Practical Permaculture – Tripping Out on Ecology


Ecology is the scientific study of the relationships that living organisms have with each other and with their environment. People, animals, trees and plants are all examples of systems, or regularly interacting group of things. Groups that interact together in an ecological system are called eco-systems, examples include forests, fields, swamps and deserts.

A common misunderstanding or misbelief is that we are over and above our eco-system, when if fact we are part of or equal to the system. When you think about it, we really can’t control very many aspects of the system. So much emphasis is placed on competition in the eco-system, I think people fail to realize the key to understanding a system is cooperation.

An eco-system is a transference of energy from one place to another, the total energy in a system is called “embodied energy” or “emergy”… In manufactured items, this would include all the energy involved in manufacturing, packaging and shipping. The sun is not the only energy available, the moon has a gravitational pull that shapes and moves our tides, the earths core also creates geo-thermal energy… All of these energies in essence are considered solar.

These natural systems tend to be repetitive, problems often arise when these natural rhythms are disturbed. Energy from the sun is absorbed and translated into a plant… The plant is then consumed by humans or animals… Animals crap out that plant material which is ultimately consumed again by the plants… This system then repeats creating one big energy flow…

In a young eco-system a large portion of the energy goes into growth, and a small portion goes into maintaining the system. In an older eco-system a small amount of energy goes into growth, and a large part goes into maintenance. A young system is rapidly trying to establish and develop a system, think of the edge of a forest. An older eco-system has established itself, therefore new growth is not as important as sustaining what exists.

When you get into high energy growth, you get competition. In humans, high instability leads to a higher male birth rate, when living conditions improve you will have more females… This was mapped in humans only… Not plants or animals… Though interestingly enough, all competition or all cooperation does not work either.

Permaculture systems typically require a lot of energy during initial construction, as time goes on they require less outside energy. In a functioning forest system, energy is cycled as many times as possible. Conventional modern agriculture is the exact opposite, as energy is depleted from the system it is replaced through mechanical means. Elimination of our trees and native plants will only increase the amount of mechanical work we will one day have to do…

Every eco-system goes through stages in order to build a strong food web, this food web can often take thousands of years to create… Yet we can somehow destroy the damn things in a mere few hours. We need to spend a lot less energy destroying these systems, and a whole lot more on saving and fixing the ones we have left.

If we destroy the eco-systems that we do want, they will be replaced with the ones we don’t want…

peace – chriscondello

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