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Science and the Public Trust in a Full World:
Function and Dysfunction in Science and the Biosphere

George M. Woodwell
Woods Hole Research Center, 13 Church Street, P.O. Box 296, Woods Hole, MA 02543

The ecological symptoms of unsustainability include shrinking forests, thinning soils, falling aquifers, collapsing fisheries, expanding deserts, and rising global temperatures. The economic symptoms include economic decline, falling incomes, rising unemployment, price instability and loss of investor confidence. The political and social symptoms include hunger and malnutrition, and, in extreme cases, mass starvation; environmental and economic refugees; social conflicts along ethnic, tribal, and religious lines; and riots and insurgencies. As stresses build on political systems, governments weaken, losing their capacity to govern and to provide basic services, such as police protection. At this point the nation-state disintegrates, replaced by a feudal social structure governed by local warlords as in Somalia, now a nation-state in name only.
Lester R. Brown, 1995

The Transition from Empty to Full

That grim prospect from Lester Brown summarizes lucidly the course of the current civilization in the eyes of pragmatic ecologists who deal daily with the dependence of the human undertaking on the long-sustained biotic functions of the earth. It has little to do with “biotic diversity” and much to do with the erosion of the capacity of the biotic systems of the earth to continue to support a vigorous, successful, and continuing civilization. The phenomenal technological and economic successes of the current moment mask the elementary fact of the



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