intresting article from 1971

JCA

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this is something I came across that I thought was a good read. Thought I would share



Analog Science Fiction-Science Fact
July 1971

editorial by
JOHN W. CAMPBELL

BALANCE and ECOLOGY

This magazine has been considering ecology for somewhat longer than the current explosive - and hysterical - interest in the subject. Perhaps because we've thought about it somewhat longer, and not just as a sudden latest-thing interest, not a Cause for This Season, we're a bit less terribly, terribly concerned - and somewhat less hysterical about it.

This month's cover by Kelly Freas was painted from photographs and sketches - and memories! - Kelly made while he was down at Cape Kennedy watching the Apollo 14 lift-off. (Coming up shortly is an article by Gordon R. Dickson, illustrated by Kelly's sketches.) The cover scene was one that strongly impressed Kelly while he was at the Cape - which (a factor most people don't realize!) is a National Wildlife Sanctuary. Most of you who've watched the launches on TV have seen birds flying across the picture - gulls, ducks, and assorted feathered friends of the really big Big Birds. But the Cape has all sorts of interesting wildlife - armadillos, nutria, as well as the familiar alligators, and even a jaguar or two.

The gulls, ducks, armadillos, alligators - and people - all seem to be able to live happily, to survive and raise their families - the wildlife preserve prospers - despite the launches of the birds ranging from little weather-sounding jobs right up the scale to Saturn Vs. Now when a Saturn V takes off, your TV can do a good job of letting you see what happens. Actually, you can see more and in more detail, than you could if you were on the scene. If you were there, you wouldn't see the ignition and start of lift-off from a viewpoint on the launch tower itself; you'd be dead and already cremated if you tried it. And those in the Press Stand can't watch through the radar-guided telescope that follows the Apollo while it climbs 150 miles up and 250 miles down range, and lets you watch the staging.

But what you can't hope to sense via TV is the sound. The odd thing is that when you're there, you don't actually hear it in the normal sense; there's a little muscle in the ear that can slacken the tension on the eardrum in such a way as to render you temporarily deaf - it's an evolutionary device that protects the hearing apparatus from too-great overloads. And a Saturn V takeoff, even at three miles, is way, way, way beyond the overload point. Under the impact of that stupendous sound, the ear becomes almost totally deaf - you can't hear it.

But you feel it. You feel it thrumming on your abdomen, and resonating with your bones, and drumming on your skull - you feel it in every organ of your body. That's part of the reason the Press Stand is three miles from the launch; go much nearer, and the intensity of the sound waves will start homogenizing the cells of your body. This makes for an exciting, but brief, life. The Press Stand is made of steel-reinforced concrete. When the Saturn V tunes up for takeoff, the whole massive stand starts resonating; you feel it bouncing against your feet.

The noise of an Apollo takeoff can't equal a Krakatoa explosion, and it doesn't reach as high a peak as a fifty megaton thermonuclear bomb - but the total sound-energy output is in the same league, because the Saturn's roar goes on and on and on...

Naturally, no TV could reproduce that sort of a bellow.

Now the point that interests me greatly is that all that howling, bellowing, shrieking scream of the multi-million horsepower engines, yowling their mightiest in dense sea-level air, is taking place in the midst of a wildlife refuge. No doubt a few ducks and gulls that happen to be flying close to the Saturn at the moment of lift-off have been removed from the ecology of the area - but it is most completely and undeniably clear that our feathered friends have not been driven away by that noise-to-beat-all-noises. They live there. It doesn't seem to frighten them into abandoning their nests, or failing to mate. The armadillos don't seem to find that immense racket too distressing. I don't know whether alligators try roaring back at the challenge of the bellowing stranger - but evidently they don't find it intolerable.

The trouble with too many sudden ecologists - the ones that have just suddenly joined the Cause, without bothering to think too much about what ecology means - is that they overlook the fact that those creatures evolved during the last several billions of years in and/or on an Earth that went in for exploding volcanoes, drifting continents, ice ages, hurricanes, tornadoes, and thunderstorms. Earth is indeed a pleasant planet - but nobody in his right mind would call it a quiet planet!

I've had fun taking color photographs of various local birds coming to our backyard bird feeder. During the summer, big trees shade it so heavily that the light isn't adequate for stop-action shots on Kodachrome using the available light, so I use a setup with three electronic flashguns to get shots at 1/2000th sec. and the depth of focus that goes with F 8.0.

You'd think that those brilliant flashes would send the birds off in panic - and keep them away. That is, you would if you didn't think about it a bit. The observed fact is that usually the birds don't even look around when the flash goes off. The first few times they did rooster their heads warily at the click of the camera shutter - but not at the brilliant flash-lamps blazing at them from about four feet away. The only one that seemed to have a panic reaction was a cardinal that happened to be perching on the flash unit - waiting his turn at the feeder - when it fired.

How come the birds weren't scared? Well, birds that got into a nervous twitch at every flash of lightning wouldn't do well in Nature, would they? For the last- few hundred megayears, birds have been subjected to electronic flash illumination; those sudden, brief flashes of illumination are just one of the eccentricities of the real world, and since it never hurts them - or at least none has ever reported being hurt by it! - they ignore it. Fear of lightning seems to be strictly a human aberration; animals aren't bothered.

Oh, generally animals are bothered by old-fashioned flashbulbs and flashpowder; the light flares up too long to resemble the natural phenomenon.

Now let's consider one of the big ecological arguments against the SST - how its terrible noise is going to disrupt the breeding habits of all the animals all across the continent as its shock waves go thundering by.

Wanna bet?

When you send an electric current of 30,000,000 amperes between two clouds, with some 40,000,000 volts difference of potential, it not only makes a very brilliant flash, it generates some super-dooper shock waves in the atmosphere. Those go thundering off across the landscape for miles and miles. Moreover, they've been doing it for something approximating 4.5 billion years, and any animal species that evolved on this planet damn well better be accustomed to it.

Now you might recognize it as an SST's shock wave... or the vastly louder roar of Apollo taking off - but evidence indicates that ducks, gulls, and assorted other members of the Cape Kennedy fauna don't. Or they don't give a damn. So far as they're concerned, thunder is thunder, and ignore it.

It's true that some of Man's domesticated - or semidomesticated - and caged animals are disturbed. But that's due, in large measure, to their being highly neurotic anyway. Ask any mink farmer, or turkey farmer, what he thinks of the rationality of the beasts; the best and most stable ones are acute neurotics, the average ones are psychotic in their irrationality. (Young turkeys die of pneumonia if they get rained on; they haven't got wits enough to come in out of the rain. Since the birds evolved and survived in Nature, evidently the wild birds are a bit more sensible.)

In other words, that ecological argument against the SST seems more than somewhat dubious. Check with the wildlife experts at Cape Kennedy, and see how shock waves affect them. And try finding a wild animal that gets panicked by thunder and lightning as some people do!

My essential point is a simple one: Stop wasting good, well-intentioned efforts on hysterical Causes, and concentrate on areas that are real ecological threats.

Get over the idea that the human population can explode from a few millions to multibillions without changing the planet's ecology. There are going to be ecological changes, there have to be, to make a niche in the system large enough to allow Man to have such a huge population.

The Passenger Pigeon died - sorry, folks, but it had to. It couldn't change its way of life, and its way of life and human agriculture could not coexist. Its way of life involved hundreds of millions of large birds, with large appetites. A human grain field was a natural feeding station - and if half a million birds settle in a field, when they take off, the grain goes with them. That way of life, and human agriculture, simply couldn't coexist. And they were a bird that couldn't reproduce if their flocks were too small. They simply had to die, if Man was to live. And while I like birds, I'm not about to resign in their favor.

The problem is to recognize that there will be changes in the ecology - and see that the changes are limited, and wise and choices, not accidents. That there is awareness of what is going on, and what can be done about it.

But not to be so irrational as to say we can preserve America just as it was 500 years ago, while we move some 400,000,000 people in. You can't move a quart of water into a one-pint can without causing some crushing and crowding; don't think you can.

The proper use of energies in the cause of ecology (with a small "c", please; Causes with a large "C" usually mean fanaticism and. destruction) is to take a wise, judicious, realistic look at problems, and seek an optimum answer. Perfect answers exist only in fairy tales. We're still fighting the locust, which menaces man's agriculture just as the Passenger Pigeon did. Is anyone organizing a Society for the Preservation of Locusts?

The case of DDT represents a very rugged problem. In the first place, it was introduced as a great and important benefit to Mankind - which it most certainly was. Like penicillin however, it proved to have certain unpleasant and totally unexpected side effects. Penicillin turned out to produce violent - sometimes lethal - side effects such as fatal allergy reaction. Also, many of the bacteria that had, at first, been slaughtered wholesale developed immune strains that seemed to like the stuff.

Perhaps the greatest of all benefits penicillin brought to us was its demonstration that such things as antibiotic drugs could exist; that started a world-wide search for more, more effective antibiotics that has led to the wide variety we have right now.

As the search for antibiotics was started by the discovery of penicillin, so the search for really powerful and effective insecticides was started by the discovery of DDT. Whatever DDT's faults, that stimulus to research was an inestimable boon.

The dazzling success of DDT has led to the development of a host of newer compounds - and, as we learned of the disadvantages of DDT, we knew what to avoid in the new chemicals.

DDT's one real flaw is its extremely long persistence; it doesn't break down in weather. When it was first used, everyone was delighted with the fact that it could be put on the job, and unlike previous substances, it would stay on the job. One good spraying of DDT and flies, mosquitoes and similar pests would be killed for the next three to six months. Glory! Glory! We finally had something that would keep the flies out of the barn!

It was quite some while before the bad side of that began to be recognized. Not being gods, we don't always know about things nobody ever heard of before. It's fine to yowl about how DDT affects plankton and birds' eggshells, and how "they", without specification as to who "they" are, "should have known better."

What they did know was that DDT, dusted into the clothing of Italian war refugees during WWII stopped very suddenly a lethal epidemic that fleas and lice were spreading.

Now we know that those over-persistent insecticides have their unwholesome aspects, and must be used with caution, until we have something else to use in special situations.

Now let's be realistic and consider one case of the use of DDT. The Island of Ceylon, in 1966, had some 2.8 milh6n deaths due to malaria. The island government launched an all-out campaign to get rid of the mosquitoes that spread the disease in 1967 and 1968, with widespread spraying of DDT. So effective was the campaign that in 1968 the number of deaths due to malaria dropped to 128 individuals!

Since the campaign had effectively wiped out the disease vector, and even DDT is expensive in the quantities they used to cover the island, they relaxed and stopped spraying in 1969. And in the next year they had 2.5 million deaths due to malaria.

Now, friends, do you think you can get the Ceylonese to accept 2.5 million deaths a year so that our pretty feathered friends can lay hard-shelled eggs? Because the stuff also kills some varieties of the phyto-plankton when it washes into the sea - and we're dependent on photosynthetic plankton for most of Earth's oxygen supply?

Sorry - but the Ceylonese individual is dependent on the red cells attacked by malaria plasmodia for his very personal internal oxygen supply; the remote danger of planetary oxygen exhaustion doesn't move him very strongly.

Matter of fact, it doesn't move me very strongly either. Agreed, some of the plankton are very sensitive to DDT - fantastically so, even more sensitive than flies and mosquitoes. Agreed that we need plankton to oxygenate the seas and the atmosphere. Since the sea represents some 75% of Earth's surface, and it's absorption of solar energy that produces oxygen, clearly the sea is the major source of Earth's oxygen.

However, just as a lot of the bacteria we once slaughtered with penicillin have developed immune strains, and the flies and mosquitoes have developed immune strains that don't mind a little DDT in their diet, it's a pretty safe bet that the plankton will fairly promptly turn up with strains that can digest DDT for its nutritive value.

Be it remembered that most microscopic forms - bacteria and plankton - have very short generations, and if unhindered, increase their numbers exponentially.

Consider this: Suppose that a particular type of organism is able to fission once in twenty-four hours. If we started with one individual on January 1, 1971, approximately how many will we have on January 1, 1972? Well, it will be approximately 2'"", which means 365 x log 2.0 = 365(.301) or very roughly 10'"'. Since there are said to be only 10'- particles - protons, electrons, neutrons, et cetera - in the total universe, that exponential series is going to be starved long before the year is up.

It's that sort of simple mathematics of exponential expansions that makes ecology so tough; it 'doesn't crumble easily, and is incredibly self-repairing.

Birds are in trouble, because their generations are relatively long and their rate of reproduction so much lower. A mutant gene for DDT resistance can't spread with the enormous rapidity it can in bacteria and short-generation-high-fecundity organisms like flies and mosquitoes.

The Ceylonese aren't going to be willing to accept two and a half million deaths, and many millions more rendered chronically ill by malaria for the sake of birds and plankton; if you think they're going to, you're out of your mind. May be tough on the birds - but they damn well intend to stay alive and healthy. And as of now, there is no adequate substitute for DDT that they can afford; DDT's long persistence in action is essential to their life and health.

But let's go to the other extreme - from microscopic high-turnover organisms to giant, very-long-generation organisms. Consider the ecology of elephants, instead.

In Africa, there's a different problem. The population of the African tribes has been increasing, as various health measures - including DDT! - have reduced the infant mortality rate. The people need more land to feed their increased population, and they're now bringing ancient pasturage into cultivation.

To do this, they have to dispossess the herds of elephants that have fed there. That's fairly easy - all they have to do is start a grass fire, and the elephants instinctively flee the flames. In this way, thousands of elephants have been driven toward the great game refuges where the governments protect them from hunters - and from land-hungry farmers.

But because conservationists don't think adequately - though they emote real good! - the result has been a terrible and enduring disaster.

Obviously, what they should have done was to assign hunters to slaughter many hundreds of the elephants - but emotional sentimentality got in the way.

The result has been that the huge numbers of elephants have browsed all the edible plants to near total destruction. There wasn't enough browse to feed the huge herds of elephants, and out of hunger the elephants have tarn down and killed the trees that would have been their self-renewing food supply. They've converted much of their refuge into a foodless desert, so badly devastated that it may' take more than an elephant generation to recover - even if all elephants were removed so that growth could repair the devastation.

When a starving elephant attacks a tree to get the last edible branches at the top, he does it by uprooting and tearing out the tree. Elephants don't climb well, but they're good at knocking trees down where they can reach them.

Moreover, when an elephant finishes gleaning, there's nothing left for anything to eat - except termites, perhaps. But giraffes, deer, gnus and all the crossword puzzle animals also starve. Which means that after a brief feast on starving herbivores, the carnivores and scavengers starve, too.

Now this presented the wildlife refuge administrators with a clear-cut problem. Either cut down the elephant herds by slaughter until the land could feed the remaining herds, or take the pasturage away from the tribesmen so the elephants could eat, and the tribesmen could starve instead.

It's typical of the failure emotionally involved - rather than thoughtfully and judiciously involved - ecologists that they did nothing.

As of my latest information, the elephants were starving and ruining the remaining land beyond recovery.

All in the name of humanitarianism and conservation and preserving endangered species and stopping the cruel practice of slaughtering helpless animals.

There are times when ecological faddism makes me acutely ill.

The Editor. *


J.C. Andrews
Andrews Racing
www.andrewsracing.com
 
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