Picture a forest. It's bursting with plant and animal life. There are towering tree-trunks overhead and tangled roots underfoot.
In the 18th century, European scientists tried to tame this natural abundance. They started clearing land to create artificial forests that could be cultivated cheaply and efficiently. They chose a single species of tree and planted the seeds in orderly rows. But the result was a disaster. The trees rapidly died, and the project had to be started again at enormous cost.1
So what went wrong? The scientists had overlooked what makes a forest resilient: its diversity. Thanks to its varied ecosystem, a wild forest contains in-built protections against disease. Lacking these natural defences, the artificial forests fell victim to parasites.
1 J.C. Scott, 'Seeing like a state: How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed', New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998
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