Book Review: Amy Ione reviews The New Ecology: Rethinking a Science for the Anthropocene by Oswald J. Schmitz

The New Ecology: Rethinking a Science for the Anthropocene
by Oswald J. Schmitz
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016
256 pp. Trade, $35
ISBN: 978-0691160566.

Reviewed by Amy Ione
Director, The Diatrope Institute

ione@diatrope.com

Posted on Leonardo Reviews March 1, 2017:
http://leonardo.info/reviews/mar2017/schmitz-ione.php

Although global-scale human influence on the environment has been recognized since the 1800s, the term Anthropocene, introduced about a decade or so ago, was only accepted formally as a new geological epoch or era in Earth history in August 2016. Then an official expert group said that humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – should be officially declared. Ironically, this geologic term, frequently associated with ecology in the public’s mind, is generally attributed to Paul J. Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist. Crutzen, who is obviously neither a geologist nor ecologist, explains its beginnings as follows:

“The Anthropocene could be said to have started in the latter part of the eighteenth century, when analyses of air trapped in polar ice showed the beginning of growing global concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane. This date also happens to coincide with James Watt’s design of the steam engine in 1784.” [1]

Perhaps it is because Crutzen and Oswald J. Schmitz, the author of The New Ecology: Rethinking a Science for the Anthropocene, come from different backgrounds that there is a noteworthy difference in how each embraces the term. Schmitz’s emphasis in The New Ecology is on optimism despite what many see as a global environmental crisis. Crutzen, by contrast, sees more reason for concern, claiming that the discovery of the ozone hole over Antarctica served as defining evidence that human activity has moved us into a new epoch. Indeed one of the defining features of The New Ecology is Schmitz’s assertions that the idea that Earth’s biota is doomed is incorrect: “[t]he New Ecology reveals that species may rapidly evolve and adapt to their changing environmental conditions,” and, perhaps more importantly given the concerns of many today, “[t]his gives hope that the future may not be as dire as it is often portrayed” (p. 104). In other words, while some see a grim picture, Schmitz, a professor of ecology at Yale University, declares, “the realization that evolutionary and ecological processes operate contemporaneously offers some hope that species have the capacity to adapt and thereby sustain ecological functioning” (p. 102). In support of this view Schmitz further argues that new computational tools now allow us to account for feedbacks and nonlinearities. With the ability to understand the dynamics of complex ecological systems, he claims, we are able to use models to predict how feedbacks propagate throughout food webs in response to disturbances, such as harvesting. Researchers can also explore different scenario outcomes.

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ASCI Open Call: SCIENCE INSPIRES ART: THE COSMOS

Announcing the Open Call for Entries…
SCIENCE INSPIRES ART: THE COSMOS
the 15th, international, competition-exhibition to be held at the New York Hall of Science August 31, 2013 – March 2, 2014

Announcing the Open Call for Entries…
SCIENCE INSPIRES ART: THE COSMOS
the 15th, international, competition-exhibition
to be held at the New York Hall of Science August 31, 2013 – March 2, 2014

Organized by Art & Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI) 

INTRODUCTION

Ever since early humans looked up in wonder at the sun, moon, and stars, we’ve been on a quest to decipher the mysteries of our cosmos. The vastness and unreachability of the “unknown” captivates the imaginations of scientists and artists alike.

The stream of new technologies and results of scientific experiments that inform our new understandings of the nature of the cosmos, inspire artists to create new works in all media and genres. And both the macro and the micro play leading roles as primary sources for contemporary creativity. Whether it’s flashes of the most ancient light left from the Big Bang, Curiosity Rover’s rock-testing for signs of microbial life on Mars, the image of a galaxy’s huge black hole eating a star, or finally knowing the nature of matter itself via the atom-smashing, Large Hadron Collider — all evocatively engage the mind and the spirit.

More than mere depictions of scientific data, artists strive to create expressions of how this expanding knowledge of our cosmos makes them feel. Many ancient cultures did this by devising stories and pictorial representations of star constellations. More recently, the astonishing “what-if” nature of writers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, birthed new narratives that culminated in the golden age of science fiction in literature, on TV with Star Trek, and in movies like Star Wars. It didn’t matter that these other-worldly fantasies about alien planets or aliens visiting our planet were unrealistic, their mass audience appeal remains alive and well today. The lure is understandable, as there is still so much unknown and mysterious about the cosmos.

Art & Science Collaborations is also on a mission of discovery. If your original art [executed in any visual media and documented via stunning images] relates to astronomy (including astrophysics, astrochemistry, astrobiology, astrogeology), questions of cosmology, extra-terrestrials, or the nature of matter and/or time in relation to universal laws — we look forward to your submissions!

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