There is highly need for education and research in human ecology.During man’s visits to the moon, he obtained a clear insight into the contrast between its inanimate lithosphere and the living biosphere of Earth. He also realized that the biosphere was indeed finite. This has crystallized a public realization that has grown at a remarkable rate over only the last two years: that for all man’s achievements in space, the Earth is our home, and it will be a very remote chance indeed that in any numbers we will be able to reach, let alone live on, another planet, if we wear out. eat up, or defile our Earth.
Although conservationists have discussed these problems for a century, the popular writing is recent. Two influential works are Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring 1962 . and Huxley’s Age of Over Breed (1965). one intriguing aspect of which was the site of its original publication. Public opinion was mobilized probably more by the threat to animals than to humans, viz., DDT found in Antarctic penguins and polar bears, death of fish in the Rhine in 1969. death of birds in the Irish Sea, and death of sheep from nerve gas in Utah.
The environment is now thoroughly discussed by every medium, and there is a danger that the public will become bored by the word “ecology” before they know what it means (Fraser Darling). It has become a noncontroversial issue at the highest political level, and has also inspired student protest in favor of conservation—a welcome form of patriotism. There is a feeling of alarm at man’s helplessness against the demands of a new technologic system which he has created but neither understands nor effectively controls. The problem is not of nature threatened by man, but of man and nature, in the same boat, equally threatened by the uncontrolled workings of the technosphere.
Completely new attitudes are needed in order to understand the intricacies of ecologic strategy. The old-fashioned pre technological state of thinking is not adequate for the purpose. The problem is not one of confrontation, but of cooperation between those who manage the technosphere and those who guard the biosphere. In describing cost-benefit, economists will have to learn to include human ecologic problems in their balance sheets.
Two examples will serve to emphasize the need for closer understanding among physicians, ecologists
emphasis was placed on vector destruction and chemotherapy. Excessive hopes were founded on the new insecticides with long-lasting effects. Unfortunately, the early hopes for eradication were overoptimistic, and we now cannot assess the real effectiveness of otherwise admirable public health measures because there was little or no attempt to establish baseline data on the local epidemiology of the disease or on human differences with respect to the immunologic reactions induced by the parasites.
Irrigation schemes may have serious ecologic consequences for the public health. In Egypt, schistosomiasis has always been endemic, not made worse by seasonal flooding of the Nile. But in areas of perennial flooding, such as in the Delta, there is total infestation of the population. With the new Aswan Dam, there will be large new areas of perennial flooding, which may greatly increase the spread of this disease.
Before understanding of these factors can be achieved, ecology has to be widely taught.- It should be part of a liberal arts education for the chemist, physicist, engineer, lawyer, teacher, forestry and agricultural student, and particularly for those whose careers will take them into public administration.
Ecology, in the form of human biology, is now taught at many universities, but only in small aspects; the sanctity of specialized academic departments has tended to discourage interdisciplinary studies, and there are very few universities in the world where interdisciplinary studies have Man at the center, in the Benthamite sense — “the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”
One imaginative pioneering exception should be mentioned: the new Green Bay campus of the University of Wisconsin, with its four colleges. It has a broad structure for studying real situations at first- hand —problems of urbanization, racial crisis, population explosion, transportation, effects of automation, pollution, and the exhaustion of natural resources.
The colleges of Environmental Sciences and of Community}’ Sciences emphasize the problems of the natural resources environment. The other two colleges are also concerned with man: The College of Human Biology centers its attention on human adaptability, i.e., on the way the environment impinges on an individual, and the College of Creative Communication emphasizes the problem of human identity.
Research into problems of man in his environment must be guided by an important principle: although we have stressed the unity of the biosphere, research should be undertaken only in small regions, rather than in a whole country, because common characteristics of regions may be found in many parts of the world, whereas generalization from one country to another is too complex for honest analysis.
Thus a pilot project in environmental sciences has selected Dane County, Wisconsin, as an analogue for an American megalopolis, and Iowa County, Wisconsin, for country and small-town life. Within the International Biological Program, for example (Weiner and Lourie), there is a continuing interdisciplinary study of the small1 population (circa 300) of Tristan
da Cunha, in the South Atlantic. This includes their history, anthropology, nutrition, and medical and dental state. The genealogy of this closed community, accurate for six generations, provides a rare opportunity to use advanced computer methods to predict the genetic .properties of the population and the individuals who comprise it. After almost a decade of research, it will now be possible to look more closely also into the interplay between the islanders and their environment—more specifically, the investigation of zoonoses, allergens, and the possible health hazards of their land and marine crops.
To this could be added micro-economic studies, in order to obtain a quantitative understanding of the reality of their lives and prosperity. The point is that Tristan is not an “untouched” island; it is an area of human settlement, and the value of such studies is their pertinence to problems in the larger world. Tristan da Cunha may be considered analogous to regions in developing countries which are themselves far too large and complex for microstudies (Lewis et al., 1970).
Most of our awareness of the need for the new education in ecology has come from the failures seen in our technosphere. It should be clearly stated that the successes are all around us. It is not technology that may be ruining our biosphere, but the mishandling of our technologic capabilities. How to strike the right balance will be the future challenge of human wisdom. Except for the problem of mounting population, there is every reason for optimism and a spirit of affirmation of human capability. As Medawar has observed, one must recognize that all past civilizations or cultures had their ups and downs, and went through a life cycle of degeneration and regeneration.
There was never a truly golden age. “We wring our hands over the miscarriages of technology and take for granted the benefactions of antibiotics, DDT and pesticides. We are dismayed by air pollution —the result of improving our standard of living—but not proportionately cheered by the virtual abolition of poliomyelitis. The deterioration of the environment produced by technology is a technological problem for which technology has found, is finding and will continue to find solutions. It is true that we cannot point to a single definitive solution to any one of the problems that confront us —political, economic, social or moral. We are still beginners, and for that reason may hope to improve.”