Recycling

On this blog (FFF), Bare Bones posting day rolls around twice a week like clockwork, but our Bare Bones Ecology Book requires thinking between posting days, which can be a bit of a problem. Thinking is not as reliable as time, and I don’t have a detailed materials cycle for you today, so let’s begin with a bit of background for chapter 02.

As we have emphasized, the ecosystem (and all other living things) require for their survival:

1. the flow of energy through the “body,” as the energy is converted from sunlight to food to heat in the process of doing work;

2. the cycling of materials that, unlike energy, can be used over and over again;

3. the flow of information over time to maintain and reproduce the flexibility, resilience and stability of the interacting functions that are necessary to do the work of processing energy and recycling materials.

That was in the introduction to chapter 01. We will publish the introduction and chapter 01 when we receive feedback from one more editor, and the ISBN number. But don’t wait for the book, the pdf can be downloaded from the link at the right.

Meantime, the main points of chapter 01 are:

1. Life can be defined by its ability to maintain itself and reproduce itself;

2. The earth ecosystem is a unit of life, and like all units of life it requires organic energy for its survival (to maintain and reproduce itself). All organisms require organic energy for food. Only the green ones can convert light energy to organic energy. Therefore it is the green organisms that limit the amount of energy that is available to keep the earth ecosystem alive.

3. The earth requires, for its survival, a balanced relationship between the energy that it uses to stay alive and the energy that is available. The ecosystem also requires a balanced relationship between the molecules that contain the organic energy (food and other resources) and the waste products of metabolizing the food (carbon dioxide and water and some other minerals and molecules). In addition, energy-out must balance energy-in (or vice versa) for the earth ecosystem to maintain itself over long periods of time. All the food and minerals and organic molecules and other resources must stay in balance. In other words, for life to maintain itself and reproduce itself, it must maintain a balance among all the activities that keep it alive.

4. We are living organisms. Therefore our economy is component of the earth ecosystem. Our economy is totally based on food and energy and minerals and organic molecules. Therefore, the economy must also be maintained in balance for the ecosystem to survive. Because of our technologies, that are part of the economy, we have the theoretical ability to fatally unbalance the ecosystem. Ecological balance is sustainable; Ponzi economics will either run out of resources or create too many waste products for all the interacting systems of the earth ecosystem to maintain in balance.

5. The ecosystem maintains its balance by all the interacting processes of all the levels of its organization. In other words, the ecosystem requires all the diverse species of organisms to do the work of balancing the energy, balancing the resources, and responding to the imbalance created by anything. The resilient balance of all its parts and processes is what makes the ecosystem sustainable.

Chapter 02 of Bare Bones Ecology will be about the cycling of materials. Mostly chapter two is a rather nit-picky collection of : carbon cycle, water cycle, nitrogen cycle; phosphorus cycle, and a bunch of other cycles, and a description of how each of them actually works. I don’t know about you, but I find this rather boring, and it’s easy enough to find descriptions of the cycles on line or in any ecology book. For me, the interesting part is the bottom line of how life works, and we already mentioned that life works by staying in balance. The interacting processes of all the organisms of all the levels help to cycle and recycle the materials (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.) that are required to maintain life. The water cycle, for example, is the product of living processes. It is not just something that automatically happens between the air and the rivers and oceans, but is intimately directed by the living ecosystem itself. We will talk about a few materials cycles over the next couple of weeks.

After that, we will tackle the information flow. In chapter 03. That will be fun. Genetics, cell biology, evolution.

What’s That Got to do with People?

It is important to understand the energy relationships of the ecosystem for two reasons:

1. We are part of the ecosystem and we can not survive without it, but really our individual comfort and satisfaction are not as important as the welfare of our communities. They can’t survive either.

2. Maybe it is even more important that we realize the relationship between MONEY and ENERGY. That would be, of course, an idea of how the economy relates to the ecology. When I consider the following sequence of factual statements, I end with the conclusion that we need to do a lot more thinking on this subject before we continue to try to cure a problem by doing more and more of what caused it in the first place. What’s your conclusion?

a. Whenever we use energy to do work, the energy changes from a higher form to a lower form. Because there is no such thing as 100% efficiency, some of the energy is lost, commonly as heat, a waste product or byproduct that is released into the environment.

b. Most of our energy for doing the work of staying alive and also the work of maintaining our communities (road work, driving around town, making things for us to buy) most of this comes from burning organic molecules. What happens when we burn organic molecules? A big molecule changes into a bunch of small molecules and the chemical energy (that I referred to above as organic energy) bonds that were keeping them together is released. So, an organic molecule is burned, some of the energy is used to do work, while heat and water and carbon dioxide are the byproducts. This happens in our bodies (as metabolism, see below) and it happens in our communities.

c. Our usable energy is a resource that comes from the earth. As stated before, the SOURCE of organic energy is plants, because plants make organic molecules (proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids and a few other things). Plants are the only source of energy for most of the life processes of our bodies and our communities. Oil, coal, gas were generated by plants and animals that were fossilized during the carboniferous age. We will not get more from that source than whatever is already in the earth.

d. There are also other resources that come from the earth that will be discussed in a later section.

e. Money is nothing more than green paper unless it has a relationship with resources. Money has no value. The vale of money lies in its relationship with resources.

Money of value is related to resources; resources come from the earth. That is why Ponzi schemes always eventually crash.

If we want to reach a sustainable relationship with the earth, we must look to our money and consider what we do with it. Only balance is sustainable, in goods, molecules, resources of any kind, and money. Growth is not sustainable, and as the resources become exceeded – growth is impossible.