11 March 2009

In slime we trust

I spent a little time last week at the final meeting of HERMES, a Europe-wide research project on the deep seas, where participants delight in such wonders as 'holothurian heaven': 'meadows' more than 3,000 metres down near canyons of Martian proportions off the Portuguese coast.

One for the nerds, you might think. But I'll push a connection to global ethics and the future of life.

The columnist Thomas Friedman sometimes approaches Jade Goody in lack of self-awareness, but he also channels sensible if not very original thoughts every now and then. This from a column titled The Inflection is Near?:
We must have growth, but we must grow in a different way. For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.
And in today's FT Amartya Sen reminds 'Anglo-Saxon' financiers, and others, that Adam Smith believed that "humanity, justice, generosity, and public spirit, are the qualities most useful to others", and warned against "prodigals and projectors" (on whom see John Stewart):
[Smith] wanted institutional diversity and motivational variety, not monolithic markets and singular dominance of the profit motive. [1]
Smith's Theory, written 100 years before Darwin's Origin was published, is worth attention in re-thinking the global economic system as if people and planet mattered. [2]

Diverse communities may be both a 'good thing' and have survival advantage. As work included within HERMES found, "ecosystem functioning and efficiency on continental margins increases exponentially in deep sea ecosystems characterised by higher biodiversity." [3]  So let's hear it for slime. [4]


[1] Adam Smith’s market never stood alone

[2] Acting as if re-foundation is really possible, and melt-down is avoidable.

[3] Exponential Decline of Deep-Sea Ecosystem Functioning Linked to Benthic Biodiversity Loss R. Danovaro et al.

[4] One could be almost serious: "Epidemiology and microbiology are better guides to the human future than any of our hopes or plans" (Gray, 2002)

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