We've only begun to appreciate in the last fifty years how complex—and fragile—ecological systems are. Even more recently we've realized how interconnected the health of those ecological systems is with our social and economic systems. We used to drain swamps to claim land for development and to control pesky mosquitoes, but now we understand that wetlands are crucial for flood control and for providing habitat to countless species. We used to think the oceans and atmosphere were too big to be polluted, but we now realize that we risk setting off catastrophic and self-reinforcing changes if we strain these systems too hard.
Our deepening understanding of ecology has taught us another important lesson: healthy systems do not remain the same for years and years, but instead adapt to change over time by cultivating resilience. Instead of arriving at a permanent "mature" state after a linear succession from, say, scrubland to old-growth forest, they persist in an adaptive cycle of building complexity, accumulating biomass, destruction, and regeneration.
Promoting and enhancing environmental resilience means more than just preserving natural areas and protecting natural resources from pollution. Our relationship with the rest of the natural world must transition the from exploitation of seemingly unlimited resources (and pollution sinks) to thoughtful stewardship of the complex ecosystems that now sustain our 7-billion-person-strong civilization — a civilization now large enough to unwittingly damage those same critical ecosystems.
Biodiversity: Peak Nature?
Culture & Behavior: Remapping Relationships: Humans in Nature
The Way Forward: Survival 2100