Volume 17: The Significance of Scale

Published in 2010

The phrase “think globally, act locally” may have become a bumper sticker cliché, but now more than ever we grapple with questions of scale. Climate change looms as an overwhelming global threat. Despite good intentions, small actions like changing our light bulbs and biking to work might not matter in mitigating this threat. In this time of economic uncertainty, many environmental organizations are forced to scale back their efforts, even as environmental issues become greater concerns. Meanwhile, locally-focused living is gaining in popularity as more of us examine the ecological, economic, and health costs of our national food production and distribution system. As activists, educators, ecologists, and organizers, should we continue to focus our energies on local movements, or do we need national and international action to bring about necessary change?

How do we confront questions of scale in our often tumultuous relationship with the natural world? An ever-expanding list of endangered species compels us to ponder our role in the extinction of organisms that evolved over vast scales of geologic time and geographic scope. Even as we attempt to prevent these losses, we struggle to measure biological diversity at spatial and temporal scales that may not overlap with the ones that govern ecosystem processes. Innovative concepts like hierarchical patch dynamics are reshaping the way we study and perceive biological communities. The growing field of nanotechnology operates at the molecular level, providing potential improvement of – and threats to – life on a whole new scale. While the atoms themselves may move in an infinitesimal world, the changes they effect may have planetary and interplanetary repercussions. Systems thinking and cybernetics contribute notions of fractals and chaos theory that wholly transform our notions of scale.

Whole Terrain seeks personal, reflective explorations of the interplays of scale in today’s changing environmental movement.

error: Content is protected !!