Where the Wild Things Are Not
By Brenda Cooper
In the Western creation story, the first man and woman are given a task: to care for a garden and the beasts and animals within it. By 2100, mankind will be living in a garden the size of the world. Species will live or die by our hand and our choices, and, ultimately, so will we.
Some people might claim that we are already there. I disagree. There are many wild places today, but climate change and population growth are claiming them, changing them, and in some cases erasing them. With work, better use of information technology in the form of sensing, tracking, and artificial intelligence can help us create a sustainable path to a world full of garden.
One of the programs that my city is most proud of is called Green Kirkland, where people show up in droves to weed the parks, pulling invasive species and planting natives. Staff and volunteers manage the watersheds and the salmon habitat. We clean the stormwater.
On a bigger scale, dam releases are being used to manage the amount of silt in the Colorado River to protect the humpback chub.
Reprehensible industrial-level habitat destruction and laudable habitat restoration projects can be found from China to Australia to Canada.
By 2100, most of the developed world will be managed. We will know how many large mammals live in almost every open space. It is likely that tiny sensors will report out on moths and moss and microclimates, and then initiate or suggest action to humans caring for the complex dependencies of species.
As the twenty-second century begins, our 88-year-old may work as a caretaker for natural habitat. Perhaps she learned eco-care skills in the community-service portion of her education when she was 16 (in 2028), and continued to leverage these skills for low-paying temporary jobs that supported a year of travel through Asia or Australia. Maybe she returned to this work for summers until she had children, and then again in the first few years of retirement, and now she has become a senior volunteer in the community park.
In 2100, 88-year-olds may not have seen an unexpected waterfall or wolf for some time. They have hunted for birds they knew were in a specific managed ecosystem and competed to get the best pictures. They have helped release once-extinct species into newly prepared habitats. They can count on one hand the number of times they have been completely alone, unable to even see another human being.
While most people in 2100 may not have unexpected encounters with wildness daily or even often, the highly paid professionals working on ecosystem preservation could be plagued with such surprises. As humans try to tend a complex biosphere, unintended consequences will abound.
Even in 2100, humans are unlikely to be as capable as nature is when it comes to managing evolution. They will depend heavily on artificial intelligences to help, but the process still requires human intervention. Natural evolution will compete with human-induced evolution. All urban ecosystems will be managed, and most rural ones will at least be monitored.
One of the ethical discussions of the day will be about how to choose between the wild and the made, how to best tend the garden called Earth.About the author:
Brenda Cooper is the author of several science-fiction novels. Her next release is The Creative Fire (Pyr, November 2012). She is also the CIO of the city of Kirkland, Washington. Web site www.brenda-cooper.com.
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