced by biodiversity, we struggle for a better rationale for conservation and try the argument in favor of  preserving biodiversity because of the public service functions of nature. We try to “sell” those functions as having a financial value. But the value accrues to the public at large and protecting it falls to government, which must fight the private interests that can profit immediately from selling the last fish.  Again, the public losses are fact and avoiding them is a worthy purpose, but again  we scientists and conservationists set ourselves outside the flow of  politics and economics and are easily ignored, simply set off to the side as irrelevant. Our frame of reference is not compelling. We are fumbling, incoherent, ineffectual, marginalized by commerce and industry and by the governmental agencies and interests that should be our own. 
The fact is that the global environment is a biotic system, dependent for its continuity of function on the totality of  its elements, its total genetic pool, not only recognized as species, but all of its ecotypes, communities of plants and animals, on land and in the global waters.  It is the totality of life that is now threatened with systematic impoverishment, vividly before us as the biotic feedbacks of the climatic disruption swing into action and take the potential for control of climate out of our hands. And  as catastrophes such as the contamination of the entire Gulf of Mexico by one oil well join a global explosion of chronic disturbances, the erosion of climate and an untold profusion of industrial toxins,  to produce a systemic corruption of the environment and the progressive biotic impoverishment of the earth. The remnant human survivors a thousand years from now will read the sedimental record and marvel at  the gross stupidity of a culture that could so effectively march from Eden into oblivion. 
The enemy is chronic disturbance, cumulative, relentless, irreversible, physical, chemical and biotic disturbance that moves the world systematically down the curve of  biotic impoverishment,  place by place, until the effects fuse and the disturbance becomes global and feeds on itself to end this phase in the evolution of the biosphere.
Conservation, focused tightly on preserving biodiversity, has been effectively defined to be outside the core of governmental function at the very moment in earthly history when preserving the conditions that have succored all life should be at the very core of every governmental consideration, now and for the all of the future.
We, scientists and conservators of life and environment, are engaged in a perpetuating a monstrous, unnecessary, and potentially fatal, blunder.

[1] To be sure I was a participant with many others. See various authors in   E.O. Wilson , Editor. 1988.  Biodiversity.  National Academy Press. Washington, D.C.
2Tilman, David, and John Downing. "Biodiversity and Stability in Grasslands." Nature 6461 (1994): 363-365. Tilman, David. "Competition and Biodiversity in Spatially Structured Habitats." Ecology 75 (1994): 2-16.

[3] Oosting, H.J. 1958. The Study of Plant Communities. W. H. Freeman and Co. San Francisco. 440 pp.

[4] Kramer, P.J. 1949. Plant and Soil Water Relationships. McGraw-Hill. New York

 [5] Cain, S.A. 1944. Foundations of Plant Geography. Harper and
Brothers, New York  556 pp.

[6] Myers, N. The Environmentalist 8 187-208 (1988); ^ Myers, N. The Environmentalist 10 243-256 (1990); ^ Russell A. Mittermeier, Norman Myers and Cristina Goettsch Mittermeier, Hotspots: Earth's Biologically Richest and Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions, Conservation International, 2000 ISBN 978-9686397581; Myers, N., R. A. Mittermeier, C. G. Mittermeier, G. A. B. da Fonseca, and J. Kent. 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403:853-858. See also: S.A. Levin, Ed. 2001. Encyclopedia of Biodiversity. Vols. 1-5. 2001. Academic Press, NY
[7]  See sanders below/
[8] Sanders, H.L., J.F. Grassle, G.R.Hampson, L.S. Morse, S.G. Price, C.C. jones. Long term effects of the Barge Florida oil spill. U.S. EPA. Municipal Environmental Research Laboratory, Cincinnati, Ohio. Jan. 1981.

[9]  P 1, Chapter 1, in Forests in a Full World, G.M. Woodwell . Yale 2001

Thursday, April 1, 2010

To Stabilize Climate 2010: An Atmosphere of 300 ppm Carbon Dioxide


The following statement was prepared by the undersigned and distributed at the Copehagen meetings of December 2009.  It has been modified here only to correct the dates. The details remain correct as  originally presented.  "Stabilization" of  the atmosphere at 300 ppm seems essential if we are to avoid a continuous, open-ended warming over the next century. 

                                The First Principles for Climatic Stabilization
                                                   Scientific Objectives
The governments of essentially all the nations including the United States have ratified the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change. In ratification, those nations have agreed that the common welfare requires stabilization of the composition of the atmosphere with respect to heat-trapping gases at levels that will protect human interests and nature. There is now broad agreement in the scientific community, and a general understanding among the public, that the accumulation of heat-trapping gases has drifted above the levels at which serious deleterious effects are occurring globally. It is less clear to the public and to political leaders that the speed of the climatic disruption is accelerating. The causes are three-fold. First, emissions from fossil-fuel burning and land clearing are increasing. Second, the natural processes that soak up some of the anthropogenic emissions, such as oceanic sinks for CO2, appear to be weakening. Third, positive feedbacks driven by the warming itself, such as the melting of permafrost and mobilization of massive stores of previously frozen soil carbon, may already be speeding further warming. These trends are exceeding earlier predictions and bold action is needed that looks beyond what is convenient to achieve what is necessary to protect civilization and the biota.

Political and economic objectives and arguments currently obscure the facts of the changes in the atmosphere, their causes, costs to the public and to nations, and the objectives in correcting the drift into deeply disruptive climate change. There is moreover, an explosion of political and economic proposals nominally aimed at providing relief. These proposals include the substitution of biofuels for oil and the separation and storage in deep wells of carbon released in burning coal among many other proposals. While many of these proposals are important components of a global strategy for stabilizing climate, they are insufficient in themselves. And some solutions advanced now, such as corn ethanol, may actually exacerbate the climatic disruption when indirect effects on forest destruction are considered. Current discussions of an acceptable increase in global mean temperature by 2ºC do not take into account the range of regional variation such a target would imply. Under such a mean, the Arctic could see increases of 6ºC with associated drastic ecosystems responses. Defining an acceptable long-term risk to the climate system and the civilization that it supports needs to be based on scientific evidence and rationale rather than on short-term political and economic compromises.

The scientific community, operating largely with public funds and in the public interest, has a responsibility to provide timely and accurate assessments of the state of scientific knowledge. Staff of the Woods Hole Research Center have studied this topic for decades and offer the following observations.

1. The costs of the upward drift of global temperatures are already affecting major segments of civilization and will rapidly become more severe as the disruption of climate proceeds.

2. Objectives in correcting the trend must now include steps not only to stabilize the heat-trapping gas content of the atmosphere but also to start the process of reducing it toward long-term levels approaching the approximately 300 ppm of 1900. A short-term, decadal, target of 350 ppm is appropriate.

3. The oceans currently absorb more than two billion tons of carbon annually, approximately 25% of the CO2 generated by human activity. This absorption is leading to acidification that affects the ability of many marine organisms to grow normally. Increasing the carbonate concentrations and temperatures in oceanic surface waters diminishes the absorption of CO2 .

4. Stabilization of the atmospheric concentration at this moment requires removal from current annual releases an amount equal to the annual increment of carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere. The annual accumulation is 4-5 billion tons of the 10 billion tons of carbon released annually from human activities ( about 37 billion tons of CO2 equivalent). Greater amounts will have to be removed in subsequent years as the ocean sink weakens and as decay of organic matter is accelerated in high latitudes by the warming.

There are two mechanisms available at this level of control: management of forests globally and management of use of fossil fuels. No other processes or procedures alone have the potential for stopping and reversing the accumulation of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere at the speed necessary to avoid more serious global environmental disruptions of climate and sea level.

1. Forests:

             A. Conserving all remaining primary forests globally, allowing no further destruction of old-growth forests, would avoid the emission of about 1.5 billion tons of carbon annually and would confer untold other advantages in the public realm through preservation of land and landscapes and their various functions in stabilizing natural ecosystems and the human habitat.

             B. Restoring forests to 1-2 million square kilometers of once-forested land would start the process of storing annually about 0.5-billion tons of carbon in trees and soils globally. Restoration and protection of marine wetlands and mangroves could store additional carbon.

2. Fossil Fuels: The remaining 2-3 billion tons of carbon to reach stability can be removed through a combination of conservation of energy and substitution of alternative and renewable fuels that do not emit carbon dioxide on a net basis. Actions need to be taken globally substantially immediately, and require leadership by the US and other industrial nations including China. More reductions will be essential and possible over time as energy systems are reconstructed to rely more heavily on alternative and renewable sources.

Our purpose is to point to the gross discrepancy between the science-based requirements for a stable and habitable biosphere, which are substantially immutable, and the current perspectives of political and economic interests who appear to believe there is ample room for, and enduring reality in, compromises with the details of its metabolism and structure. Every new suggestion needs to be tested on the basis of whether it has potential for dealing immediately with the core issue of stabilizing the biosphere by reducing by billions of tons the current emissions of carbon dioxide resulting from human activities. At this late date the opportunities for effective action are limited and require large changes in human behavior.

George M. Woodwell
Richard A. Houghton
Eric Davidson
Daniel Nepstad

Woods Hole Research Center
Box 296
Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543

George M. Woodwell
 w 508 540 9900 x 104 c 508 566 1838

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Two-Degree Fable

The Safety of a Two-degree Tipping Point is a Political Dream

The dream is that we can with safety and confidence allow the average temperature of the earth to rise by two degrees C above the long-term mean. The hypothesis is that (1) we can stop there; and (2) that the changes in the earth will be tolerable, if not minor. I do not know where the two-degree hypothesis was invented but it is a political wish and has no basis at all in biophysical reality.

To think about the issue realistically one must realize that solar energy is received differentially by the earth with the greatest intensity in the tropics and the least in the polar regions. In the tropics most of the energy that is absorbed and not reflected back into space is dissipated into the atmosphere in the latent heat of vaporization: it is absorbed in the evaporation of water, which is abundant in the tropics, and the tropics are not warmed greatly as the heat-trapping gases accumulate in the global atmosphere. The moisture vapor enters the normal circulation patterns of the atmosphere and is carried to the higher latitudes and to higher elevations. Cooled, the vapor condenses and produces rain. In condensing the latent heat of vaporization is released and the region is warmed.

The warming is especially great in the mid- and higher latitudes, 45 degrees north and above. In the northern hemisphere there is much land at these latitudes with much forest and tundra with large stores of carbon in plants, soil and in the peat deposits of the tundra. The change in temperature in these regions is two to four times the average for the earth as a whole. That rise in temperature is confirmed in various ways not the least of which is the melting of the sea ice of the Arctic Ocean now at its lowest level in history.

The result on land is already apparent in the increased frequency of fires and insect damage in the largest forested region in the world, the boreal forest of North America, Europe and Asia. It also appears in the north as the melting of once-permanently frozen ground and the release of carbon as carbon dioxide and methane from such soils and from the accelerated decay of tundra peat.

These transitions in the northern regions are all in the direction of releasing additional carbon from large carbon reservoirs into the atmosphere: positive feedbacks, factors that make the problem worse. Stopping a warming, once underway, becomes increasingly difficult. The assumption that a warming that reaches an average for the earth as a whole of 2 degrees with 6 or more degrees in some sections of the high latitudes is either safe or potentially reversible is a very large and risky assumption, almost certainly incorrect. Taking that risk is little short of foolhardy.

The time to experiment with easy or painless transitions to a carbon-free energy system was forty years past when it became clear that the world was headed for severe climatic disruption. Safety now lies in an abrupt change, an overt abandonment of fossil fuels as the primary energy source for industrialization. We can meet the requirements of the agreement signed and universally ratified in 1992 to stabilize the heat-trapping gas content of the atmosphere substantially immediately and then move to reduce it over the next decades.

The alternative is the potential for an environmental, political, and economic chaos whose seeds are being planted at the moment as persistent devastating droughts on all continents including Australia.

George M. Woodwell, Founder and Director Emeritus
The Woods Hole Research Center
P.O.Box 296
Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543

C 508 566 1838
W 508 444 1504

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Haiti and The Nature of a House

March 25, 2010
Building a World that Works

Scientists like to gain perspective by pushing trends to the extreme to see the full dimensions of any issue. I have dealt throughout my life with various aspects of biotic impoverishment, causes and extent, and what I thought might be extremes, even end-points. I have dealt personally as an ecologist with agriculture, grazing, forest harvests, toxic substances, chronic mechanical disturbances, effects of ionizing radiation, effects of nuclear weapons, even "nuclear winter", and climatic disruption. In each instance I have looked at extremes, seeking insights as to how to avoid them by early action.

The experience was critical as I began writing about the new campus of the Woods Hole Research Center, where my ecologist colleagues and I tried to bring together the principles we develop in science and to apply them in building a campus as an inspirational example for the new century as we move past the fossil fueled age. To emphasize the imporance of making that transition I sought an example of  the endpoint of current trends, where we are headed if we fail to make the change?  Haiti stands as the singularly most powerful example of a failed nation  in the western world. It is in political, economic, and environmental chaos and has been there, sinking decade by decade into greater depths of poverty through two centuries. There, the honors paid to growth in population and the free market system, led, not to economic nirvana, but to a poverty so severe that here was no hope of recovery without a massive infusion of money and plan from outside the country.  Without a working, functional landscape, capable of supplying essential needs such as a reliable water supply, no governement and no economy could stand.

That was all before the earthquake of January, 2010 when Haiti’s miseries were compounded a hundred fold, almost beyond comprehension. And they are not over. Before the earthquake Haiti was in dire trouble and should have had the attention and  extraordinary interest and support of all the western nations to restore a landscape, once a tropical dreamland, now barely more than  a  gravel pile at the mercy of  tropical rains. It could, and should, have been a model for the restoration for the world. Now that  objective is only more acute, but buried in the continuing emergency of ten million people trying to live on ten thousand square miles of largely mountainous land, virtually totally deforested, eroding and crowded with habitations, many now in ruins.

Haiti must be rescued. It must be rescued immediately from the devastation of January with massive gifts of food and housing, schools and public services. But in the only slightly longer term it must be reconstituted as a functional landscape, capable of supporting a finite population, yet to be determined, indefinitely.

I referred in the book to the Haitian Abyss, an example awaiting an unsuspecting world. The earthquake has brought the seriousness of the Haitian example home to all. We owe it to ourselves, and to the world, to take the example as a lesson and by common will restore that nation to prosperity with an environment that works in support of all, a wholesome and attractive example, a complement to a world in transition to the post-fossil fuel age. It will take imagination, and billions of dollars.  But the big new point is that the first steps must be the reconstitution of a functional landscape capable of supporting both an economy and a government. Civilization requires all three.  And recovery from the Haitian Abyss will take a monster effort, much money, and years of attention from a coalition of  governments, all of whom will benefit from the experience of rebuilding  Haiti.  It will be tough work but a far, far better investment than war.

Woods Hole, MA

* G.M. Woodwell. The Nature of a House: Building a World that Works. Island Press. 2009