‘Elemental ecology’ was coined in 1968 by Professor Bill Jackson, a Tasmanian academic. It was captured for prosperity in his scientific publication ‘Fire, air, water and earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania.’ This time last year I was preparing a spoken paper for the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) conference that would revisit Bill’s concept. My first post on elemental ecology was written before the presentation, this one provides an update 12 months on.
The simplest way to tell this story is through some of the slides I used in the ESA presentation. Where relevant, some additional text will be provided after and in-between the images.
I was aware that there could be some scepticism in the audience about the relevance of the intuitive elements to ecology. Unlike the discipline of architecture, the elements are generally not considered seriously amongst the environmental science community. This is interesting as my colleagues who work on fire ecology, soil science, water management and climate change are all working on the elements. In the west however our training does not address these alternative perspectives and frameworks.
David Suzuki is one scientist who is not a sceptic. He has written and spoken extensively on the elements as a framework to reconnect people with nature. His strong connections with indigenous people informs and underpins this approach. E.O Wilson was given as another example in my presentation of a respected scientist whose written work is relevant to elemental ecology. Through the Biophilia hypothesis Wilson states that our existence depends on the connections that humans sub-consciously seek with the rest of life. My proposition was, and is, that the elements are also a part of the collective unconscious that incorporates patterns of memories, instincts, and experiences common to all human kind .
So how did my colleagues respond to the presentation? Some were somewhat surprised with the content. Based on my expertise and previous conference presentations they were expecting a standard talk on fire ecology and native vegetation dynamics. It is good at times to present ideas that go beyond people’s expectations. Professor Jackson’s paper generated considerable debate when it was published. Revisiting elemental ecology also got people talking.
On taking questions after I’d finished, one scientist asked how species would be treated by elemental ecology. That’s a good question. Potentially they would be treated the same as they are now in the way they are classified and described. They would however sit within a different framework. It would be great to brainstorm these and other ideas that ‘elemental ecology’ brings to mind.
Another scientist in the audience remarked how marketers used the elements to influence what people buy and what they do. That’s true. The interesting question is why do they do it? Because the elements are fundamental building blocks of life which we respond to both consciously and sub-conciously. This connection can also be used to bring people closer to nature. That is one of the reasons for writing this blog.