It’s good news, but also a lesson why not to count on science and technology to keep up with our self-inflicted crises. To get us out of corners we paint ourselves into.

By now we all know about zebra and quagga mussels, how they got across the world to our lakes and streams, and how explosive is their proliferation when they invade. And you can’t apply poisons unless you want a dead lake.  

Now the New York Times reports (Tuesday Feb. 25, 2014–A Scientist Takes On a Silent Invader) that biologist Daniel P. Molloy is hot on the trail of a safe agent to control them. Very exciting news.

Then if you read the story you see how lengthy and tenuous was the path to this success. How much the new discoveries hinged on things we couldn’t count on. The story involves twenty years of concentrated work. And before that, it is the story of the education of this one Dr. Molloy. It goes back to 1956, when his father, a New York firefighter, died in a disastrous fire. Molloy was eight at the time. He and all the other children who lost their fathers in the fire were given scholarships to Fordham University. Now I’d say that chance at a fine education has paid off for all of us.

Wow. Would that happen today? I recall that the firefighters in our huge national tragedy in 2001 weren’t offered much but our honorifics, at least until a hue and cry went up.

Yes, there are marvelous technological developments on the drawing boards around the world, each hoping to help us with our gathering disasters: climate disruption, species extinction, and related messes.  But how slow it can be. And paraphrasing the lines delivered by Clint Eastwood, “do we feel lucky? Do we? Do we?”

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