Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bats laid low by...

...fungus. Mold.

I've refrained from speaking much about the environment so far, mostly because it's a topic I feel rather ignorant on. That being the case, I believe that every last environmental scientist in the world can only make the case for intellectual honesty by admitting that they don't know much more than I do on the subject.

The late novelist Michael Crichton, of Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park fame, has a brilliant speech on complexity and environmental management transcribed on his website. Since I am constrained by intellectual property rights, space on my blog, and time on my show, I will instead use White-nose Syndrome as a microcosm of my environmental philosophy.

From Dina Cappiello, writing for the Associated Press:

A mysterious fungus attacking America's bats could spread nationwide within years and represents the most serious threat to wildlife in a century, experts warned Congress Thursday.

Displaying pictures of bats speckled with the white fungus that gave the disease its name -- white-nose syndrome -- experts described to two House subcommittees Thursday the horror of discovering caves where bats had been decimated by the disease.

It's worth noting that, like many modern newspaper articles, Cappiello's screed takes forever to start naming "experts," and it's also worth noting that many such articles don't name experts at all. Ah, but I digress.

Much of the rest of the article is similarly alarming:

Merlin Tuttle, a world-renowned bat expert and president of Bat Conservation International in Austin, Texas, said that white-nose syndrome was probably the most serious threat to wildlife in the past century. He also called for more research to determine its cause and how it was being spread.

"Never in my wildest imagination had I dreamed of anything that could pose this serious a threat to America's bats," Tuttle told the panel. "This is the most alarming event in the lifetime of a person who has devoted his life to recovering these populations."
It's peculiar to think that, since we don't know where the fungus comes from or how it spreads, anything is possible. The "most alarming event" in Merlin Tuttle's lifetime may not have anything to do with human intervention at all. Worse yet, it's not beyond the pale to speculate that this could even be an unintended result of some other environmentalist intervention.

Whatever the cause, I'm sure it will shock the environmental intelligentsia to find out. I am far too humbled by nature's majesty for much of anything to shock me anymore.

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