Sable Island is about 110 miles (300 kilosquidgets) off the coast of Nova Scotia. It is home to a naturalized breed of ponies, which the improving minds of some scientists wish to see removed. Why? They are an “invasive species”. They are wrecking the ecology of this insignificant sandbar. Ian Jones, a “researcher specializing in the ecosystems of remote islands” is quoted as follows:
He, along with a host of other researchers who study invasive species, is suggesting the removal of the horses to preserve the island’s fragile ecosystem. They say the horses are causing the desertification of the island by eating the vegetation and compacting the soil with their hooves.
“It’s a debate between this romantic idea of horses and conservationism and biology,” says Mr. Jones. “[Science-based policy] is more difficult for some members of the public to buy into than this image of wonderful horses running wild on windswept offshore. But you have to differentiate between values and science.”
Note the number of self-serving tropes and embedded assumptions in one sentence:
- Ecosystems are always “fragile”; they are never robust.
- “science based policy” must trump any romantic consideration.
- Invasive species are bad.
Whether we keep the horses on Sable Island or not is a matter of policy; we put them there (by unconsidered accident) and we can keep them there, or turn them into dog food.
I agree with young Mr. Jones that you have to differentiate between values and science. That is precisely why – assuming we humans are the sole cause of global warming, which I deny – so many people do not wish to return to the levels of wealth we experienced in 1900, or 1800, so that our planet can recover. We would rather take the chance that our analysis is wrong than that we should return to the poverty of earlier centuries that knew not how to enrich themselves by burning fossil fuels on the scale we now do.That is what I mean by distinguishing values from science. We have a choice in this matter. we have a choice in every matter, and “science based policy” is often no more than dressing up opinion in the robes of dogma.
Stepping around the abyss of anthropogenic global warming, let us consider some of the other arguments and unquestioned assumptions wrapped up in Ian Jones’ mind.
The fragile ecology
Ecosystems are fragile: the recurring motif of all ecological thinking is the fragility of the ecosystem. The motif operates at every scale. The planet is fragile, the planet is a spaceship, there is limited room, resources are limited, we must conserve.
There is a great George Carlin take-down of the absurd idea that the earth and the ecology are fragile.
Why must the romantic notion of horses running free be trumped by “science-based policy”. Even assuming Mr. Jones’ “science” is anything more than a pre-conceived opinion dressed up in the white lab coat of authority, there is no basis for us to be guided into action. Suppose the horses eat the grasses down to nothing, the whole place is swept away by a storm, and all the horse die. Is this a superior outcome to removing the horses to preserve this glorified sandbar? Why? What about introducing a few wolves? What about shooting a few of them? Options please, said the Prince to his council of ministers.
All species invade econiches where they can make a living: moss on stones, musk-oxen on moss, wolves on hares and musk-oxen, humans on all of them. We whites have invaded a continent (North America) some thousands of years after the previous invaders from northern Asia, and all of mankind “invaded” the planet outside of Africa, starting some 30,000 years ago. We have invaded lands that used to be under ice, learning how to sew, make fires, and hunt mastodons, giant ground sloths, and two-ton bears as we followed the game out onto the tundra. Should we all go back to Africa?
Should the Department of Ecological Correction of the Canopean Empire remove the Polynesians from Hawaii, Tonga, and Samoa? Should New Zealand be depopulated of Maori and British?
Between “fragile ecology” and “invasive species” you can triangulate the voice of the mandarins crying in the wilderness: we the scientific caste, are the saviours of the planet. Let us have our way and Gaia will be healed. A more pretentious philosophy of rule has not been heard since the last Caliph or the last Emperor of China.