Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Biodiversity...different focus

International Year of Biodiversity

"This is not a scientific or environmental issue, it is a social question and an ethical one about what our generation leaves for those in the future." writes Robert Bloomfield...and he is correct but such philosophical efforts, while noble, are fraught with complex notions that no answer can be provided in just one year. Sustained efforts are needed for long term effects. This reminds me of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation's episode "Justice" [season one] whereby the "Prime Directive" is challenged and for humans the criminal element is understood and controlled--executions are an event of the past.

Here is Wikipedia's plot summation...

On stardate 41255.6, the USS Enterprise completes a mission of depositing settlers on the Strand Colony and stops by the recently discovered world of Rubicun III, where Captain Picard approves shore leave. Based on initial survey reports by Commander Riker, the native people, who call themselves the Edo, are passive and sensual, living in a virtual utopia where they openly express love and affection. Riker returns to the planet with Tasha Yar, Worf, Deanna Troi, and Wesley Crusher. They are greeted lovingly by the leaders of the Edo, Liator and Rivan, who are beautiful people, fit and physically stunning, wearing thin, revealing outfits. The two Edo take them to their council chambers and they observe the happy Edo around them, exercising, playing and enjoying life in what Troi compares to a Garden of Eden. Along the way, Wesley finds a group of teens his age who are delighted to have a new playmate join them.

Back on the Enterprise, Data reports an object ahead of the ship that seems to partially exist in their dimension. He then opens hailing frequencies and an immense vessel appears before them which is not completely solid, consisting of an array of lights and transparent framework. The object sends over a sphere of light which passes right through the shields and enters the bridge. The light hovers before Picard and projects a booming voice; "State the purpose of your visit here." Picard explains they are just visiting, but the light asks the reason for the colony that has been planted nearby. Picard explains the colony seeks the challenge of creating a new society for themselves and that humans seed their kind as widespread as possible for preservation. The orb warns to not interfere with its "children" below and then takes interest in Data. It suddenly attaches to his forehead and Data falls to the deck immobilized.

Back on the planet, Yar has been conversing with Liator and Rivan and is shocked to learn about their claim that none of their people ever break the law. Liator explains they once faced disorder long ago, but now they have only one punishment for lawbreakers: death. The Edo explain that their police, called "mediators," enforce the law by setting up random "punishment zones" and because of the fear of execution, no one willingly breaks the law. Tasha is concerned that they were not told of this sooner, and rushes out to look for Wesley who has wandered off somewhere.

Wesley is in the middle of a ball game and runs after a fly ball which takes him over a white barrier surrounding an enclosed garden of flowers. He trips and crashes through the glass enclosure as the other children anxiously tell him it is forbidden to disturb new flowers. Two Edo Mediators rush up to their horror and the girl of the group tearfully begs the lawmen for mercy, saying Wesley is a visitor and didn't know the law. The lawmen sadly state that he must carry out their duty and one withdraws a syringe. Wesley is confused, still unaware of how severe a crime he has committed. The rest of the away team rushes up and Riker offers a simple apology for what just happened. The Mediators say it changes nothing and the boy must be punished. One of the Mediators tries to grab Wesley's arm, but is stopped by Riker. Worf and Tasha quickly level phasers and order the other Mediator to drop the syringe. The lawman says the boy would have felt nothing and his death would have been quick. Wesley panics when he realizes they were just about to kill him. Riker tries to alert the Enterprise but there is no contact with the vessel.

Back in space, the orb finally releases Data and a communication from Tasha comes through who asks for Picard's presence on the planet. Picard beams down where he is informed of Wesley's petty infraction and that it carries the death penalty. Picard meets with Liator and Rivan who tell him that Wesley is being held in custody pending the outcome of the case. Liator explains the tranquility around them has only been possible through their system of justice. Picard says he respects their laws, however the Federation has determined that capital punishment is an unjustifiable deterrent, and that humanity no longer uses such means. Liator takes offense stating if humans are so "advanced" then they could beam Wesley to freedom right now. Picard explains that's not an option and that he is bound by the Prime Directive to abide by a world's laws no matter how strange they might be. He says this incident however, concerns an innocent child, ignorant of the law, who has committed a crime that doesn't fit the punishment. He seeks another option, but the Edo see none without breaking their tradition. They inform him that Wesley is safe until sundown, but after that their sentence must be carried out. Picard then takes the opportunity to ask about the object in space with them, explaining the strange craft to which the Edo identify as their God. Picard then asks Rivan to accompany him to the Enterprise in hopes she will identify the ship in orbit with them.

Once aboard the Enterprise, Dr. Crusher, having just been informed of Wesley's situation, tearfully demands a response from her Captain, but to her grief, he tells her to wait while he takes Rivan into an observation room. As soon as Rivan sees the object floating outside the ship, she falls to her knees and fearfully diverts her eyes. Picard asks her if it's her God to which she nods. He asks if she can communicate with it, but then the object moves toward the Enterprise sending rumbles through the hull with a booming voice that demands its child be returned. Picard attaches his communicator pin to Rivan's chest and orders an immediate beam out. She disappears and the object backs off. Beverly presses Picard to do something to free Wesley, but Picard reminds her of the power protecting the planet saying he will not risk the lives of the entire ship for her son.

In sickbay, Data has recovered from his contact with the orb claiming "they" were able to better communicate through him, learning all about the Federation to the point of nearly overloading his circuits. Picard asks what he learned and what he means by "they". Data informs that "they" are "not a single entity," and are capable of being in several places at once, not really here, or anywhere. They are quite aware that the Edo worship them as gods, which they encourage during this stage of the Edo's development. They claim the Edo are their children and this entire star cluster is their territory, and they are concerned about the Enterprise's presence here. Picard asks what their intentions are, to which Data perceives as only curious observance. They now know everything Data knows, including all about the Prime Directive, but the question lies in how they evaluate it. Picard asks Data what he thinks they will do if he violated it, which stirs more unsettling emotion in Beverly. Data explains it would be a case of judging humans by their own rules; if they violate their own laws, they may consider them deceitful and untrustworthy. Data, unaware of Wesley's situation, inquires as to what is going on. Beverly explodes in tears informing him "The Edo want to execute my son." and vows to Picard that she will not allow it to happen. Picard wonders if the force out there understands reason as they do and hopes it will offer the leverage to free Wesley.

Picard and Beverly beam down to the planet. As soon as Rivan sees Picard she rushes to him and drops to her knees saying they share the sky with God, and so they too, must be gods. Picard eases her up, reassuring her that they are just explorers and as human as they are. Wesley appears, led into the room by the Mediators but they refuse Beverly to get any closer. Wesley asks if the Edo are really going to execute him. Picard extends a hand to Wesley and tells him to come. Worf and Tasha make sure the Edo see their weapons are ready to enforce whatever Picard orders and Wesley runs to his mother who tearfully embraces him. The Mediators become anxious, knowing that their leaders are helpless to stop this, but warns that their God will.

Riker commends the Edo's system of justice is probably better than any they once had, a testimony to their beautiful way of life, but adds that the Captain is also bound by the laws of the Prime Directive, which states he must protect his people from harm. Liator asks what of their ways, their world, their order. Has Picard no respect for justice? Tasha asks, "What of justice for Wesley? Does he really deserve to die?" The group is ready to beam out, but the transporter doesn't work. A mediator explains that God has prevented their escape. Beverly shouts "Then your God is unfair!"

Picard steps forward announcing to every living creature within the sound of his voice, "there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute." and that "life itself is an exercise in exceptions." Riker adds, "When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?" The transport beam suddenly activates, and Picard comments that it seems the gods agree with Riker.

The point is that in time human behavior and ethics do change and so it can be with what Robert Bloomfield suggests...time and introspection will offer a reliable biodiversity schematic.

"Biodiversity is not just about saving exotic species from extinction"

Neglect of the natural services provided by biodiversity is an economic catastrophe greater than the global economic crisis


Robert Bloomfield

January 7th, 2010


Starting Monday, celebrations and events across the world will highlight the beginning of the UN's Year of International Biodiversity and the loss of our richly varied flaura and fauna, which is estimated to be as high as 1,000 times the natural rate as a result of human activities.

Ahmed Djoghlaf, the general secretary of the treaty signed by 192 countries since 1992 to protect biodiversity, is blunt about efforts to preserve the health of biodiversity since the Rio Earth summit 18 years ago. Governments worldwide have failed to meet the treaty's target of reversing the trend for declining biodiversity, he says, and urgently need momentum to hit its targets for 2020.

Biodiversity is integral to our daily lives. It is not about the loss of exotic species which have been the focus of conservation activities by the foundations and trusts of wealthy nations. It is about the vital resources which underpin the wealth and health of the world's poor and that provide the vital needs for the heath and wellbeing of us all.

The equivalent to the Stern report for biodiversity is called The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB). It warns that our neglect of the natural services provided by biodiversity is an economic catastrophe of an order of magnitude greater than the global economic crisis. Year on year, the irreversible loss of natural diverse genetic resources impoverishes the world and undermines our ability to develop new crops and medicines, resist pests and diseases, and maintain the host of natural products on which humans rely.

Equally significant, are the vital natural services that the world's ecosystems provide. These include providing vital oxygen, decomposing waste, removing pollutants, providing the natural buffers that help manage drought and flood, protect soil from erosion, ensure soil fertility, and provide breeding nurseries to maintain fish ocean stocks. The list goes on, and among these immeasurable vital functions of nature is of course its ability to absorb carbon dioxide. The ability of forests, bogs and salt marches, tundra, coral and ocean plankton to sequester carbon should be our greatest ally in managing the increased emissions of fossil fuel activity – a key theme of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen last month.

Rather than seeing biodiversity and ecological mechanisms being eroded, we need to see a massive effort towards finding a more effective sustainable relationship between human society and nature. This is not a scientific or environmental issue, it is a social question and an ethical one about what our generation leaves for those in the future.

[Dr Robert Bloomfield is the coordinator for the UK International year of biodiversity, which features talks, exhibitions, public dialogues, art work and citizen science experiments encompassing both science and the arts.]

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