Live from EarthFest 2008

earthfest.jpgOK, not exactly live — It’s a day after the fact.  But who would have paid attention if this read: Yesterday from EarthFest!

Yesterday I participated in EarthFest 2008, sponsored jointly by NASA Langley and Christopher Newport University here in Tidewater, Virginia.  I was part of the “Ask a scientist” panel, answering questions from the brave-hearted studio audience of about 20 people who had forsaken the fabulous spring weather to sit in a darkened lecture hall and ask questions such as these of scientists.

And a shout-out to the VIMS Green Team and the Williamsburg Climate Action Network, among the many other organizations represented there.  I’m told that parts of our panel discussion will evntually be posted in YouTube – stay tuned.

Following is the text of the two-minute presentation with which I began my part:



“What makes Earth different than any other body in the known universe is the presence of life. From space, life appears only as an impossibly thin green film on the rocky surface of the planet.  Yet life has changed everything about this planet profoundly—creating the oxygenated atmosphere that allows us to live here, regulating its temperature within narrow bounds that make it comfortable for us, and so on.     

Locally, for you or I standing here on the ground, life is not a thin green film. It’s a fantastic variety of plants and animals and microbes that have become linked in complex networks of interactions that we call an ecosystem.   

We usually take the ecosystems around us for granted because we are so much a part of them that we don’t even think about it.  But we need to

Ecosystems are like nature’s factories. Living organisms provide the natural infrastructure that creates natural products and services essential to our comfort and even our survival—food, clean water and air, favorable habitat in which we can live, and of course the stable climate that we hear so much about these days.

We’re now at a critical turning point in earth’s history.  For the first time in the 3.8 billion years of life’s tenure on this planet, a single species literally controls the fate of all the others, and of the biosphere itself.  That species is of course us.  It’s a mind-boggling responsibility. 



And — sad to say — we’re dropping the ball. When we dump our wastes into the air and water, when we destroy natural habitat, and harvest animals faster than they can reproduce, we are throwing a monkey wrench into the gears of Nature’s factory and its parts get broken.When that happens the machine stops working, and the products and services disappear. 

But that doesn’t have to happen.  Humans are incredibly ingenious.  We’ve sent people to the moon.  We’ve invented the internet, and cars that run on french fry oil.  We need to harness that ingenuity to make the world safe again for our fellow creatures.  Because, in the end, we literally cannot live without them.”

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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