Is Sustainability Only for Human Benefit?
Several years ago, I posed the question at Ecosystem Gardening “Is Sustainability Only About Human Benefit?” I asked this question because advocates of bamboo as a sustainable flooring and other building materials seemed to blithely ignore the fact that bamboo is considered an invasive plant (a plant from a foreign location that is causing damage to natural ecosystems), and has degraded many natural ecosystems, making them less able to provide for the needs of wildlife.
In the comments people left at that post, and especially at the Facebook page I was basically painted as an ignorant fool for advocating for wildlife gardens. Humans are part of nature, therefore our actions are just as benign as the bird who poops out the seed of some invasive plant, allowing it to spread through another ecosystem was the essence of the argument against what I had said.
Yes, humans are part of nature. And we have repeatedly shown that we make very poor decisions that continue to cause great harm to our ecosystems, the wildlife that depend on them, and the health of our planet. We have a very poor track record in our selfish quest for more resources, more space, and more income from development. And yet we are loath to take any responsibility for the harm our actions have caused.
The good news is that we can remediate some of these negative impacts by adding more wildlife gardens and welcoming habitats for wildlife at our own properties.
Invasive Plants are Beneficial?
About a year later a piece of research was released which seemed to say that invasive plants were actually good for the environment, that birds eat the berries, so they must be good.
Many folks gleefully took this as an opportunity to try to trash the work of Doug Tallamy, the leading voice for the importance of native plants for wildlife and ecosystem health, and a huge proponent of creating more wildlife gardens.
Because people were so eager to call out his work, I invited Doug Tallamy to participate in an interview so that he could respond to these attacks and the supposition that invasive plants are good for our environment.
If we’re going to proclaim something good for nature just because birds may eat the fruits, we need to recognize the ridiculousness of this statement, which I responded to in Pizza is Great Bird Food.
The Permaculture Contradiction
And now the debate rages on, with people still unwilling to take any responsibility at all for the damage our actions can cause. Sue Reed sums it up this way:
I agree that humans might reasonably be called an “invasive species.” However, we at least, unlike all the others, have a brain and ought to use to it to minimize the harm we cause. If possible. And I know it’s incredibly difficult. Sadly, many of us seem to believe that we should use our brains to come up with clever rationalizations for causing more harm while doing whatever we want.
Who would have imagined that reflecting on her experience at 3 garden shows earlier this year would put our team member Sue Reed in the middle of a huge controversy about invasive plants? When Sue expressed her concern about permaculture folks recommending invasive Hardy Kiwi (which have spread out of control and are destroying some natural habitats in some areas of the country), she was met with a firestorm of criticism.
Two graduates of the Conway School of Landscape Design, Katharine Gehron and Jenna Webster, wrote a very thoughtful response to this criticism for the Ecological Landscaping Association, which published it only in a private LinkedIn Group, so it would not be widely seen. Sue asked me if we could reprint this reply so that more people would be able to participate in this discussion and share their thoughts. And I readily agreed, as this is a very important conversation to have.
This post, too, was met with a large amount of criticism from some in the permaculture community, prompting Sue to write another post where she posed the question “Why is human benefit the only issue that seems to matter to permaculturalists?” Why aren’t we also promoting healthy ecosystems that support wildlife?
Reading the comments of each of these posts is very educational, and I recommend you do so now. We’d love to hear what you think about this discussion, so please leave a comment there while you’re reading.
Some of the criticism centered around Doug Tallamy’s research stemming from his book Bringing Nature Home, and people were very critical of Tallamy, proclaiming he had not paid attention to “current research” that aims to say that invasive plants are actually good for the environment. So our team member Beatriz Moisset has done a wonderful review of Tallamy’s and other research about the negative impact of invasive plants to our ecosystems and wildlife.
Please jump into these conversations and let us know what you think!
Also, if you haven’t yet read Doug Tallamy’s Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, we highly recommend that you do now. Tallamy has presented a wonderful treatise about how we can best help wildlife in our gardens. You’ll be amazed at how he brings everything together and shows how our actions in our gardens are connected to the health of our ecosystems.
Taking Responsibility for Human Actions
There is a way to balance human needs for food, shelter, and income with a goal to protect wildlife and our natural ecosystems. Humans are but one species living on this planet, but humans continue to destroy habitat and healthy ecosystem function.
And now it is time to take the gardener’s Hippocratic Oath
First Do No Harm!
If we can destroy wildlife habitat, we can also create it in our own gardens. We can learn to make healthier decisions that benefit not only wildlife, but our own health as well. We can learn to give something back instead of taking/destroying everything in our path. I remain hopeful that each of us will begin to do Just One Thing to Help Wildlife by creating more wildlife gardens. If each of us did just one thing, the cumulative impact would be phenomenal! So let’s get to work
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
© 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. If you are reading this at another site, please report that to us