Learning form natural ecosystems


#1

I would like to share some observations I have discovered.

Myself, I have gratuated a commercial high school and studied afterwards forestry and wildlife ecology. Therefore I received both a strong ecological and econmical education and during my time as a student I discovered that there are quite a lot similarties in ecosystems and economical cycles, as for example

Competiton: In economics competition is a major factor for growth and better quality of goods. In nature, competition is one reason for evolution, but there also a few interesting facts that lifeforms get used to competiton. One exapmples are crocodiles, these species are very old and there were only little change in their genes for the fact that altough the have competition with other canivores, there are very well adapted to their ecosystem that there is no real big change necessary. In large flocks of zebras, bisons and other grazing animals, there is high competition for food and water, just because of the high number of individuals. However there is competition, the herde also provides safety from lions and lepards. So even there is competiton for a major ressources, there is also a form of cooperation and solidarity.

Growth: In nature is growth always restricted, as most organisms looses their abililty to grow. Concerning populations, growth is limited by ressources (food, water). There are cases that populations grow fastly for a certain time period – especially insects can do so due to their ability to produce huge numbers of offspring in very short time, but the population starts to decline as soon as one oft the majour ressources cannot any longer sustain the whole population.
It seems therfore almost naive to publish theories of unlimited growth in a limited world – when nature proves it year for year that unlimited growth is just not possible.
Another huge difference between our economic system and ecosystems is the poor distribution of resources, respectively wealth. We have now these very wired situation that the 50 richtest persons own more than 50 % of worlds population. This is really really against all nature systems rules. In ecosystem, no individual how strong it ever may be could collect these amounts of weath (ressources), and not at all when large amounts of the population starves. So humans have created this very unique system were indiviuals with such high numbers of ressources they could never consume by their own are protected by society rules whereas many humans starve. Of course, hunger is a problem that encounters many populations, but always because there is a lack of ressources in general, never because a small group of individuals take much more than what they need.

As shown above, there are very interesting similarities between ecosystems and economic cycles. Maybe it would be interesting to develop a new form of economic systems based on what we can learn from ecosytems. Just for the fact that our ruling economic system – capitalism – works on a very, very poor level.


#2

I have a rather different take on learning from nature. We are all familiar with the term and concept “bionics”. If we scale up to whole systems then we move into “econics”, which describes the study and close scrutiny of natural ecosystems to inform practices in sustainable development, in this case macro-economics. For more info on econics see www.centreforeconics.org . The principles of econics are rooted in two fields of theoretical science - complex systems theory and ecosystem thermodynamics. The emphasis is rather less on conventional paradigms of ecology (competition, etc), and more to do with ecosystem dynamics and ‘eco-physics’ (if there is such a term). Considerations of system structure and processes are central to the analysis. For instance, networks, information and (bio)mass. These three ecosystem growth factors represent the integrity, complexity and resilience of an(eco)system. One of the principle drivers is thermodynamics. It sets the limits of growth and development, it also is something of a determinant in the longevity and survival of an (eco)system. How does an ecosystem delay entropy; what form does ecoexergy take in an ecosystem; what provides an ecosystem with its resilience; how does an ecosystem adapt to change; how flexible is it; how resistant to uncertainty and perturbations; what constitutes a regime shift or change; what prevents ultimate collapse; what are the key ecological attributes that provide stability, novelty, feedback processes and emergent properties; what is the optimal thermodynamic mass of an ecosystem; how is this changed by human interference???; so forth. Econics attempts to interpret as best as it can natural ecosystem function, and to then translate this understanding into principles that can then be applied to either cultural landscapes or more abstract anthropogenic systems such as complex socio-political or socio-economic systems. So, yes, degrowth economics would be part of the doughnut economics debate if the term is used to describe thermodynamically-driven and ecosystemically-constrained dynamics. Current global models for economics, as all of us here accept, is deeply entropy-driven. There is only one way it can go…and it can/is taking the planet with it. It defies all self-regulating, self-referential principles of a sustainable ecosystem, it is NOT econical!!