Filed under: Altithermal, climate change, Hot Earth Dreams, Permaculture | Tags: California High Altithermal, climate change, Hot Earth Dreams, Permaculture
This idea seems to be sprouting like a weed in some odd places, including (reportedly) with a group of professors at UC Davis. The general idea, as I’m hearing it second and third-hand, is a conglomeration of “this time it’s different,” “weeds are the new natives, you stupid nativists,” and “It’s now the Anthropocene, so the old rules are out the window.”
Let me start by saying that I’m really active in the California Native Plant Society, so my sympathies are with the native plants. I’ll also say that many CNPSers still think that locally native means that everything belongs in its current place, that it “coevolved there for a long time,” that this means it best suited to that place, and at the extreme, that if we mix genotypes by, say, using seed from a different part of the state, this is bad.
I’m not that extreme in my views. It’s pretty obvious to me that California’s native species have often migrated to deal with climate change, and that today’s communities don’t often look like those of the past. Still, I work hard on saving native plants, because I think that every species has a fundamental right to continue living, to the degree that we can give it that right. Furthermore, I don’t think that exacerbating a mass extinction is a good thing, especially if it means that we’re increasing the risk of Homo sapiens going extinct.
It is from this frame of reference that I say that these weedophiles are suffering from a bad case of craniorectal insertion syndrome. Here’s what they’re getting wrong:
–They’re forgetting that we in a mass extinction event, and that this is a bad thing for any animal with our body size (judging from the fossil record). Ideally we want to endure something like the PETM, not something like the K-T, or worse, the P-T. California’s a biodiversity hotspot, which means extinctions happen here disproportionately.
–California managed to support something like 100,000-200,000 people solely on native plants for at least 1,000 years and possibly as much as 5,000-10,000 years. While agriculture with non-native plants has managed to support upwards of 38,800,000 people in California (currently), it only got above 200,000 people around 1850. While I don’t think you could support 38.8 million people on acorns and tule seeds, native plants are a nice fallback when our highly artificial agricultural system collapses, even in a changed climate. Many natives are more useful than non-natives like Eucalyptus, let alone noxious weeds like Euphorbia terracina.
–They’re also getting the time scale screwed up. Yes, the world will regain its full biodiversity complement after a mass extinction–in 10,000,000-30,000,000 years. What happens in the interim is adaptive radiation. If humans survive the mass extinction, they’ll enter into a coevolutionary mosh pit with an increasingly diverse group of species that have adapted to deal with humans in one way or another. One way to keep this from getting out of hand is to conserve as many existing species as possible, since we’ve already spent 14,000-200,000 years coevolving with them. Just as with a mosh pit, it’s good to make sure we’re not at the center of the action and targeted by everything else.
–A weed is a temporary thing. Many weeds become invasive because they outrun their predators, pathogens, and parasites–something known as the Enemy Release Hypothesis. They grow so much faster because they aren’t being eaten, infected, or infested, unlike the plants they outcompete. However, this freedom is inevitably temporary. Weeds’ enemies inevitably find them (indeed, this is a central tenant of biological control), and when the weeds are reinfested, their populations often crash precipitously. As a result, betting on weeds to succeed is betting on a bubble. The weeds may be the new natives for a decade, possibly even a century. Very often, they’ll then crash and become rare. If the weeds have driven other species extinct before they crashed, what’s left is a depauperate landscape that will be seriously not fun to live in.
–Note again the timescales. Weeds succeed on a scale of decades to centuries. Natives last millennia, even when they migrate. Speciation takes tens of millions of years. As I noted in Hot Earth Dreams, it’s very common for people to screw up time scales, and that’s what these weedophiles are doing. They want to cause extinction problems that will take tens of millions of years for nature to solve, for a few decades of advantage, just because they think that conservation shouldn’t matter right now in a changing climate. And their solutions won’t favor humanity. Hopefully they’ll get a clue, but I suspect they’re getting too much mileage out of being daring and controversial to care much about reality.
Incidentally, it’s worth remembering that the phrase “This time it’s different” is a classic warning sign of a brewing financial crisis. I’d add that it’s a warning sign of environmental problems too.
Now, if you’re like me, you can imagine how the weedophile movement will play out in the High Altithermal
What did I miss?
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