Emergy and Environment

Emergy and Environment

By Dan Campbell

Energy Systems models show the true relationship between the environment and the economy that is “the monied economy is embedded in and dependent on environmental systems for its resources. Conversely, environmental systems that prevail are those that are symbiotic with the economy and can benefit from human society. Although some politicians still speak of jobs versus environment, the public is beginning to understand that the economy is maximized only when the works of the environment are sustained. ” (Odum, 2007 p. 267).


Emergy Accounting

Emergy accounting allows the work of the environment to be measured on an equal basis with the work of people.  While the currency for people and the economy is money, the currency used by the environment is flows of available energy that is the flows of energy with the potential to do work.  In emergy evaluations the work of nature is put on an equal footing with the work that people perform by converting both to a common unit the solar emjoule abbreviated sej.  Emergy evaluation provides an objective means of determining the value of the work contributions of the environment to economic and social values as opposed to the subjective measures of value that are obtained from economic assessments based on the willingness of people to pay and accept payment for an environmental  good or service.


The Biosphere

Odum on the biosphere, “We can begin to gain a systems view of the earth by looking through the macroscope of the astronaut high above the earth. From an orbiting satellite, the earth’s living zone appears to be very simple (fig.1.3c). The thin water- and air-bathed shell covering the earth – the biosphere- is bounded on the inside by dense solids and on the outside by the near vacuum of outer space. .. The biosphere is the largest ecosystem, but forests, the seas, and the great cities are systems also. Large and small parts operate on their budgets of energy and what can and cannot be done is determined by energy laws (chapter 3). Any phenomenon is controlled both by the working of its smaller parts and by its role in the larger system of which it is a part.” (Odum, 2007 p. 3).


The Ecological Imperative

Odum on the “environmental imperative”,  Many tribal religions pay allegiance to nature on which they depend…In the early Industrial revolution based on fossil fuels , humans were less dependent of the environment and were protected by the large capacity of the earth’s life support system.  Urban society swarmed over the earth, forgetting the dependence on environment. Few regards the loss of soils or the draining of swamps as evil, but preserving life support requires the ethic, ‘do unto nature as to oneself’ (because nature is  the basis for self).

Although there are already initiatives in the established religions to include large-scale ethics, great inertia makes them slow to change. … figure 11.8 illustrates a simple mission for people in nature as the earth’s information processing specialists.  The closed loop design shows that society will receive resource support only as long as people use their high-transformity work to reinforce nature. Voices of conservation are too timid in merely asking religions to teach stewardship. Although most people don’t know it yet, society has to fit earth’s ecosystems to survive. “(Odum 2007 p. 324-25).


Partnership with Nature

Odum on “partnership with nature”, “Self-organization is rapidly adapting our fuel-driven, urban economy to the environmental systems of atmosphere, oceans and landscapes. As our fuel culture waxes and wanes, environmental fit is likely to become society’s next concern.  With survival at stake humanity will need knowledge and faith to refit society to renewable resources.  New kinds of systems will interface the human culture and the environment of the future.  Innovative combinations will emerge as the global diversity of species interacts with the diversity of human technology. In this chapter we consider the principle for restoring humanity’s partnership with nature.” (Odum 2007, p. 332).




Odum, H.T. 2007. Environment, Power, and Society for the Twenty-First Century. Columbia University Press, New York