Environmental Commentary: Sun Energy

There are two fundamental phenomena that have enabled life to emerge and thrive on planet Earth. One is the continual flow of solar energy from the sun, and the other is the cycling of a finite amount of material on earth.

The book page reproduced below is from my handmade book One Earth.

Sunlight is a perpetual energy source-- at least in time frames meaningful to humans.  I am always amazed that today's environmentalists and energy experts persist in calling solar energy a "renewable" energy source.  It is not renewable; it is inexhaustible.  Maybe solar energy would gain more traction as our wisest choice if more people realized we will never run out of it.

"Sun Energy" from  One Earth . © Fred Montague

"Sun Energy" from One Earth. © Fred Montague

Environmental Science Classroom: Nature as Model

In an essay published in the Winter 2012-2013 issue of Edible Wasatch I attempt to outline the most fundamental of Nature's phenomena, processes, and emergent properties that support life on Earth. What follows are two paragraphs from that essay that explain one of the three phenomena. 

"Sun", a page from Fred Montague's hand-drawn artist book,  Garden Grace . © Fred Montague

"Sun", a page from Fred Montague's hand-drawn artist book, Garden Grace. © Fred Montague

"The first is sunlight.  It warms the Earth, evaporates water, causes winds, and powers, directly or indirectly, almost all of us Earth organisms. This energy is free, reliable, and reasonably well-distributed over most of the planet's surface.  Solar power defined our development as a species. And despite our obsession with all sorts of things to burn, react or blow up for bursts of energy (to provide speed, convenience, comfort, or thrills), sunlight still makes up about 99% of all of the energy that flows through the Earth's natural and human-built systems.  Nature's model for sustainability is sunshine-- the same sunshine that spills from the sky over the garden, even in winter."

"With respect to energy in general, and solar radiation in particular, the Earth is an open system.  Energy flows. On balance, all of the energy flowing into the Earth-atmosphere system must rather quickly be re-radiated into space, or else the Earth's temperature will increase.  For stability, 'energy in' must equal 'energy out.' If we impede the flow of heat energy away from the Earth (by enhancing the atmosphere's 'greenhouse effect'), then some of the re-radiated energy (heat) is retained, and the planet warms.  If you've ever been in a closed greenhouse on a summer's day, you know what I'm talking about.  Nature's model with respect to a greenhouse or to the Earth: maintain the normal energy flow to maintain the normal temperature. And in most cases-- especially where organisms or societies are adapted to 'normal,' normal is better than abnormal."  

Read the entire essay at www.edibleWasatch.com

Environmental Awareness

I use the term "environmental awareness" frequently in my work-- in lectures, in essays, even in the mission statement of my art activities and website.  In the introductory chapter of Gardening: An Ecological Approach I have set out to define the term:

"An 'environmental awareness' is a basic scientific understanding of the physical and biological entities, relationships, and context that actually enable us to live and thrive. This comprehension of context includes recognizing and knowing about environmental features such as our specific geographic location on this particular spinning, tilted, orbiting planet; such as the geology and soil parent materials under the soils upon which we stand; such as the history, topography and climate of our place on Earth; such as the plants, fungi, microbes, and animals that interact in the diverse ecological communities within which we have established our homes and our economic communities; such as the very human actions and artifacts that affect, for better or worse, all of these contextual elements."

"Environmental awareness acknowledges that the two transcending transactions that have maintained life on Earth for the past 3.7 billion years are the thermodynamic beneficence of perpetually flowing solar energy and the on-Earth cycling of materials that permits continual birth and renewal."

"Environmental awareness recognizes and celebrates our intimate and inextricable connection to a set of relatively stable conditions: an atmospheric oxygen concentration of about 21%, a mean global surface temperature of about 59 degrees F, atmospheric and oceanic currents that circulate energy and materials, a benign (until recently) atmospheric 'greenhouse' mechanism, etc.  This level-headed awareness confesses our total dependence on myriad ecological functions, processes, and interactions. These include, for instance, photosynthesis and the fixation of solar energy, decomposition and the recycling of nutrients, soil formation, pollination, climate moderation, water purification, the operation of critical biophysical stabilizing feedback loops, etc.  And, of course, this awareness instills in us a deep affiliation with, and respect for, all other organisms whose participation in these vital processes we can neither assume nor replace nor live without."

--From Gardening: An Ecological Approach, p. 21, © Fred Montague, 2009

Gardening: Essays on Ecological Concepts

For the past eight issues of Edible Wasatch magazine I have written a series of essays derived from my book Gardening:  An Ecological Approach.

These short pieces discuss, one-by-one, key ecological concepts and principles that make up the rule book for living on Earth. Of course, they are most applicable in wild places, and they are least well-applied in intensively occupied urban areas (at least as we usually occupy them). A backyard garden, however, in town or in the country, still expresses the principles and still promotes the processes (e.g. energy flow, material cycling, soil formation, carbon sequestration, etc.) that make life possible.  

You may read the following via the "online editions" page at Edible Wasatch.

"Backyard Biodiversity"  Fall 2012  pp. 56-57

"There Are Limits"  Summer 2012  pp. 56-57

"Global Conservation, Backyard-Style"  Spring 2012  pp. 50-51

"The Intimacy of Global Nutrient Cycles"  Winter 2011-2012  pp. 44-45

"Solar-Powered People"  Fall 2011  pp. 44-45

"Soil Matters"  Summer 2011  pp. 44-45

"Ecologically Competent People"  Spring 2011  pp. 44-46

"Diversity and Sustainbility"  Winter 2010-2011  p. 28