Will Offshore Oil Drilling Help?

In his fascinating book, "The Making of the Fittest," biologist Sean B. Carroll, professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argues that the human footprint is so large and so intrusive that our activities are now directing the evolution of the planet. Carroll cites the ocean as the most glaring evidence. The oceans were once thought to be so huge and so inaccessible that humans could never destroy them, but that, alas, has turned out not to be true.

"A perfect storm is brewing -- of overfishing, pollution, and man-made climate change -- that threatens to extinguish ecosystems beyond any chance of recovery," Carroll writes. "One need only look at habitats close to population centers for abundant evidence of the synergistic effects of these three forces."

He cites many examples. Stocks of tuna and other far-ranging fish have been reduced by about 90 percent, according to several studies. Year after year, the largest fish are taken as smaller fish slip through the nets. Humans have assumed the task of natural selection. The fishermen I know in my state of Alaska say the salmon they catch are smaller now than they used to be, and that's because the big fish have been eliminated from the gene pool.

Carroll offers this quote from a fellow biologist:

"It is as if man had been appointed managing director of the biggest business of all, the business of evolution ... whether he is conscious of what he is doing or not, he is in point of fact determining the future direction of evolution of this Earth. That is his inescapable destiny, and the sooner he realizes it and starts believing it, the better for all concerned."

That quote is from Julian Huxley, Aldous' brother, and he said it half a century ago.

So what's wrong with offshore drilling? The platforms are ugly and sometimes result in messy spills. But the larger problem is they contribute to the industrialization of the oceans and a not-so-gradual takeover of natural forces by human activities.

We could still change that. We're in the driver's seat. Aren't we?

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