Some basic energetic ecological principles can be applied to understanding how systems work. These principles also explain why energetic diagrams explain general systems function so well over time, during phases of growth and contraction.
Energy is measured by calories, BTUs, kilowatt hours, and other interconvertible units, but energy has a scale of quality which is not indicated by these measures. The ability to do work for man depends on the energy quality and quantity, and this is measurable by the amount of energy of a lower-quality grade required to develop the higher grade. The scale of energy goes from dilute sunlight up to plant matter to coal, from coal to oil to electricity and up to the high-quality efforts of computer and human information processing. We can begin with Barry Commoner’s (1971) suggested with 4 laws of Ecology below, followed by many principles suggested by Odum.
- Everything Is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.
- Everything Must Go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.
- Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system.”
- There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.
- Production, consumption, and circulation are the patterns for both ecosystems and economies
- Resources are used to the fullest extent possible
- Ecosystems (and economies) develop which use their particular combination of resources best
- Flow of energy (either alone or in association with a flow of materials) is in proportion to the populations of forces; the rate of flow of such stored energy packages as minerals, money, or work is in proportion to the number of forces acting and to their individual size. Production processes that support growth usually need more than one kind of input. One factor can be a limiting factor (shown by an interaction symbol on diagrams); some of these interactions derive their driving potential energies from their own storages and are thus autocatalytic, mutiplicative positive feedbacks
- Typically each energy transformation process has an associated storage from which the autocatalytic feedbacks originate. These storages fill and discharge as part of the accumulations and frenzied pulses of production and consumption, providing for maximum power and growth
- Energy flows can be classified as either constant flow sources that keep the current constant, such as a waterwheel that only produces one source flow independent of input energies from the river, or constant force sources (also termed stocks or storages) that deliver a constant force even though energy users demand more and more
- Unlimited resources cause systems to grow, in keeping with the maximum power principle. Constant force from storages allows the products of growth to be recycled as positive feedback (autocatalysis) to accelerate the capture of more energy so that growth goes faster and faster. The math of this kind of system results in exponential growth, in contrast to logistic growth where the main energy source for the production process is flow (source) limited and thus levels off
- When available energy levels are large enough, the system develops a self-interaction to accelerate even faster, a super acceleration, through feedback amplification in proportion to the self-interactions (mathematically termed as the square of the storage)
- Fast consumers overrun slow consumers during a surge of consumption. “We believe that self organization for maximum empower operates at all scales at the same time producing similar designs on each scale such as autocatalytic reinforcement loops, material recycle, hierarchy of concentrated centers, and pulsing. To survive each scale one must contribute to the one above as well as control the one below. Natural selection of the highest reproduction rate (competitive overgrowth by weeds, selfish genes, and capitalism) is a special case that applies temporarily in the growth stage of the alternating pulse of accumulation and pulse. In his “Descent of Man” Darwin eventually recognized that survival of the fittest reproducer was not the general principle” (Odum, 2000)
- The development of an ecosystem is a tradeoff between power and efficiency. the transformation of energy into work determines success and fitness, depending on conditions. There is a tradeoff between a high rate and high energy to maximize useful work for the system as maximum power (or empower) (Jorgensen et al. 2007, p. 116, from Hall, Odum, Brown, etc.)
- When energy supplies support accelerating growth, users with faster growth rates outgrow and displace others. Consumers prevail that get a headstart during a surge of consumption. Factors eventually become limiting and control growth. Products may accumulate in periods of excess production; then surges of consumption use accumulated products in a cyclical pulsing fashion. This idea of pulsing supplants the previous ecological idea of succession, where a mature climax stage could be held indefinitely in a steady state
- Systems win and dominate that maximize their useful total power from all sources and flexibly distribute this power towards needs affecting survival (Maximum Power Principle). Systems develop diversity that improves efficiencies
During times when there are opportunities to expand one’s power inflows, the survival premium by Lotka’s principle is on rapid growth even though there may be waste. During periods of expanding energy availabilities, many kinds of growth-priming activities may favor economic vitality and the economy’s ability to compete. Institutions, customs, and economic policies aid by accelerating energy consumption in an autocatalytic way
- During times when energy flows have been tapped and there are no new sources, Lotka’s principle requires that those systems win that do not attempt fruitless growth but instead use all available energies in long-staying, high-diversity, steady-state works. During periods when expansion of energy sources is not possible, then the many high-density and growth-promoting policies and structures become an energy liability because their high energy cost is no longer accelerating energy yield
- Catastrophes are part of normal regeneration cycles. Ecosystems adapt to varying resources without disaster
- In declining systems with limiting factors affecting growth, efficiency requires as much diversity and cooperation as possible
- Nature’s sustainable systems recycle everything; how much of modern industrial society’s output is recycled?
- Attempting to decide the energy use of a given process in calculating the energy use of an activity as only that directly observed to be used by the activity is an error; we cannot ignore the energy that makes possible all the other goods and services that go into that activity
- Even in urban areas more than half of the useful work on which our society is based comes from the natural flows of sun, wind, waters, waves, etc., that act through the broad areas of seas and landscapes without money payment. An economy, to compete and survive, must maximize its use of these energies, not destroying their enormous free subsidies. The necessity of environmental inputs is often not realized until they are displaced (Odum, 2007)
For a systems view of a single ecosystem, please click on this link illustrating the Silver Springs riverine ecosystem, in pictures, diagrams, and transformity tables.
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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