Today the word sustainability is used in so many circumstances that it has lost part of its original significance. Sustainability is a concept more appropriate to the economic realm than to the ecological realm (Lubchenco et al. 1991, Sayer and
A. Farina, Ecology, Cognition and Landscape, Landscape Series 11, 143
DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-3138-9_9, © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010
Campbell 2004). We intend to substitute this term with the term ethic because it is not a simple ecological balance between the resources used and the resources maintained that makes the difference. Australia could be considered a sustainable country, with few inhabitants and huge resources still available. Indeed if we regard the Australian landscape from a ethical point of view, the taking of the land from Aborigines and their relegation to badlands and the transformation of this island into a Europe-like landscape is a completely non ethic fact that will produce devastating effects in the long term (for instance mass extinction of indigenous species and the invasion of alien species).
Another example is the application of the concept of biodiversity. Every country tries officially to protect biodiversity, but is this sufficient to reduce the extirpation of species, and why do we associate biodiversity with our common future?
Is the original point wrong? We believe that humanity can stay apart from nature, but humanity was for thousands of years an important part of nature. Biodiversity is attracted, manipulated, changed, and protected by direct or indirect human intervention. When 60,000 years ago the Aborigines landed in Australia and introduced a fire regime they strongly patterned the land mosaic, causing the extinction of many species while favoring others. For the humans that recognize the species and count individuals, biodiversity exists within the domain of the description. The conservation of biodiversity is not a matter of passive protection but a matter of active processes that allow the ecosystem to maintain an organization (order) during the dissipative reactions.
Biodiversity cannot be protected, it can only be manipulated because biodiversity is the product of a process, and is not an entity per se (but see Myers et al. 2000).
Moving across a suburb of a city of an undeveloped country, often we meet a landscape that is extremely poor and degraded according to a specific conceptual metric. Moving in the prairies of the American Midwest, our spirit is solicited and we understand the beauty of this land. Again moving in the park land of Southern Australia, we appreciate the high standard of the landscape.
In effect we are observers of a mystification of reality. In the first case, the poverty is an immoral spectacle which richer nations rarely try to remediate; for the two other cases, the present landscapes are the result of a defeat of native people and a dramatic transformation of the living space. When a space is modified by external entities, the local identity of people is lost or modified as well.
Landscaping is not a simple engineeristic action as believed until now, nor is it a way to increase beauty. It represents the full understanding of the soul of a place and of the people living inside.
Planning should have a fundamental ethical protocol. But in reality this is not the approach. For instance, tourism is addressed from two different and divergent directions: the wilderness (real or imagined by loss of memory and noncultural process) and the cultural landscape (Far East, Mediterranean). Why are we attracted by these different geographical entities, and why do we try to escape the everyday landscapes? The reply is apparently simple: the everyday landscape is ugly. But again, this is not a reply. Ugly is the opposite of beautiful. For each landscape we couple an attribute that indicates its distance from beauty.
The interest of people in the landscape has increased during the last decennia and this has been largely associated with a huge amount of literature produced in the field of landscape ecology (Wu and Hobbs 2007).
The landscape has been recognized as a component of the ecological complexity and as an important agent of ecosystem services (Green et al. 2006). But the landscape as a producer of cognitive objects has not been considered explicitly by the ecosystem paradigm (Odum 1983, Golley 1993, Margalef 1997).
Over the last 80 years new ideas in ecology have pointed to the geographical properties of the landscape and this has been associated with intense literature production (e.g. Naveh and Lieberman 1984, Forman and Godron 1986, Risser et al. 1984, Turner et al. 2001). Ecotones, heterogeneity, and fragmentation where considered important topics (e.g. Wiens et al. 1985, Wiens 1992, Pickett and White 1985). In 1987 Frank Golley established the Journal "Landscape Ecology," which became one of the most authoritative publications in the field of ecological research.
The landscape becomes the agency by which animals, plants, and humans perceive and interpret the surroundings (Umwelten) and carry out vital functions through a cognitive elaboration (Allen and Bekoff 1997).
The ecosystem services, evoked to understand the role of the natural processes to maintain human life, are not limited to air, water, or food but belong to a great family of minor and cryptic services that produce the emergent result of human well-being.
The ecosystem services provided by natural processes contribute to the maintenance of human well-being either providing natural resources like water and food, or allowing the tracking of resources like sense of place, cultural heritage, and spiritual values (Hudson-Rodd 1998, Rapport et al. 1998, Ingold 2000, Wilson 2003). Lynch (1981) argues that our life demands a perceptual world necessary to support bodily functions, and aesthetics (Bourassa 1991) and sounds from nature (Schafer 1977, Truax 2001) are unanimously considered important components of the environhood and elements of active interaction with common people (Gould and White 1986).
According to our perspective we prefer to substitute the term "ecosystem services" with the term "resource tracking" shifting the paradigm into an eco-semiotic arena. The cognitive landscape is an eco-semiotic interface necessary to find resources that are cryptic, dispersed, and rare. The access to resources demands energy and meaningful information from every organism but this process exposes them to several risks like competition and predation.
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