An Introduction to Ecology

Writing a book about gardening is an effort in ecology just as the gardening is an ecological process. Thus an ecological philosophy pervades both the gardening and the writing. So as an introduction to such a book, there is a need to put forth some grounding for the readers and visitors that provides a sense of the gardener’s and writer’s philosophy. It is not uncommon for writers and gardeners to link their philosophies to one religion or another—not a plan that I use. Nor do I attribute some spiritual aspect to all of this, but rather I come to it as a naturalist and scientist seeking naturalistic explanations and focuses in my endeavors. From this stance, I want to be as optimistic as possible for our future natural world–let’s hope humans elect to be part of that world.

Naturalism (Coyne’s book: Faith vs. Fact) reflects a way of thinking where nature is the central theme upon which all other ideas are reflected and interpreted. Naturalism, as I appreciate it, is compared to a variety of religions, but it is not a religion but rather a way of knowing/thinking that uses science as a method and the facts that are accepted (fail to be rejected) by science as the core evidence used to interpret things of nature. For me, all of the major realms of activity from politics to education are literally processes of the natural world.

Major points that I consider essential for employing ecological thinking toward gardening and writing include some of the following concepts, starting with defining ecology:
• Ecology is much more than the typical definition dealing with the study of the interactions of organisms with one another and with their environment.
• Ecology involves studying biology (aka evolution), chemistry, physics, history, economics, and sociology and behavior of humans.
• Thus, we first must deal with 3 themes (this essay), ecological services (next essay) and a hands-on example (the rest of the book).

Themes: Normalcy bias, Landscape amnesia and Tragedy of the commons.

These concepts are the bases for teaching conservation and preservation as ecological responsibilities in a social setting.
To discuss these, thousands of examples are available including those that we will focus upon:
• a. loss of prairies (and biodiversity)
• b. loss of milkweeds and Monarchs

• Normalcy bias reflects that it is hard to imagine a world tomorrow that is different from today’s world. Only an understanding of history of yesterday’s world and a broad sense of natural history would permit the imagining of a future world that reflects the ecological changes occurring today.
• Landscape amnesia refers to the slow and mounting changes that go unnoticed around us. The changes occur slowly at first and then faster and faster—at first not noticed but once noticed, the changes are happening so fast that we cannot rapidly figure out what is going on. In the end, habitat and species are literally lost before we can respond or even think to respond.
• Tragedy of the commons implies that something that belongs to all of us can be disproportionately used leading to chaos and loss. In the original studies, land that was used for common grazing for all could be hogged by individuals with larger numbers of animals. In the end, everyone got more animals until the habitat or resource was literally grazed or harvested until completely eliminated. The argument that the commons are provisionally governed by a series of laws and regulations, and further, that these prevent the abuse of the commons is untenable. Little research is needed to provide a litany of examples of instances, both historical and recent, where the commons, whether it is terrestrial, marine or freshwater (see Tom’s River, The Sixth Extinction, The Real Cost of Fracking, and Nature’s Fortune—recent books that clearly present examples), government (local, federal and international) completely ignore suggestions from scientists regarding the structure of these regulations and further permit the outright breaking of any laws and regulations either by not providing regulators to monitor individuals and corporations and/or by deploying ridiculously small fines and no criminal penalties to individuals and corporations. The laws/regulations simply do not work even though millions are spent to create the laws and implement them. They tend to take years to go into effect and as such are dated and ineffectual by the time they are implemented. The regulations are continually rewritten to favor the individuals/corporations that are overharvesting and polluting. Often the regulators are poorly trained or they are provided with outdated equipment—essentially they become figureheads. The regulators are governed by administrators who usually got their marching orders from the corporation that they worked for or will work for before/after their appointment to their administrative position. If I appear to have little confidence in the current system for the regulation of the commons, you have misread my commentary—I have no confidence in the system, and further, I suspect it is largely a criminal system run by corrupt officials and usually composed of nearly environmentally illiterate members.

Taken together, these 3 general aspects as to how humans process the natural world are inimical.

• In today’s world, where economics is the central theme in nearly every conversation, the science of ecology provides a general introduction to the economics of nature.
• Trillions of dollars of services are provided each year and if viewed with other factors including National debt, GDP, etc., these ecological services equal and potentially surpass them. Neither ecological fractional reserves nor paper shorts exist in ecology—these exist only in specie/money. However, I am convinced that there are some economists that are trying to figure out how to create these financial weapons of mass destruction.

Throughout the text, numerous specific ecological principles will be addressed.

Some people are becoming aware of these concepts and making bold but simple moves. This article is a great example of action and the follow-up of teaching the relevance of the action. Here is the article:

The wet garden in the Cajun Prairie Gardens in June.

.IMG_3387Hibiscus moscheutos lasiocarpos–our Cajun Prairie Crimson-eyed rose mallow.

Posted by M. F. Vidrine.


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