Ecology and derivate terms are pretty spread in the common language of environmentalists, and seems like what is being taken from this scientific field are some cherry-picked answers to some cherry-picked questions.
Ecology in and by itself is not really considered, it rather provides the rhetorical foundation to build the discourse on, that being biodynamic agriculture, permaculture, eco-building, eco-travelling, eco-whateverthefuck.
What is left behind is, probably, the most insightful parts of ecology: the knowledge gained in a century and more of study, sure thing, but also the constant uncertainty of the conclusions, the analytical and mathematical models, the humbleness you should have when dealing with such a complex system while only some sets of selected data to understand it, and the feeling of awe that comes from the careful observation a magnificent, intricate, colorful reality
The aweness is better than the oneness
What I'm saying here is: ecology has some answers, but the best contribution it can give are the questions, and the way it answers them.
That's what's called a statistic dependency.
It can't be a coincidence, can it?
Before diving head in in a new agricultural method, get some data. Before starting teaching it and spreding it, please get a ton of it. I already wrote about how the dynamic accumulator are still considered a thing in organic agriculture, without any kind of basis whatsoever. Or how the edge effect, really, should not be a key component of an intensive agriculture. It is true that there is a higher biodiversity at the interface between two patches, but that goes with some cost: more predators, only species that are specialized for that edge will thrive, and you'll at the same time kill all the species that do better in inside areas. Habitat fragmentation is a big issue.
Before being sure that is a good idea to bury a cow horn to align with some biodynamic thingy thing, test it and test it again. Does not work? Drop it.
Trying to bend the data to fit what you want to be true is not a difficult task, statystics has a lot of tools for it. And you may be tempted to use them all, because you are just an ape, and nature is not just so complex, but also very very unpredictable.
Removing predators to protect the preys may dramatically reduce the biodiversity of the ecosystem, like Paine brilliantly showed in his Pisaster classic.
Adding nutrient to a poor soil is likely to reduce the plants biodiversity, in turn potentially leading to a loss of insect biodiversity
In both cases you are giving more power to a selection process, and in both cases things may not go as you expect, so while is a good idea to have an hypothesis, be careful on how willing you are to let go of it if evidence goes against it.
The more competitive species dominate when not limited by nutrients
This all too human tendency of not letting go of ideas can provide with more damage than expected. The experiments and evidence on the usage of cattle to restore brittle ecosystems, mostly done by Allan Savory, I think has gained us with quite some knowledge of how big games are useful for prairies, yet many people oppose it as a matter of principle, on moral and rhetoric ground. Those same that, when is good for them, call on science to give validity to their claims, (cough) by oversimplifying the trophic chain (cough).
I often come across the idilliac rappresentation of how the flowers and the impollinators help each other out, and they mutualistically concour to a better life... personally, I think they fuck each other, even literally, whenever they have the chance. The relationship is complex, and the glasses to put on to understand them (and act upon them) are not the moral, idealistic one.
That's not an attack to a group in particoular, just a call to...
.. Be humble
So the top ecologist are still arguing about what a community really is, or how did this or that relation evolved. Climatologist are not sure about how the water cycle relates to the changing climate. It has been just a bit over 150 years since we got the natural selection.
Then, you have a guy who has done a permaculture course and knows everything about the soil and how to manage an entire ecosystem. That is suspicious to say the least, and the only thing worst than blindly trusting that guy is being that guy.
As Halden said, and Dawkins so nicely put it, "I suspect the world is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose. I suspect that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of, or can be dreamed of, in any philosophy"
Good luck fixing this!
Reintroduce wolves in an ecosystem where they were disappearing, and you have a cascade of trophic effects: Moose will be hunted, the population will go down --> More vegetation and berries --> more grizzlies will have eat on those berries, more vegetation will provide habitat to small rodents, there will be more willow and therefore beavers, and much more. Effects are so complex that is fool to think that you can understand them all.
In this case they didn't seem that bad, in other cases you cut down a forest and boom, you are drying out a river 100 kms away.
The problem with big government efforts in the environmental matters is that, even when done with the best intentions (not sure about that, but let's take it as hypothesis), they act on a massive scale. If you build a dam and find out you placed it on a geological fault and increase the chances of earthquake, there is no really a way back. Beside the damages that big scale dams give to the ecosystem, like the fermentation of carbon in the water and well, this is just an example.
I'm also quite appalled on how often governments take choices based on just one single study, which is likely wrong, since science has a huge replication crises as of now... as I see it yes, government are far from understanding ecology, in general.
I think the Holmgren permaculture principles are spot on with this:
- Apply self regulation and accept feedback
- Use small and slow solutions
In big projects, feedback can't regulate the structure.
Diversify in the matter of environmental activism is a must.
Be active, wisely
This is not an invitation to not act because "we do not know enough". We'll never know everything and we'll likely always look at the world and have to go back to the blackboard. And that's ok, we can still do stuff with what we know. And we should.
Is not like we waited until we solved the mystery of why Mercury's orbit was not aligned with Newton's gravity theory before to build a plane. What we had was good enough.
We kind of know that biodiversity is important in the ecosystem balance, even if we are not sure of what a species is or what the dynamics are. We are quite sure that CO2 increases the temperature of the atmosphere, and that we produce trillions of tons of it, even though we may still be uncertain about how the water cycle affect the greenhouse effect.
Also, ecology do not work only by itself. It interacts deeply with geology, geography, chemistry, biology, physics, statistics and much more to provide a kind of synthesis, and that ability to bridge the disciplines to reach a conclusion of its own is of great inspiration.
If you see someone else who is using another method to solve some issue and you don't totally agree on it, chances are you are both wrong, and you may as well respect and help each other out if you can. He's with the sea shepherd and you don't like them, being yourself a "bright green" kind of guy? Come on, we need memetic diversity to keep the whole structure up. Cooperate rather, whenever possible.
If it seems to you that your activism method is not working, just let it drop.
To conclude, ecology is a science. You can't honestly take what you want out of it and leave the rest, you either take the full package of the epistemological validity of the scientific method, or there is the door.
If we are to do something, my feeling is to embrace ecology and other scientific disciplines fully in their methods, doubts, and full spectrum of knowledge.
- The graph with the piracy graph is around the net and I wouldn't know who did the first one. I'm not the owner anyway
- The graph with the relationship between plant diversity and nutrients is from the research of Impacts of soil fertility on species and phylogenetic turnover in the high - rainfall zone of the Southwest Australian global biodiversity hotspot, by Juliane Sander & Grant Wardell-Johnson
- The dam picture is in CC-BY 2.0. I have trouble finding the original author, but the derivative work is from Rehman and the original link is here