With that in mind, I paused a week ago to read an obituary in the NY Times: "Lawrence B. Slobodkin, Pioneering Ecologist, Dies at 81." Curious to see what had made Slobodkin a pioneer in his own systems-oriented field, I read on and discovered his most famous paper. Published in 1960 as "Community Structure, Population Control and Competition," the paper's four pages contain a grand overview of how terrestrial ecosystems work, and is still widely discussed today.
Slobodkin and his co-authors present these distinct roles in the terrestrial ecosystem:
- fossil fuels
- producers (e.g., plants)
Somehow, I am convinced that these roles map in a meaningful way more recent natural systems such as the world economy or American healthcare. Which parts of these systems correspond to which of the above roles in the terrestrial biosphere? Any ideas, anyone?
One thing that surprised me about Slobodkin's map of the biosphere was its early and explicit inclusion of fossil fuels. This inclusion makes a lot more sense to me now that I am reading (coincidentally) Michael Pollan's Ominivore's Dilemma, which also speaks to a holistic view of the terrestrial biosphere. One of the darker themes of the book is that human desire for productivity leads people to feed plants with fossil fuels instead of sunlight.
The same day Slobodkin's obituary was published, the NY Times also featured this headline: "Emphasis on growth is called misguided," reporting a paper commissioned by Nicolas Sarkozy and written by a pair of Nobel-laureate economists.
It's a lot to absorb. But strikes me as relevant to those of us interested in metrics that pertain to well-being.
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