Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Opportunity In Disguise

Our planet is not a paradise-in fact it's more Hell than Heaven.

Japan was punched by a pair of knockers barely three weeks ago. China is still rebuilding Sichuan after the 2008 earthquake. Haiti will require decades to rebuild its destroyed cities and infrastructure. New Orleans still hasn’t repopulated since the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Indonesia is still traumatized by the 2004 tsunami. The list could go on and on.

Our forebears seemed oblivious of the danger of building civilizations close to epicenters and coastlines. But to be fair, they were only doing what's best for their survival. Living close to rivers and lakes ensures ample supply of water and food.
Image: kriyayoga.com
Nevertheless, the places with the highest diversity of species are not the most stable. In fact, the most stable and least disturbed locations have relatively low biodiversity. The same is true of the places that suffer constant upheaval. But there, in the middle, is a level of disturbance that is just right. Not too frequent or too harsh, but also not too sparing or too light. Occasional disturbances that inflict moderate damage are, ecologically speaking, a good thing.

For example, imagine a forest where no disturbance occurs; no forest fire, no earthquake, no falling trees. After a period of time, there will only be two species of plant left; the one that is tall enough to reach the sunlight, and the one that requires little sunlight for survival. Well, it certainly makes life a little bit boring for biologists.
Image: wqed.org
A real forest, on the other hand, that suffers occasional forest fire, falling trees, etc would benefit more. The space opened by collapsed trees would enable other species to obtain enough sunlight, and thus increase competition among species, which is a good thing for biodiversity, and all biologists out there. And this is the main reason that attracts our ancestors to certain location; more food, more supply.
Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in the year 2005. Image: digitalmeetingcenter.com
Most of us today do not have the same concern as our predecessors. We no longer need to hunt for food, nor do we need to fetch water from the stream nearby. But one thing hasn't change; the fury of Mother Nature, and we're in fact living in close proximity to Her jaw and paws. Who are we to blame our ancestors for what we're experiencing today? Living in a barren land without diversity was a big No-No for them. I could be here today typing posts for you to read is owed to the fact that our ancestors built cities and businesses on dangerous land.

Yet social inertia is not the only reason we still live in dangerous places. As aesthetically tuned creatures, we crave dramatic landscapes forged by catastrophe-the beautifully carved Niagara Falls for instance. Mount Saint Helens almost certainly has more visitors now than before it blew its top. Not to mention the Toba Lake in Indonesia, formed after the mega volcano blew up several hundred-thousand years ago.

I certainly don't mean that the Sendai earthquake or the Christchurch earthquake will be celebrated in the future. They are more than intermediate disturbances—they are real disasters.
Image: worldlatestupdatenews.blogspot.com
What makes a difference between intermediate disturbances and natural disasters is population density. Earthquakes didn’t kill when our buildings didn’t require stairs. And though tsunamis still have always been devastating, they caused few human casualties before we built cities. The population increases, so there are more lives at stake when these so-call intermediate disturbances strike, thus turning them into disasters.
But don't pack up and leave for inland just yet, for it is still better to live near by rivers and oceans. Our fear of change may seem like a hindrance, but our stubbornness is also one of our greatest assets. Without overcoming intermediate disturbances like floods or sandstorms, there would be no Rome or Cairo. We just have to cope and learn to live with it, and see the opportunity hidden amidst the disaster.

info: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=why-we-live-in-dangerous-places-2011-03-28

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