A unique way of conservation

How do you take me out of the equation?

The Green.view column in The Economist has plenty of environmental-themed articles that provoke deeper thought about what we know about the environment and our assumptions about the environment. In their latest article, they present an effective but controversial method of biodiversity conservation: to remove humans “from the equation”.

The conventional thing to do is to “fence off large areas of parkland” to create nature reserves that, without much disturbance of man, would perhaps help protect the biodiversity inside it. This would be quite inhumane of course, considering that original residents of the reserve would have to be “booted out”. Hence conservationists “try to manage nature with humans in situ”, i.e. conserve without having to remove humans from the equation.

However, “involuntary parks” seem to be the most effective in conserving biodiversity. Where humans have vacated or have not trampled upon, wildlife flourishes, for instance in many parts of Papua New Guinea. Places that have seen conflict have also unintentionally become nature reserves, for instance in the demilitarised zone (DMZ) between North & South Korea. So in this case, would peace between the North & the South lead to the disappearance of this nature reserve and all its “residents”? Sounds perverted, that war might be necessary to protect and conserve the lifes of lesser beings (animals and plants) while human lives are lost.

In another example, Somali pirates off the coast of Somalia and Kenya have led to “a profusion of fish” in the waters as commercial trawlers are scared away from the region. And this has benefitted the local Kenyan fishermen who fish for a living, as this article from The Scotsman testifies. Given that the state of the world’s fisheries and fish population are not looking good, to allow fish populations to recover from the state of being overfished would certainly be beneficial for its conservation even if biodiversity might not have expanded.

The article concludes that it is “depopulation” that makes the difference between conservation / protection and extinction. Sadly but truly, humans may sometimes have to remove themselves from the equation if nature and the environment is to recover and thrive. Would this be possible? Would this be humane? Would this be fair? I suspect this method of conservation would probably never be broached seriously.

Mathematics of Warfare

ERPZ have always been rather social science oriented, doing analysis mostly on social/economic/political matters and lots of writing in just plain language (ie. no greek symbols or mathematical operators). Nevertheless, economics is fundamentally somewhat about logic and it attempts to connect the maths and science of our society with reality. Sean Gourley, a physicist is doing the same sort of analysis in his research on the mathematics of war, which he presented on TED.com.

Gourley's Equation
Gourley's Equation

The most interesting idea presented in the talk is that even within the chaos of conflict, there are universal principles and relationships between the myriad of different variables in the field (in this case, fatality and frequency of attacks). More importantly, the use of alpha as a measure of fragmentation of insurgency is an interesting result and hopefully can be exploited as a means to achieve peace more quickly during a conflict.

This research paper that eventually resulted from his collaboration with the various experts of different fields was recently published on Nature magazine. TED Blogs features a Q&A with Gourley about the research. It’s great that scientists and mathematicians are using their tools to learn more about complex reality and uncover patterns previously hidden from us; the applications of these mathematics, however, remains to be discovered. As science is often the neutral party, it is important to note also that the same tools can be used by the opposing parties. Strategic thinking, remains an important means of conducting these affairs.