Monday, May 15, 2017

Robert Heinlein on Ecology

Farmer in the Sky by Robert Heinlein
NY:  Dell Publishing, 1950

(120-121)  Ecology is the most involved subject I ever tackled.  I told George so and he said possibly politics was worse - and on second thought maybe politics was just one aspect of ecology.  The dictionary says ecology is “the science of the interrelations of living organisms and their environment.”  That doesn’t get you much does it?  It’s like defining a hurricane as a movement of air.

The trouble with ecology is that you never know where to start because everything affects everything else.  An unseasonal freeze in Texas can affect the price of breakfast in Alaska and that can affect the salmon catch and that can affect something else.  Or take the old history book case:  the English colonies took England’s young bachelors and that meant old maids at home and old maids keep cats and the cats catch field mice and the field mice destroy the bumble bee nests and bumble bees are necessary to clover and cattle eat clover and cattle furnish the roast beef of old England to feed the soldiers who protect the colonies that the bachelors emigrated to, which caused the old maids.

Not very scientific, is it?  I mean you have too many variables and you can’t put figures to them.  Gerge says that if you can’t take a measurment and write it down in figures you don’t know enough about a thing to call what you are doing with it “science” and, as for him he’ll stick to straight engineering, thank you.  But there were some clear cut things about applied ecology on Ganymede which you could get your teeth into.  Insects, for instance - on Ganymede, under no circumstances do you step on an insect.  There were no insects on Ganymede when men first landed there.  Any insects there now are there because the bionomics board planned it that way and the chief ecologist okayed the invasion.  He wants that insect to stay right where it is, doing whatever it is that insects do;  he wants it to wax and grow fat and raise lots of little insects. 

Of course a Scout doesn’t go out of his way to step on anything but black widow spiders and the like, anyhow - but it really brings it up to the top of your mind to know that stepping on an insect carries with it a stiff fine if you are caught, as well as a very pointed lecture telling you that the colony can get along very nicely without you but the insects are necessary.

Or take earthworms.  I know they are worth their weight in uranium because I was buying them before I was through.  A farmer can’t get along without earthworms.

Introducing insects to a planet isn’t as easy as it sounds.  Noah had less trouble with his animals, two by two, because when the waters went away he still had a planet that was suited to his load.  Ganymede isn’t Earth.  Take bees - we brought bees in the _Mayflower_ but we didn’t turn them loose;  they were all in the shed called “Oahu” and likely to stay there for a smart spell.  Bees need clover, or a reasonable facsimile.  Clover would grow on Ganymede but out real use for clover was to fix nitrogen in the soil and thereby refresh a worn out field.  We weren’t planting clover yet because there wasn’t any nitrogen in the air to fix - or not much.

But I am ahead of my story.