Biodiversity as Security

Thanks to Jim Prall for pointing out a fascinating New York Times Op-Ed entitled “<a href="“>Ecology Lessons from the Cold War“.

Jacob Hamblin calls our attention to the fact that biodiversity has long been considered essential to human survival, so much so that damaging it was considered as a war strategy!

By the early 1960s, NATO was calling these approaches “environmental warfare.” One of the important considerations in the calculus, not surprisingly, was self-preservation. War planning would include figuring out how to keep people alive beyond the initial devastation. The best approach, scientists concluded, was coming up with ways to protect ecosystems.

Today we call it biodiversity. One of its principal advocates was the Oxford ecologist Charles Elton, whose book “The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants,” argued that simplifying landscapes with weedkillers, or planting single crop species over large areas made a recipe for disaster. The best defense from diseases, other species or natural catastrophes, he said, was to conserve as much biological variety as possible in the fields and hedges of the countryside to counterbalance any threat. In his book he called it the conservation of variety.

Elton’s approach not only inspired Rachel Carson to write “Silent Spring,” about the harm done by insecticides, it also resonated among scientists in the defense establishment. Fantasizing about environmental warfare in the early 1960s, NATO scientists tried to imagine which links in ecosystems were vulnerable to manipulation.

Following on this strange history, Hamblin concludes that “we need to stop treating the idea of biodiversity as a philosophical preference and embrace it as a strategy of survival, just as it was for those who, more than a half-century ago, planned for a calamitous total war.”


  1. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, June 2, 2013 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  2. I'm putting up this link for all to see,but also because I don't ever want to lose it. I don't believe I have ever seen a clearer explication of the environmental issues facing the world today. It is, of course, by Freeman Dyson.

  3. The Dyson thing is from 2007, old, and criticises work much older, like Broecker's 2000 thermohaline piece, and claims "we do not know" about all sorts of things we know.

    Like the need to conserve biodiversity for security.
    I mean -- migawd, this guy Hamblin (not Dyson, which is a distraction, but the subject of the thread here - Hamblin) is saying society -forgot- somehow that complexity is stability?

    And forgot it since the Cold War somehow? And started mistaking it for some vague philosophical idea of how things could be -- nice?


    That whirring sound is Aldo Leopold, spinning.

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