Human Ecology – Basic Concepts for Sustainable Development, by Gerry Marten
From 50 years experience in ecological research, Gerald Marten explains why we have environmental problems and what we can do about them. The explanation employs a “systems perspective” that: Shows how human society and the environment function as self-organizing, adaptive systems; Explains why the combined human-environment system that prevails today has become unsustainable; Points to what it takes for humans to create sustainable relationships with their environmental support system.
“EcoTipping Points” are levers that turn environmental decline to a course of restoration and sustainability. This simple idea pulls together many of the concepts in the book in a way that makes them understandable while pointing to what people can do to solve the problems.
Visit http://www.ecotippingpoints.org to see a hundred environmental success stories from around the world that illustrate how EcoTipping Points work.
The concepts are abstract, but they are very real. The book brings them to life with engaging stories and examples.
People impose organization on ecosystems to better meet their needs (ecosystem services). This doesn’t happen free. It requires inputs of materials, energy, and information. Major modification of ecosystems is limited by the fact that (a) we may not be able to maintain the inputs and (b) we don’t have the means to conceive functional and sustainable designs that work as well as nature.
Ecosystems are spatially hierarchical. Regional ecosystems consist of component ecosystems whose inputs and outputs all fit together if the ecosystems are formed by natural processes. Human-dominated ecosystems are sustainable only if in proper balance with natural ecosystems on which they depend for inputs and outputs.
Just as different species adapt to one another by biological evolution, social systems and ecosystems also coevolve and coadapt. Ecosystems adapt by natural processes and by changes that people impose on ecosystems to make them fit their social systems.
Traditional societies are typically well coadapted because they have a strong local connection to their environmental support system that allows them to know it well. They know where the services come from and they know the impact of their actions on the services.
Coadaptation of traditional societies includes
(a) designing their human-dominated ecosystems to mimic or fit with nature (“letting nature do the work” and recognizing natural cycles),
(b) avoiding overexploitation or damage to natural ecosystems, and
(c) making changes in a “precautionary” manner.
The way that contemporary urban society extracts economic value from natural capital can be characterized as the “Tragedy of Serial Degradation.To prevent the Tragedy of Serial Degradation, traditional societies employ renewal processes that mimic natural ecological cycles and repair ecological damage before it becomes irreversible
The future of wealthy nations is closely linked with the environmental fate of poor nations. This is not only because wealthy nations are dependent on resources from poor nations but also because global peace and security are strongly linked to the ecological health of poor nations.