Developing a future balance of nature and society

Crafoord Prize 1987 HT Odum's goals (from Box 1 of UF Library Odum Special Collection)
Crafoord Prize 1987 HT Odum’s goals (from Box 1 of UF Library Odum Special Collection)

In 1987, H.T. and Eugene Odum were jointly awarded the Crafoord Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The Crafoord Prize is the Nobel equivalent for the biosciences, math, geosciences, and astronomy.

Howard Odum was one of the first to realize seriously the dangers of using fossil fuels. In his book “Environment, Power and Society” (1971) and “Energy Basis for man and Nature” (1976),he developed the theory that the processes of ecological systems are dimensioned according to the amount of solar energy reaching the earth, and that extra energy increases in various forms cause damaging disturbances.

In “Systems Ecology” (1983) he stresses man´s responsibility in the biosphere, a responsibility for what may be termed a permanent economy. The “work” that nature performs for man, for example in the production of forests, fish and clean water must in his view be made use of, not dissipated through interference that can cause unforeseeable future damage (Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, 1987).

When asked about what he would do with the prize, H.T. Odum said,  “Perhaps we can obtain matching funds and establish the program that we have long discussed on Developing a Future Balance of Nature and Society. We could do such research projects as:

  1. finding ways to make the economy of humans and that of nature cooperative

  2. planning for the lower energy world that is coming

  3. find public policies which can maintain economic prosperity when growth is no longer possible.” (Odum, 1987)

More than twenty-five years later are we any further along as a society in our understanding or prioritization of this research need?

Thinking Like a System about Climate Science

by Mary Logan

H.T. Odum spent formative years interrupting his undergraduate study during World War II as a tropical meteorologist in the Panama Canal zone, which helped him to develop understanding of the energetic basis of global systems. He was generally less disturbed about the threat of climate change than he was about our coming bottleneck due to peak oil, proposing that the greatest and most impacting effect of climate change would would be greater extremes and wider swings in weather. On the subject of climate, he was

A little ice-age in Anchorage

unsure about whether heating due to greenhouse gases would cause significant rises in sea level or not; one early hypothesis of his in the 1980s was that if heating caused more water vapor to go into the air, then more snow and ice could form in polar regions at high altitudes. Glaciers might melt at their toes at sea level, but might actually accumulate in ice fields, perhaps counteracting the relative rise in sea levels. While there is accumulating evidence that sea levels are rising, and the jury is still out on glaciers at high altitudes/latitudes, there are certainly greater extremes in weather.  I ponder these questions as I write about the intersection of climate and peak oil this morning, looking out my window in Anchorage, a weather sample of n=1. We are victims of the polar jet and La Niña here in Alaska this winter, and I’m wondering when it’s all going to melt?!? Continue reading Thinking Like a System about Climate Science