Nature Without Frontiers

In my post about People Without Frontiers, I quoted from Peter Owen-Jones’ talk last year: that garden birds have more freedom than human beings, who are trapped within country borders. But do the birds really have freedom? Woe betide the robin that trespasses on its neighbour’s territory, or the swallow that deviates from its migration path! The sheep that appear to be free to roam across the whole of Dartmoor probably won’t; they have the lear, the knowledge of the boundaries of their safe grazing area, which is learnt within the flock. The slaughter of entire flocks with foot and mouth also meant the loss of the lear, and problems with safety of brought-in replacements.

Also last year, Stewart Wallis reminded us of the reality of environmental limits. The impossible hamster that continues to grow at the rate of doubling its size Every week would weigh 9 billion tonnes after a year. Population ecology studies population growth, food supply, niches and competition. Populations that boom beyond their niche and their food supply will experience competition and bust. Humans are as subject to population ecology as the rest of nature, and as subject to the ramifications of exponential growth population and consumption per capita on one planet. The reality of physical frontiers.

The atmosphere, on the other hand, is relatively without frontiers, where we might wish for some. Sprayed pesticides do not respect field boundaries, or recognise what might be a pest and what is a harmless or beneficial insect, or limit their effects to one level of the food chain. And of course, pollutants do not respect national boundaries. The wind blows where it wills, mixing the carbon dioxide emissions of the rich and visiting the impacts of climate change on the poor, and sometimes dispersing volcanic ash clouds and visiting the impacts on the rich.

If I might make a plug, slightly closer to home… there is concern over the new Exeter incinerator, due to start operation this summer. It is of course located on the side of town that the prevailing winds come from. So there is a small craftivist campaign called Particulart which recognises that the incinerator is a foregone conclusion, but is trying to make sure that it will be operated properly. It is looking for people to knit molecules!