Publication Details

Harris, G. (2012). Ecology is failing and needs to be freed from our limitations. The Conversation, (28 June),


The splendour of nature diminishes day by day despite the strenuous efforts of ecologists and all manner of scientific understandings and interventions. Biodiversity is in decline, and crucial resources become ever scarcer. Meanwhile the human population continues to rise, as do atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and long-term global temperatures. Governments, corporations, and community groups all over the world invest in conservation and restoration programmes, but to depressingly little end. Obviously far more could be spent and far more could be done, but that would be no guarantee of success - not when our very approach to ecology is fundamentally flawed and wrong-headed. As we shall explore below, our current approach to ecology projects universal assumptions about nature onto the ecosystems we study. In other words, we see what we want to see instead of what is there. We also tend to look down instead of forward - puzzling over what is in our hands instead of imagining what we want, and then doing what must be done to get there. Having an overriding focus on how to realise healthy rivers, thriving grasslands, abundant animals, and so on, can be called a translational ecology.