ENVIRO NOTES: Environment, ecology are not one and the same

Columnist Roy Strang returns to Peace Arch News after four-year hiatus

I can claim to have been environmentally aware for many years now – I remember, as a teenager, discussing Malthus with my father, and being impressed by the 1939 book The Rape of the Earth by Jacks and Whyte.

It sounded the alarm about global soil erosion long before Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring brought environmental issues to public attention, but it is much less well-known.

Subsequently, degrees in forestry and ecology from that background developed my understanding in ecology and the environment. I find it helpful, though a bit simplistic, to liken ecology to a jigsaw puzzle in that, if even the smallest piece of the puzzle goes missing, the picture cannot be completed.

In jigsaw puzzles, we know where the pieces all fit; in ecological studies, we rarely know exactly how many pieces there are, how they interact or how essential each one is to the workings of the system.

Sometimes we hear of environment and ecology being used as if they were synonyms.

This indicates either sloppy thinking or misunderstanding.

Environment is a description or accounting of all the factors at play in the lives of animals or plants in any one site; ecology examines the interactions and processes at work within any particular environment, large or small.

Of course, climate is a significant environmental factor, nowadays erratic and unpredictable thanks to cyclical changes, the subject of a great deal of discussion.

I brought these concepts with me when I moved to Surrey with my family in 1976 and was enabled to apply them to the local scene.

Principally, that meant getting involved in the dedication and subsequent management of Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest, serving a full term on the city’s environmental advisory committee and, after Maureen Korman, writing an environmental column for the Peace Arch News, initially weekly, later monthly.

I have been fortunate enough to receive several awards to recognize my efforts.

Largely for family reasons, my last columns appeared in 2015, but the editor has graciously agreed to publish a new monthly series of articles which will address both topical local issues and broader, more general, topics.

I hope they will be informative and helpful and will welcome readers’ comments.

Roy Strang is an environmental columnist for the Peace Arch News. He writes monthly.

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