We all know that 1+2=3. Basic arithmetic. We have Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical principles of Natural Philosophy) as our primer on math, but where is the primer on ecology? Look up ecologica on the web and you’ll find everything from skin-care products to wines to images of green-think. And you’ll find a book by Andre’ Gorz. It’s a good read, but for now, we need something that engineers can wrap their thinking around, so here it is: A Quick Primer on Ecologics.
The first concept is that ecologics is not that hard. Here’s a simple example: LawnMower + Meadow = Lawn. We can apply the usual tricks of equation manipulation to fully understand our example: Meadow = Lawn – LawnMower. Of course, nothing is as simple as we’d like, and some can’t-sit-still engineer will sooner or later try this: LawnMower = Lawn – Meadow, and will spend a lot of time running around in fields looking for free lawn-care equipment.
Let’s take our example to the next level and incorporate Energy and Time: E x (LawnMower) + T x (Meadow) = Lawn. In this equation, the value of the LawnMower is conditioned by Energy (either electric, fossil fuel, or good-ol’ fashioned glycogen) and the value of Meadow is conditioned by Time, i.e., if we apply zero energy to the LawnMower, then the Lawn eventually becomes a Meadow. Or, if we rearrange our equation to place the LawnMower on the right side, we see that taking away the LawnMower from the Lawn does not instantaneously result in a Meadow, we need to wait a while. But as we cogitate on our ecologics principle, we find it gets even more complicated.
To fully explore the Lawn-LawnMower-Meadow relation, we need to expand our system boundary to include the previously excluded biological transients. Now things get really colourful: E(LawnMower) + T(Meadow) – Critters = Lawn. This makes perfect sense if you watch a meadow and then watch a Lawn. The Meadow and Critters are generally inseparable, and actually, Critters is not really a single entity, it is a dynamic set, including Pollinators, Decomposers, Predators, Prey, and so on.
Obviously, our simple equation has expanded beyond the elementary level, which is one of the key learning goals of ecologics; nothing is as simple as it appears, and everything is connected. To truly understand our example, we need to be like our lost-in-the-fields can’t-sit-still engineer, use our Time to wander around the Meadow (without the LawnMower), and ponder the meaning of our relationship with the local world around us. And no, this isn’t just a an excuse to avoid cutting the grass. It’s ecologics: math and science at their best! Who can argue when you say you are following in Newton’s footsteps?