Join us for an untangling of the history of American ecology and an assessment of how the idea of the balance of nature has shaped our American ideas of nature.
How does Nature work? How do the biotic and abiotic parts of Earth interact and develop as a system that supports life over time? The word “ecology” was coined in 1866 by the German scientist Ernst Haeckel to name the science that was to answer those questions. At the core of this new science was the puzzle of how do “ecosystems” persist amidst change over time – and was change or permanence, dynamics or stability, more fundamental? As the science of ecology developed, it was built on a belief in the stability and balance of undisturbed nature – with humans placed outside of “nature” as the disruptors of balance.
In the 1940s the American ecologist Aldo Leopold grounded his “land ethic” in the idea of stability - "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” The belief in stability and balance continued to be emphasized by the American ecologist Eugene Odum, who’s textbook would influence generations of students from the 1950s onward. However, by the 1970s, the mathematical models of ecology revealed that change and instability was more fundamental, and, today, the “new ecology” has replaced stability and balance with change and disequilibrium in its explanation of how Nature works and has explained persistence over time in terms of “resilience” of ecosystem functionality.
Kevin is a geographer and philosopher researching the nature of, and the nature in, urban wastelands. He studied at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania [BA], Durham University, England, Ohio University [MA] where he taught philosophy and symbolic logic. He received his Ph.D. in Geography from the University of Texas at Austin with a dissertation entitled: Marginal Nature: Urban Wastelands and the Geography of Nature. His research interests include sewage treatment, soil ecology, and sustainable agriculture, urban ecology and sustainability, riparian ecology, environmental history, philosophy, and literature.He is a co-founder of the Texas Riparian Association and the Upper Tisza Foundation in northeastern Hungary. He runs the Austin Water-Center for Environmental Research which focuses on soil, sewage recycling, and environmental trace contaminants; rivers, riparian ecology, and alluvial aquifers; cities, biodiversity, and avian ecology.
Brought to you by Austin Water Utility, Center for Environmental Research (CER), The University of Texas, Texas A&M University. Nature in the City - Austin is sponsored by the Community Trees Division, and helps to implement the Imagine Austin and Urban Forest Plans.
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Austin Nature in the City is sponsored by the Community Trees Division and part of the Development Services family. This is an interdepartmental collaboration to implement the Imagine Austin and Austin's Urban Forest Plans.