How to Biosphere

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador 

Coastal Ecuador seems to breed imaginative future scenarios. It could be the sheer biological richness of the country, mixed with hard-pressed economic necessity, but something definitely inspires a sense of starting over in new and different ways. People aren’t generally inhibited about having large visions.

One Bahia friend enunciates new ideas as a constant aspect of our conversations. Here’s one that flashed out while I was describing how the houses ruined by mudslides were incorporated into the design of paths for the revegetation park in Maria Auxiliadora barrio. “Why don’t we have a museum there with displays about El Nino and the earthquake in 1998,” he said. “There are plenty of photos for an entire panorama. And not just the damage. All of the weather conditions that produced the rains, and the geology underlying the earthquake. With descriptions of dry tropical forest plants and animals that people could see right outside. A big map with bioregional features of all kinds: Rio Chone, Nino and Humboldt ocean currents meeting offshore, rainy and dry seasons, soil types. You know those circular depressions that are the remains of water catch basins from the ancient times? Well, they’re being viewed from space by archeologists and other scientists who are trying to find patterns for water availability. We could follow all kinds of satellite information like that.” “ Why not?” I said. 

I was talking to someone else who owns a reserva (natural preserve) about the differences in accessibility for visitors to public land versus private land. “My land will be public,” he declared with earnest certainty. When I replied with a confused look, he described a future corridor made up of wild and reforested parcels that would be joined together as a chain of dry forest along most of the coast. It would be an enormous preserve given something like park status and assigned interpretive centers and guides every so often. As far as I know, this is a personal dream that only people he has spoken with share. Now I share it as well. 

Both of those visions have a common root in a distinctly Ecuadorian sensibility. I don’t think they are mere fantasies but achievable in the 21st Century the way dreams of mass produced automobiles were in the 20th. This place doesn’t have to follow the same course of development as elsewhere. 

It’s time to start thinking like parts of a whole. The unified biosphere of our planet is a fact, and we should be acting accordingly. Each of us may live in just one place, or a few places at most, but it is obvious that we absolutely depend on the whole for basics of life like air and rainfall. Less noticeable but hugely important are the world-wide physical systems that support us such as ocean currents with their role in nurturing sea life, or the earth-girdling zones of life from the polar caps to the equator that temper major aspects of how we eat, build, dress, and countless other adaptations. 

Of all the shared interactions with planet-wide phenomena, the most compelling and mysterious are relations with other living things. We are involved with plants and animals at every moment, from bacteria in our stomachs to the food that fills them. It may often seem that living entities relate most strongly to conditions found in their immediate area, but exchanges with distant species and forces are also essential. Bird migrations from Africa to Europe and the Arctic to the Amazon point out those faraway links. Food chains joining krill to shrimp to fish to bears and humans extend across oceans and far up river estuaries to mountain streams. All biological activity is open-ended in this way to some degree. We don’t know all of the ways and certainly can’t see them, but everything alive is interdependent with everything else. 

So, how to biosphere? It’s not just something between all of the people on earth, difficult as that is. How do we consciously involve ourselves with the inter-relatedness of all life? These aren’t useless questions. In a relatively short time our species has increased in numbers and impact to the point that we can cause serious alterations of the biosphere such as global climate change. We need to know how to share the earth so that we don’t destroy the foundation of our species in other life forms and natural systems. 

Coastal Ecuador could help establish a valuable path toward planethood. Rather than seek heavy industrialization, it could pioneer sustainability through green cities, enlightened agriculture, and restoration along with preservation of natural areas.

This area is particularly suited for a foundational biospheric role. Features that are intentionally built into a greenhouse in other places are found naturally. A daily mid-heaven arc of the sun that doesn’t vary for more than a few degrees all year. Abundant water during the rainy season. High humidity. No frost; sixty degrees Fahrenheit would be considered extremely cold. Storms are generally mild. 

Wild fruits such as hobo and pechiche abound and are consumed by nearly everyone to some degree. Papayas, plaintain, limes, and many other staples require no more attention than occasional water. There is an astounding range of other crops that need a little more care, ranging from potatoes to rice and cabbages to passion fruit. 

It is a primarily agricultural society now, and this is a desirable and practical direction for the future. The greatest ecological benefits would be realized through a large scale shift toward organic food production that is sustainable in terms of soil and water. As world food standards move away from pesticides and artificial fertilizer, this would also be the most profitable route. 

Another major direction is in restoring and maintaining unique biodiversity. The coast is mainly in a part-wild condition although there are still intact wilderness places. For these singular species to survive, they require reforestation, re-introduction of both plants and animals, and greatly increased protection of habitats including the shore and ocean. Future economic benefits will come not so much in exploitation of resources but in generating information about them. Natural sciences research centers in every bioregion, of course, but also a multitude of unique education facilities, and visitor sites expanded to include working restoration projects. 

Cities still have manageable populations in terms of sustainability. Bahia de Caraquez (like Cotacachi in the mountains) can show the way toward making model ecological urban areas. 

With the whole biosphere critically requiring a respite from devastation, coastal Eco-Ecuador will benefit everyone.

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