Globalising a planet: tourists bring invasive species to Antarctica

Okay. That does it. An editorial break.

Forget about carbon emissions and climate change. Forget about that Holocene Mass Extinction as an autistic way of looking forward at our own history. It’s not really about that. It’s something else. It’s us. As we’ve evolved from monkeys to hunters and farmers we evolved to people who write and who read stories about human evolution on somewhat obscure science websites [hello our dear visitor, have we ever told you how much we appreciate your company?]. We will not always be human. We will be something else. It doesn’t look pretty. But like all evolution it is unstoppable. It is called globalisation – and our new special series looks at how step by step this spreading new life form will conquer the entire planet.

Antarctica invasive species globalisation
List of invasive plant species brought to Antarctica from other cold climates, like the Arctic and sub-Antarctic regions – so with a decent chance of spreading. (Chown et al in PNAS.) Click image for full table.

The holistic view on globalisation

Globalisation is almost always considered in a social context. And even in that all too narrow definition its enormous influence is generally overlooked.

If you remove all virtues of modernity [of which perhaps there are even more?] and consider globalisation merely as the residue it is in fact what is at the very core of all of our world’s sustainability problems – and it is fed by the collective human incompetence to value balance.

‘Poverty’ and overpopulation

Because of increased geographical reach of humans and their communication everything is increasingly becoming influenced by everything.

This has damaging consequences. When you compare advantages of one system – for instance political, or economical – to the other, only then you realise something instead of simply being the norm could suddenly be inferior (like material poverty) to something else (like enjoying mobile access to this website on a smartphone) – and therefore you would want to transition, which creates cascading effects and accelerating disruption.

In Africa people used to just live – and indeed die. The global perspective has however become that the natural balance between life and death is unacceptable*. The 21st century African population trend is therefore (through indirect means) the direct result of globalisation – in another way in which that word is never used.

[*) If globalisation really has to be, can’t we learn to cherish and celebrate balance and end all suffering by simply all becoming Tibetan Buddhist monks? Oh no. Another system ate that culture too. Do you think that’s ironic? Wait a couple of decades. It will even eat irony.]

Salafist monoculture

It could also work the opposite way – especially when large ethno-religious groups come into play: societies instead of transitioning bracing themselves, adopting a hostile approach, preemptively striking to kill without moral remorse and meanwhile permanently deleting all age-old internal heterogeneity as that could weaken the ranks.

Indeed jihadism, another direct product of globalisation.

Can you say ‘cultural relativism’ in your grandma’s local dialect?

Thanks to globalisation on average diversity is lost. Say that of culture and many will deny this is taking place. Instead, the politically correct version is that we are all being enriched. Simply point to the decline of minority languages* and you have proof this is in fact incorrect. Soup and stew are the least delicate of meals.

[*) Let alone any other language I for one can’t even speak English. This is all Google Translate. It somehow sort of gets what I mean. It somehow knows it all.]

With all the above we mean to say we’ve just read a very silly story about tourists (and scientists*) on Antarctica. Yes. That was in PNAS. Go give it a read. Indeed, there too. Invasive plant species – can you imagine. Can you imagine playing golf at your favourite Antarctic lawn.

It’s not that fast. The research group led by the South African Stellenbosch University estimates each year the continent’s visitors carry about 71,000 plant seeds to Antarctica, many of which come from other cold climates, like the sub-Antarctic, the Arctic, or alpine climates.

Seen these penguin films? Some of the slopes are actually ice free. Now all these seeds will need is just a bit of warming…

[*) Tourists are by far the larger group. Together with tourist support personnel last year there were 223,095 leisure visits to Antarctica. For the purpose of carrying out scientific research a total of 7,085 men and women with beards landed on the continent.]

We mean well. We really do

We hope we broke a lance for the emancipation of globalisation. We feel the term needs to be placed in a much, much broader definition. Because in the end only a tiny part of this story is about us, and so much more is about all the other riches of this planet.

Our planet's true riches

This will cheer you up...

Instead of a brand name for a certain type of activist [I do personally like the black dress code btw] the word globalisation should be acknowledged for what it actually stands for.

With that properly defined word we can build a powerful tool to actually solve the sustainability crisis. It will all be about creating closed cycles of production [I really hate to admit this, but that indeed means getting the Cradle to Cradle concept running] and then ever-further downscaling these. If the future’s renewable energy sources would be decentralised, that would be a major first step.

So much for Bits of Editorial. After this we’ll once again stick to simply presenting the latest science news. It’s a promise.

© Rolf Schuttenhelm |

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