MM 2001: Environment - People

December 21, 2000

Macroecology champion puts bits of habitat into big picture

Kevin Gaston
, Royal Society university research fellow at Sheffield University, is helping change the way science thinks about biodiversity by fitting little chunks of habitat into an overall picture.

While most ecological studies have tended to unravel the complex interactions of a particular ecosystem in one small location, Gaston points to the influence of processes operating on far larger scales.

Known as macroecology, this integrated approach stretches the range of the ecologist from the physiology of an individual organism up to the global scale and reveals a natural world dominated by vast overlapping patterns of species distribution.

Gaston advises taking a step back and looking at where you fit into the broader picture. Altitude or latitude may determine which species thrive. Such detail can get lost in the minutiae.

Gaston's view, espoused in a series of influential books and scientific papers, has serious implications for conservation, especially with the spectre of climate change looming large.

Site your nature reserve too far from similar habitats and some species will simply not be able to make the journey, potentially blighting their chances of finding suitable mates and keeping their gene pool healthy.

'Natural capitalism' guru on an energy-efficient drive

Watching television pictures of fuel-starved British motorists clogging the nation's arteries, Amory Lovins , founder of Hypercar Inc and co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, could be forgiven a wry smile. The guru of "natural capitalism" could hardly have envisaged a better PR stunt for one of his most inspired arguments.

The average car, Lovins says, uses just 1 per cent of the fuel energy in its tank. He argues that, as is so often the case in industrialised civilisation, it is a completely avoidable waste.

So Lovins designed the Hypercar, an aerodynamic, ultralight plastic vehicle that combines hybrid fuel cell propulsion with a host of other technological advances to squeeze several hundred miles out of a single gallon of petrol with less than a tenth of the pollution conventional cars pump out.

In Lovins's vision of the future, Hypercars travel between astoundingly energy-efficient homes and similarly green offices and factories. But unlike some visionaries he is hell- bent on seeing this dream realised.

Therefore, his message - that resources must be used more productively - is addressed to the private sector, dangling a carrot of profit grown in the fertiliser of green competition.

Back to Millennium Magazine 2001 contents

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