07 March, 2009

Basis of Human Ecology (Lesson summary)

"...principles of evolutionary biology and ecosystems analysis to the study of the human environment."
• The significance and function of ecosystems
• How humans affect them and are affected themselves.

The question posed to invoke thought was; "Why is it a rational choice for British prawns to go to China to be shelled, only to be shipped back and sold. How does the energy content of a prawn vs. the energy to catch, ship, shell, ship and sell justify this and is it sustainable?"

Everything comes back to sustainability - can we use it in the long run continuously?

A brief overview was also mentioned on the human habitat (modified, hugely artificial/man-made), the feedback this causes on the environment, the ecosystem and ourselves.
I found the quote on human ecology mentioned during the lecture summed it up appropriately (I'm fond of quotes):

‘Our prime focus is upon the interactions between human groups and their habitats, upon the processes that occur in the course of that interaction and upon the consequences. Our second focus is on what we might now do about the problems we have created’
- Ian Hughes

So, to simplify it by this quote, human ecology is;
• Interactions between humans and habitats (man-made, environment, ecosystems)
• The consequences of the interactions (Is it sustainable? Positive/negative for us?)
• The problems that arise from these interactions.

Our interactions are normally due to common, normal human behaviour. Such as driving a car, having a shower, watering the garden etc. We need to consider the ecological consequences for these normal behaviours. Is it sustainable? Can we continue this? What might we need to change?

One thing I'm getting from this course is; question everything. The most simplest thing can have a local or global result, especially when you take into consideration that it's not just you, but everyone else who is doing it as well.
I now sound like a hippy, but it is true. "No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood"

Socio-metabolic regimes: a constant balance of interactions between society and the environment, generally characterised by typical patterns of metabolic profiles (material and energy flows)

Socio-metabolic regimes affect our socio-economic growth which changes due to our ecological source preferences

The lecture ended on the note of "problematique". The word problematique was coined for human ecology as 'problems' did not hold enough weight or represent the scale the problems reach across.
Problematique relies on the high levels of mutual interdependence (many disciplines and views) and how long it often takes for the impact of a reaction to our interaction becomes visible. It relies on the act of one problem spreading across many scales. i.e. The oft mentioned "flap of a butterfly wing causes a hurrican on the other side of the world", or an oil spill locally results in a global climate change.

Summary points to remember from the lecture:
• Focus is on human beings, and so is concerned with human values and decisions and their environmental consequences
• How a situation is understood influences what is seen as “a problem”, and similarly, what actions count as “solutions”
• There is a real world that limits human behaviour – however, there are many different ways it is understood and valued.
• These are commonly disputed within the discipline
• We need to complex human-environment interactions at a holistic* level (hence, “systems approaches”).
• Discipline-based knowledge is unavoidable. However, integrating knowledge from different disciplines is necessary and a major challenge.

Holistic: Everything is interconnected. For Human Ecology it tries to include as many different views as possible. Sociological, biological, physical, economical, general etc.

1 comment:

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