Monday, February 6, 2012

Reading Environment, Power, and Society

I've been reading Howard Odum's Environment Power and Society. I don't read technical stuff well. Odum says that it's a work for popular consumption. I see how it could be more difficult, but a lot of new concepts come at you on each page.

Odum's goal for the book is to communicate a "macroscopic" -- as opposed to reductionist -- view of the world. He discusses the flows of power in ecosystems -- of which human economy is an example -- and suggests that human survival depends upon understanding the energetics of systems. He writes, "Since decisions on such matters in the arena of public affairs are ultimately made according to the beliefs of the citizens, it is the citizens who must somehow include the energetics of systems in their education."

I'll bite. I'm happy to be able to run my eyes over Odum's discussions of the power flows in various ecosystems. I'm grateful to him for providing a vocabulary of symbols used in network diagrams, such as the one above, which illustrates the flows of carbon in a microcosm. P=gross photosynthesis. R=respiration. Hexagons are self reproducing systems, either organisms or populations. The bulge on the left indicates plants as labeled. The things with roof are supposed to look like tanks, and stand for storage.

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