I have noticed some intriguing things about environmental maintenance. The overall rule of natural intervention is that you either have to completely manage it, or you can't interfere at all. I've found this lesson throughout nature, and I'm going to share some random examples. I haven't researched any of these very thoroughly. If it turns out that I am wrong about some of the examples, oh well. I believe nonetheless that the thrust is correct.

Guinea Pigs

In many parts of South America, the guinea pig is a common domestic animal. They are fed table scraps and whatever they can scrounge. I imagine that they are allowed to roam relatively freely, and that the houses have dirt floors (which are easy to clean animal waste off of). After a while the pig is plump and tasty.

Compare that to the life of a pet store guinea pig. Most stores sell guinea pig cages that are dramatically too small for them and/or feature wire floors that hurt guinea pig feet. So your desire to keep guinea pig waste off your floors forces you (if you are humane) to buy relatively expensive cages and to clean them often. Then to top it off, we won't eat the pigs -- when they eventually age out of the population, they will be burried in the back yard.

Growing mushrooms

When you see mushrooms growing in nature, you find them in a delicate balance with a zillion other growing things, and they are generally safe to eat (provided they are of the appropriate variety). It is rare for a mushroom in nature to be toxic because of other organisms, even though mushrooms traditionally grow in the dampest and dirtiest parts of nature.

This is in stark contrast to indoor mushrooms. The substrate used to grow mushrooms indoors is both an extraordinarily rich food source and generally completely sterile. The result is that the first fast-growing mold, fungus, or bacteria to find the substrate will completely take over the growth environment, tainting any mushrooms you may produce. As a result we must take extreme precautions to ensure and preserve the perfect sterility of the substrate until the mushrooms have fully colonized the substrate. Once that happens, they effectively seal nutrients off from competing organisms.

Forest management

Unattended forests burn every now and then. While this causes a tremendous destruction, it is also a cause for new birth. A fantastic amount of life is destroyed, but the basic elements of that life become tomorrow's top soil. In addition, the breeding cycle of many forest plants (such as some long-lived trees) can depend upon small fires, some in ways we will never understand. Fires also clear underbrush, preventing the excessive buildup of kindling that contributes to more devastating forest fires.

In a managed forest, the human managers have traditionally attempted to achieve a goal of zero forest fires. Trees that require fire to breed must be bred artificially somehow. Brush that would burn on its own must be managed in some way to prevent the spread of larger fires. Any brush removal efforts will cause erosion, which must also be managed. Because current forest management focuses only on preventing fires (and extracting lumber *sigh*) to the exclusion of other management needs, trees are not propagating and fires are becoming harder to control.

I wonder if this trouble is not also present in another aspect of forest management: pest control. From The Simpsons:

Well, I was wrong. The lizards are a godsend.
But isn't that a bit short-sighted? What happens when we're overrun by lizards?
No problem. We simply release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards.
But aren't the snakes even worse?
Yes, but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat.
But then we're stuck with gorillas!
No, that's the beautiful part. When wintertime rolls around, the gorillas simply freeze to death.

Humorsome allegory or literal description of American public forest management?


In France, cheese is sold "still growing." You might buy a young cheese in anticipation of a dinner more than a week away. This cheese will grow happily at room temperature until it matures to the desired ripeness. Presumably because it is already colonized by various life forms endemic to cheese, it maintains an acceptable equillibrium without refrigeration. "You wouldn't put your pet in the refrigerator, why would I put my cheese in there?" right?

In America it is accepted that cheese is stored in the refrigerator, as it is a pasteurized food of incredible nutrient value. Like mushroom growth substrate, it must be kept in this pristine condition or it will become contaminated by toxic growths. And if you think you're going to be clever and treat french cheese in a french way? Forget it -- the stuff they export to America is pasteurized too.