Ecological Engineering – We Can Reshape This World!
Human have always shown remarkable skill, innovation and ingenuity when faced by environmental hurdles. Instead of competing with or opposing the environment, they cooperate with it by resorting to ‘ecological engineering’, Ecos, co-evolution and the ecological paradigm. This article briefly discusses these key issues that can reshape this world.
The term “ecological engineering”, was first coined by Howard T. Odum in 1962. He is now Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida, where his work in systems ecology has flourished.
Ecological engineering, he wrote, is “those cases where the energy supplied by man is small relative to the natural sources but sufficient to produce large effects in the resulting patterns and processes”. (H.T. Odum, 1962, “Man and Ecosystem” Proceedings, Lockwood conference on the Suburban Forest and Ecology. Bulletin Connecticut Agric. Station)
Another definition that relates to ecosystem management by human society (Centre for Wetlands, University of Florida) is: “Ecological engineering is the design of sustainable ecosystems that integrate human society with its natural environment for the benefit of both. It involves the design, construction and management of ecosystems that have value to both humans and the environment. Ecological engineering combines basic and applied science from engineering, ecology, economics and natural sciences for the restoration and construction of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. The field is increasing in breadth and depth as more opportunities to design and use ecosystems as interfaces between technology and environment are explored.”
Another definition seeks to use the ecological paradigm to construct ecologies to solve vexatious global problems, such as pollution.
It is predicated on the belief that the self-organising order found in the stable ecosystems is so universal that it can be applied as an engineering discipline to solve the pressing problems of global pollution, food production and efficient resource-utilisation, while providing a high quality of life for all human society. (David Del Porto)
In this definition, the ecological paradigm reveals how to safely utilise the polluting components of unwanted residuals, or “wastes”, to ultimately grow green plants that have value to human society, but not at the expense of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Planning, design and construction with the ecological paradigm as a template is the work of ecological engineers.
In 1973, David Del Porto coined a new word — “Ecos” — to represent the first principle of the emergence of a closed-loop ordered system from the chaos of seemingly random events on the planet. Del Porto took the “ec” from ecosystems and added the suffix “os”, the Greek suffix for universal principles such as logos, eros, gnomos, etc. It seemed an apt name for the types of sustainable systems we want.
“Oikos”, the Greek word for house or home, is the root, “eco”, of both ecology and economics. The oiko-nomia of the house was based on a system of interdependent, highly individualistic living organisms, interacting with non-living elements, organised in a circuit so that the nourishment of each organism was derived from the outputs or by-products of other organisms or non-living systems.
The emergence of an ordered system founded on interdependence is the spontaneous result of each organism wanting to optimise its fitness to exploit (in the positive sense of the word) the nourishing resources in its environment. In natural ecosystems there is no waste, because excrement and by-products are immediately consumed as food by other players in the ecological show! A successful relationship of this sort is the basis of stable ecosystems.
Closer study will reveal a third element: information. It is information that is passed on from one organism to another in genetic memories by reproduction, assimilation and communication. It is the information component of the system that allows the organisation of the system to be developed, maintained and passed on to future generations in the form best able to ensure the survival of the collective elements.
As these living organisms live, reproduce, consume nourishment and eventually die to return their energy, matter and information to the system, they modify their environment to better use the opportunities it offers. This has been referred to as “co-evaluation,” and it ensures the optimum environment of the survival of the ecosystem.
The ecological paradigm reveals how to safely utilise the polluting components of unwanted residuals, or “wastes”, to ultimately grow plants that have economic value. Planning, engineering and design with the ecological paradigm as our template are the work of sustainable strategies.