Callicott Presentation Naturalizing Boundaries


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By J. Baird Callicott Professor of Philosophy and Religion Studies Institute of Applied Sciences University of North Texas photo by priscilla solis ybarra


Boundaries between humanity and nature in traditional Western thought are essentially 'essentialistic' andamp; metaphysical Judeo-Christian tradition: 'Man' uniquely created in image of God (a mysterious, non-empirical property, if God not physical) also (later) uniquely endowed with an immortal soul


Boundaries between humanity and nature in traditional Western thought are essentially 'essentialistic' andamp; quasi-metaphysical Greco-Roman tradition: Reason (rationality) is 'man’s' essence Plato: mathematized rationality (ratio root of rationality— the capacity for calculation). Aristotle defined anthropos as the 'rational animal'


Boundaries between humanity and nature in traditional Western thought are essentially 'essentialistic' andamp; quasi-metaphysical Early Modern Cartesian tradition = J-C + G-R Rationality is image of God in 'man' and immortal element of human soul. Descartes connects rationality with creative use of language, a capacity unique to humans, even the least intelligent. Parrots seem to use language, but only reproduce the sounds they hear and cannot recombine elements to create novel expressions. Hence, D concludes, they do not think and therefore they have no rational (immortal) soul.


Charles Darwin erases the boundary between humanity and Nature with Descent of Man, in 1872 Argues that such seemingly unique human capacities as speech, intelligence, even religion, and ethics, evolved from 'nascent' or 'insipient' capacities possessed by non-human animals, such as complex call systems among primates (speech), problem- solving skills exhibited by various species (intelligence), dogs howling at the moon (religion via superstition), expanded 'parental and filial affections' plus 'social instincts and sympathies' (ethics).


Post-Darwinian boundaries between humanity and nature persist in anthropology—also essentially 'essentialistic,' albeit empirical Unique use of language proper Unique use of tools But . . . Chimpanzees and gorillas taught use of ASL (2) Chimpanzees also discovered to make and use tools—e.g., modified sticks to 'fish' for termites.


Aldo Leopold makes the obliterated boundary between humanity and nature a cornerstone of his 'land ethic' 'It is a century now since Darwin gave us the first glimpse of the origin of species. We know now what was unknown to all the preceding caravan of generations: that men are only fellow voyagers with other creatures in the odyssey of evolution. This new knowledge should have given us, by this time, a sense of kinship with fellow creatures . . . [and] a wish to live and let live.' 'A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members and also respect for the community as such.'


Also following Darwin, Leopold takes community membership to be the foundation of ethics (and environmental ethics) 'As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sym- pathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him.'—CD 'All ethics so far evolved rest on a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts.'—AL Evolutionary biology and ecology 'simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.'—AL


But the erased boundary between humanity and nature has paradoxical consequences for the Leopold land ethic 'To be a part, yet to be apart; to be a part of the land community; yet to view or see oneself as a part of that community (and thus to remain apart from it)—that is the dilemma. . . . If man is a plain member and citizen of the land community, one of thousands of accretions to the pyramid of life, then he cannot be a nonmember and conqueror of it; and his actions (like the actions of other organisms) cannot but express his position within the pyramid of life.'—Peter Fritzell If Homo sapiens is a part of nature then human actions, no less than the actions of other species, are natural—just another intriguing chapter in the biography of the Earth, no more subject to ethical praise or condemnation than the actions of other species.


The erased boundary between humanity and nature is especially confounding and vexing for contemporary conservation biology What to conserve?: Biodiversity. But . . . can be humanly 'enhanced' or increased locally by adding exotic species. What is an 'exotic species?': One that got to where it is by human agency—whether intentional or unintentional—Reed Noss. Alternative conservation goal: biological integrity. What is that?: A biotic community approaching a condition of naturalness, i.e., free of human influence—Paul Angermeier and James Karr 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution' —Theodosius Dobzhansky (quoted with approval by Gary Meffe) But in light of evolution, human beings are a part of, not apart from nature.


The philosophical challenge to environmental ethics and conservation biology: preserve the boundary between humanity and nature, but do so consistent with the foundational implications of Darwinism. Biotic communities composed of species populations. Ecosystems composed of processes—such as energy flows (photo- synthesis and metabolism) and nutrient cycles (nitrogen, calcium)— of which organisms of various species are agents. Key concept: natural boundaries ('surfaces') emerge at the interface between processes occurring on different temporal scales—T.F.H. Allen and T. W. Hoekstra 'The landscape is hierarchically structured by a small number of processes into a number of nested levels, each of which has its own physical textures and frequencies. That is, the processes that generate discontinuous time dynamics also generate discontinuous physical structure.'—C.S. Holling


Photosynthesis—individual tree. Ecological succession—group of trees (woods); Disturbance regimes—patchy landscape, such as oak savanna. Climate —biomes (desert, forest, prairie, tundra)


Temporal scales suggested by C. S. Holling in 'Cross-scale Morphology, Geometry, and Dynamics of Ecosystems,' each driven by various biological and suprabiological pro- cesses. 1. the 'vegetative' (organismic) temporal scale (photosynthesis and metabolism) 2. the ecological temporal scale (succession and disturbance) 3. the climatic temporal scale (mean annual temperature andamp; moisture fluctuations) 4. the evolutionary temporal scale (adaptation, speciation, extinction) 5. the geo-morphological temporal scale (plate tectonics, up thrust, erosion, rock cycle)


C. S. Holling identifies several major temporal scales set by various biological and suprabiological processes. Photosynthesis and metabolism: the 'vegetative' or organismic scale. Diurnal (alteration of light and dark); annual (seasonal alteration of growth and dormancy / life cycle of annual plants / decomposition of detritus); decadal (life cycle of shrubs and scrubby trees); centennial (life-cycle of long-lived trees) Scale = @ 1 day - 1000 years


Succession and disturbance: the ecological scale. Annual (herbaceous annuals —andgt; perennial weeds —andgt; shrub and scrub); decadal (shrub/scrub —andgt; forest // fire, flood, high-wind, grazing, disease, insect-irruption // animal population cycles); centennial (second-growth forest —andgt; old growth // fire, flood, high-wind, disease, insect-irruption; millennial (old growth —andgt; climax) Scale = @ 1 year - 5,000 years C. S. Holling identifies several major temporal scales set by various biological and suprabiological processes.


C. S. Holling suggests several major temporal scales set by various biological and suprabiological processes. Fluctuations in temperature and rainfall: the climatic temporal scale Centennial at regional spatial scale (decade-long warmer/colder, wetter/dryer periods do not count as climate change, but 'Little Ice Age' [1550-1850] does); millennial at global spatial scale (last glacial incursion began to end 14,000-16,000); multi-millennial (Pleistocene began 2-3 million years ago and includes 4 major pulses, punctuated by interstadials; and Pleistocene 1 of 6 sets of glacial epocs occurring at roughly 925, 800, 680, 450, 330, and 2-3 million years BP). Scale = @ 3-5 C yrs - 3-5 K yrs (regional)/1 K yrs - 3-5 M yrs (global) Complicated by seasonality: the climates of Houston and El Paso are differentiated more by avg. ann. rainfall (H = @ 48' / EP = @8') than temp. (H = @ 69F / EP = @ 64F), but the climates of Dallas and Seattle, while temperature differences are significant (D =@65F / S = @53F), rainfall is @ the same (D = @ 33' / S = @ 36').



C. S. Holling identifies several major temporal scales set by various biological and suprabiological processes. Adaptation, speciation, extinction: the evolutionary temporal scale. Decadal/centennial (some insects can speciate after several hundred generations), millennial (Homo sapiens sapiens has existed 100,000 - 200,000 years), multimillennial (average life-span of vascular plant andamp; vertebrate animal spp is 1 million years); sharks extant for 100 million years. Scale = @ 10 thousand - 10 million yrs (ignoring outliers such as rapidly evolving insects and the incredibly long-lived sharks)


C. S. Holling identifies several major temporal scales set by various biological and suprabiological processes. Plate tectonics, up thrust, weathering, and the rock cycle: geo-morphological temporal scale. Millions of years (mountain up thrust—15 million years at plate movement rate of 2-15 cm per year; mountain weathering—100 million years); billions of years (rock cycle: spreading from deep ocean seams, plate migration, up thrust, weathering, sedimentation, subduction, melting.) scale = @ millions to billions of years


Boundary conditions at the interface of temporal scales Albeit themselves dynamic, up-scale processes may be regarded as stable vis-à-vis down-scale processes. Examples (1): 'The Pacific plate is moving north relative to the North American plate at a rate of approximately 5 cm/year. . . .As a result, Los Angeles, now more than 500 km south of San Francisco is moving slowly toward that city. If this motion continues, in about 10 million years San Francisco will be a suburb of Los Angeles.' — D. B. Botkin and E. A. Keller This geomorphological process has had no effect on the organismic-scaled California real estate market. Example (2): Canada is increasing in elevation (rebounding from the weight of Pleistocene ice) and moving northwest with the North American plate. An ecologist studying the population dynamics of snowshoe hare and arctic fox at the ecological temp. scale may regard the elevation and latitude / longitude of her study site as unchanging.


Boundary conditions at the interface of temporal scales Up-scale processes 'constrain' down-scale processes Example (1): climate constrains processes at the organismic and ecological scales—(A) plants grow more slowly in (a) colder andamp; (b) dryer climates; (B) diversity increases progressively with warmer / wetter climates from arctic to tropical latitudes. Example (2): disturbance regimes at the ecological scale constrain processes at the organismic scale—(A) seasonal flooding in the Colorado River is necessary for the reproductive success of the CR Squawfish; (B) periodic fires and herbivory prevent the growth of woody vegetation on prairies.


Boundary conditions at the interface of temporal scales Down-scale processes are often constitutive of up-scale processes Ex (1): weather (diurnal / seasonal / annual fluctuation of temp andamp; rainfall) constitutes climate. Ex (2): plant growth and reproduction on the organismic temporal scale constitutes succession on the ecological temporal scale.


Down-scale constitutive processes are damped down and averaged out as they cross the border to constitute up-scale processes Ex (1): the diurnal, seasonal, and annual vagaries of local weather are averaged (to annual rainfall and temperature) as they constitute regional climate. Pulses of hard rain or lack thereof (drought)—both common in US SW—and temperature fluctuations (heat waves / cold snaps) are damped as they constitute climate. Ex (2): The vagaries of mortality and replacement of individual trees constituting an old growth or climax forest are averaged out and damped down as the border between the organismic and eco- logical temporal scale is crossed. Boundary conditions at the interface of temporal scales


Boundary conditions at the interface of temporal scales Changed rates of constitutive downscale processes can storm across the border and alter up-scale processes Ex (1): traditional scattered swidden agriculture in Amazon rain forest is at a spatio-temporal scale comparable to individual tree mortality and replacement; wholesale clearing for cattle pasture threatens to alter regional climate. Reduced forest cover—andgt;reduced transpiration—andgt;reduced atmospheric moisture—andgt;reduced annual rainfall = regional climate change. Ex (2): fire suppression and livestock grazing (changes in disturbance regimes at lower end of ecological temporal scale) in US Southwest 'flipped' region from grassland to scrub (at higher, successional end of the ecological temporal scale).


Homo sapiens sapiens speciated on the evolutionary temporal scale. Hss evolved 'euculture' (C. Lumsdon and E. O. Wilson) on the same scale, while some other species may have evolved (at best) 'protoculture.' Hss and human culture are, thus, both natural, having evolved by Darwinian processes (chance variation andamp; natural selection). The natural temporal boundary between humanity and nature


'Man receives and transmits . . . not one but two heredities, and is involved in two evolutions, the biological and the cultural.'—T. Dobzhansky Information transmission is the means of both. Biological—genetic information en- coded in chromosomes; cultural—memetic information encoded in symbols and signs. Euculture (sensu Lumsden and Wilson), uniquely among human beings, having once evolved, took over the task of subsequent adaptation to various habitats. The natural temporal boundary between humanity and nature


But cultural 'evolution' is Lamarckian—pro- ceeding by the transmission of acquired charac- teristics to future generations—not Darwinian. And the temporal scale of Lamarckian cultural evolution is many times faster than Darwinian biological evolution. Plus it is currently accelerating. Use of atlatl andamp; spear common @ 25-30 K BP; bow andamp; arrow @ 15- 20 K BP; cross bow 4th century BCE in China, 10-11th century AD in Europe; firearms used in Europe in 14th century; breech-load rifle mid-19th century; automatic firearms mid-20th century. The natural temporal boundary between humanity and nature


The natural temporal boundary between humanity and nature Temporal scale of cultural evolution @ 1 yr - 10 thousand yrs Temporal scale of biological evolution @ 10 thousand - 10 million yrs 10-20K yrs 1C - 1K yrs


'Human activity becomes unnatural when it involves technology.'—Paul Angermeier On the face of it, a variation of essentialism: 'technology' another word for 'tool-use.' 'Human activities that exceed our genetically evolved—as opposed to culturally evolved— abilities are unnatural.'—PA But why? The natural temporal boundary between humanity and nature


'Humans are cultural as well as biological animals. For conservation, the most important outgrowth of culture is technology, with which we transform nature . . . . Because technological [and more generally cultural] evolution is much more rapid than genetic evolution, we transform ecosystems faster than other biota can adapt.'—PA The natural / unnatural paradox resolved: Human beings are natural because we evolved as a species, just as any other species, in accord with Darwinian principles. But we became unnatural because culture took over the process of adaptation to the environment and the temporal scale of Lamarckian cultural evolution is very rapid in com- parison with the temporal scale of Darwinian biological evolution. In effect, Homo sapiens sapiens stepped across a temporal boundary. The natural temporal boundary between humanity and nature


Another paradox resolved: it seems intuitively obvious that our distant Homo sapiens sapiens ancestors were more natural than we. But this difference cannot be accounted for on 'essentialist' grounds: as the species HSS they were equally created in the image of God, rational, language-using, tool-using (technological) . . . . Early HSS culture evolved more slowly than modern and contem- porary culture. The high end of the temporal scale of cultural evolu- tion is sufficiently in phase with the low end of the temporal scale of biological evolution for the former not to storm across the border and disrupt the latter. The natural temporal boundary between humanity and nature


May explain why African relatives of American Pleistocene mega- fauna not also extinct: Had time to adapt (biologically) to human cultural adaptations. The natural temporal boundary between humanity and nature


Implications for conservation biology, environmental ethics, and environmental justice Conservation biology: the vital distinctions between natural andamp; un- natural disturbance/change and between native andamp; exotic spp rescued w/out resort to metaphysical and quasi-metaphysical essences. Environmental ethics: the spatio-temporal scale of human changes imposed on nature can replace the old Leopoldian norm of 'integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.' A thing is right when it tends to disturb ecosystems at fitting spatio-temporal scales. It is wrong when it tends otherwise. Environmental justice: While we may celebrate contemporary peoples living by means of older, less rapidly evolving technologies as more natural, we must ask if they have a choice in the matter.



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