Thursday, August 5, 2010 - 3:50 PM

SYMP 19-7: Environmental optimism and realism in the 21st century

Richard J. Hobbs, University of Western Australia


Ecologists are acutely aware of the current state of the planet and its ecosystems, and the prevailing trends of rapid ecosystem change.  Environmental thinking at the start of the 21st century often reads like a catalogue of gloom and doom, with predictions of species loss, ecosystem collapse, runaway climate change and the like. Often this leaves people despairing that the problems are too vast and intractable to do anything about.  It appears that constant bad news essentially turns people off from both action and hope.  However, there is another way to view our current situation, in which the many positive steps that can and are being taken to manage and repair our environment can be celebrated and encouraged. The field of ecological restoration and the allied science of restoration ecology is undergoing a phase-shift in scope and level of activity. Ranging from restoration of local patches  through to attempts to restore and revitalise entire regions, these efforts can add up to a large counter-current working against the negative influences we’ve all come to expect.


Many challenges remain to be dealt with, including changing climates, altered species assemblages and many other issues. I focus on the increasing predominance of novel ecosystems as a nexus where current conservation and restoration norms need to morph to deal with new situations which demand new mindsets and approaches.  There is increasing recognition that effective management and conservation of ecosystems in the future is likely to need cleverer and more purposeful interventions. Does all this sum to the potential for an optimistic view of the future tempered by a dose of realism concerning the challenges to be faced?