Charles Lyell made credible (to a worried world elite eager to hear it) the notion that Reality in the past (and in the future) was more or less like it was for the well-to-do in the 1850s : an oasis of stability with any change so gradual it was pretty well invisible over the average lifetime.
Supposedly, Lyell was only speaking about geological processes.
Supposedly Lyell was denying the possibility that at times in the past world (or in a future world) Life could be totally disrupted by sudden massive volcanic outflows or huge meteorites crashing in from out of space.
Instead Lyell insisted that the Earth's crust was being uplifted or eroded at the same leisurely pace as one saw happen in (earthquake & volcano free) northwestern Europe or northeastern America.
But in practise Lyell's notion (stability as the norm in Nature and change both abnormal and gradual) once out of the bottle was taken up eagerly by many, many powerful people deathly afraid of any sort of change that might hurt their wealth and influence, particularly if it came from (and with) outsiders.
So Lyell's idea was eagerly taken up by worried evolutionists like Darwin, worried sociologists like Herbert Spencer, worried nationalists like Hitler, worried eugenicists like Charles Davenport, worried bacteriologists like Koch.
frederic clements TRUMPS common sense
And by worried ecologists like Frederic Clements, the Donald Trump like godfather of present day ecology, conservation and invasion biology.
The natural life living on the surface of the Earth was not a continuum along one long large international breezeway, pronounced Clements, and species could not flow backward and forward freely around the world, carried by wind, water and flotsam in a willy nilly fashion and adapting to new vistas surprisingly easily.
Instead , Clements proclaimed, Nature had always been arranged in a series of tight little quasi-nations (just as humans had recently done) called ecosystems.
Just as nations were then seen as organized into stable, eternal supra-organisms around a shared 'blood and soil', so too the ecosystems.
They were made up of tightly integrated species, just like a finely tuned engine --- take one native species out or introduce one alien species in and the whole thing would collapse.
It was sort of like South East Asia circa 1960, just let the aliens take out South Vietnam and the whole free world domino set would come crashing down.
Now in all this, for conservationists and ecologists like Clements, their fiercest enemies were not really alien plant and animal species or even all those horny dark natives daring to continue to live on their self-declared 'virgin' lands.
No, it was the archaeologists !!!
Archaeologists versus Conservationists
For when the ecologists wandered deep in the jungles of the Congo or Amazon, they saw only the eternal presence of rain forests, ecological oasis of calm and stability, currently being destroyed on their edges by ignorant natives allied to greedy European capitalists.
But deep in those same rain forests, the archaeologists dared to look down at the ground, even into the ground, not merely glancing upwards to enjoy the awesome jungle canopy as did the ecologists and conservationists.
There they found physical evidence of human-made ruins of such massive size and range as to suggest millions had just a few hundred years before lived in those rain forests after clearing much of them to farm and to smelt iron etc.
Why could they see this while the ecologists and conservationists only saw virgin forests ?
The archaeologists claimed the ruins were perhaps 400 years old, a mere instant in the history of human societies as they understood it.
For their scientific discipline saw human life as a dynamic process, always waxing and waning, as having a history.
But that same 400 years was a virtual eternity to the ecologists, who like Lyell, as a scientific discipline lived in the 'Eternal Present'.
For in terms of fast growing jungle trees, 400 hundred years was forever.
They quickly sprang up in the rain forest fields and cities the instant they were abandoned, after European-brought diseases wiped out much of the native populations of the New World and Africa, beginning in the 1500s.
What the ecologists saw as eternally native and pristine was not and even worse, at least for their purist point of view, were also probably filled with a different set of species than had existed there before humans began cutting down most of the trees a thousand years earlier.
consider my not-so-native Nova Scotia
Here in Nova Scotia, few realize that their beloved 'native' earthworms are not actually native but arrived in the 1500s, probably in European earth used as ship ballast.
Wheat, while arriving at the same time as the earthworms and well known as not to be 'native', are also never seen as 'alien'. While other plants, also arriving the same time as wheat and worms are still regarded as 'alien'.
What gives ??!
We need to avoid getting swept up in the ecologists' money cum moral 'panics' and remember that definitions like 'native' and 'alien', are not in anyway scientific absolutes but rather mere rhetorical terms.
And popular science, the science that seeks to influence the public in order to gain more money and power (and that includes about 99.99999999% of all science doesn't it?) is all about rhetoric.
For example, our much beloved earthworms actually did displace a few 'native' forest floor microorganisms, fungus and the like, but since no humans complained, the newcomer worms weren't seen as aliens and hence not seen as ipso facto 'bad'.
But even these fungus were only 'relatively recent' native species, ones that had to have arrived in the mere few thousands of years since the last ice age covered all of Nova Scotia and removed all life - including all the fungus and all earthworms.
So just as in human life, in Nature too, everything is relative with yesterday's alien as today's native.
Too bad the ecologists and conservationists refuse to admit the analogy.
Only by taking up Lyell's claims of near permanent stability (uniformitarianism), could Hitler or Clements credibly claim that invading aliens must be destroyed root and branch, less they quickly breed and replace all the natives.
The Nazis' continuing efforts, even as their empire collapsed, to kill all of the handful Jews in this or that remote island corner of Europe and to kill all of them - even babies - without exception has many many parallels, even to this day, in the brutally savage world of ecology and conservation.
As always, please read Fred Pearce's "THE NEW WILD" for plenty of examples of cash-strapped governments spending millions to track down and kill an entire species, babies and all, on tiny remote rock islands.
Ecological einsatzgruppens run by people who consider themselves nice decent people just doing their brutal but necessary job.
I believe them when they say that - as when many Nazis said the exact same during their role in the Holocaust.
Deadly earnest, terribly decent - but deadly and terribly wrong...