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Prologue

The word "fuse" has many meanings, and all are appropriate here. One such meaning is a safety device that pops when the circuits are overloaded, a weak link in a system that serves as an early warning signal. Often the image of a caged canary in a mine is invoked to illustrate such a warning system. When the canary fainted from gas fumes, the miners knew it was time to flee the mine to avoid the same fate. In the context of planetary abuse, however, the canary image is inadequate. Humanity has no place to run. It is not our prerogative to flee but, rather, our duty to fix—to unplug the source of the overload and rethink the way the whole system is operating. A variety of circuitoverload fuses are described here, some prosaically underfoot and others in exotic places.

In another sense, fuses are slow-burning devices used to ignite explosions. Inadvertently, we are lighting such fuses around the planet. Some are green and literally burning, like the forests of the tropics. Others, like the pollution of our skies and waters, are tantamount to a lit fuse, because the consequences they will unleash will dramatically overshadow in both tempo and magnitude the triggering events—consequences such as an explosive deterioration in the quality of life for our grandchildren.

Finally, "to fuse" means to combine, unite, join. The oneness or unity of nature has been a theme of poets and philosophers for millennia. The unity of the laws of nature has been a theme of science since Galileo. Physicists have demonstrated that the laws of motion hold true on spaceships and distant stars as well as in earth's laboratories. Biologists have taught us that the same DNA-encoded informationprocessing system is used by the genes of bacteria, worms, roses, ravens, and human beings.

Is there such unity among the diverse places and processes that comprise our global ecosystem? In the conventional view of life on


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earth, biologically rich and special places like the Amazon Basin, the Everglades, and the Great Barrier Reef are like animals in a zoo—each in its cage to be watched and enjoyed as we stroll past. An understanding of the intradependencies, the linkages within any of those ecosystems, can be gleaned from books, nature documentaries on film, and firsthand observation. But the interdependencies, the linkages among such distant places and their relation to our everyday lives, are more difficult to observe. Thus, the conventional caged-animal view prevails.

The unity that emerges from the findings of ecology and other earth sciences today is a profound one, and it has shattered this conventional view of isolated ecosystems. It also teaches us that we are not casual zoo visitors, strolling by the splendid vistas, but rather that our lives and well-being are mutually dependent on—fused with—those of the bacteria in the soil, the shrubs in a remote tropical forest, the salamanders crawling on muddy pond bottoms.

Touch one strand, and the whole web shivers. The pages that follow offer a glimpse of the pervasiveness, the economic importance, and the lovely magic of this global fusion.


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