Trees as Redundant Patterns

Wayne Deans

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Multi-scaled, interconnected real world problems are too often treated without
consideration for the ubiquity and inescapability of a system-environment view of nature. Narrow solutions inevitably lead to system pathologies.

Two coexistent and inextricably linked sets of problems determine the scope of this thesis. Throughout modern human history the need to control and manage energy, water, waste, and food and fibre production has linked our well-being to the planet, and to the sun that feeds us source energy. Our continual management and control of these four component needs must be satisfied. This is the first set of problems—future needs. But the historical contingency of managing these ‘future needs’, which has increased in scale and reach as human populations have irrupted, has produced a range of planetary conditions that are now maladaptive for humans and other organisms. Four significant problems that are driven by population growth and community development, and by the infinite drive of organic beings to acquire resources, comprise the second set of problems. These problems are anthropogenic global warming; air, soil and water degradation; biodiversity loss; and fossil fuel depletion. This set of problems can be referenced using the catch-all phrase—X-Problems. These problems, if left unresolved, will be significantly deleterious to future generations of organic life on Earth—particularly humans.

In this thesis I first establish a framework that consistently posits the system-
environment interaction for the two sets of problems. This framework allows for the articulation of solutions that are neither too narrow—thus creating other problems—nor too obscure, and therefore, of no practical use. What becomes apparent in this approach is the necessity to explain underlying system dynamics. To this end a novel theory is developed—the Principles of Redundancy—with the aim of exploring and explaining the concepts: order, development, complexity, emergence and stability. It is proposed that redundancy is a phenomenon that gives rise to order and increasing complexity from sub-atomic particles to supra-social systems and therefore must be partly responsible for stability processes. This inquiry resides in the discourse of natural philosophy. Pattern and order are ineluctably tied into this inquiry and form the backbone of the Principles. A focus on non-equilibrium processes, evolution and information informs the discussion and conclusions. The natural condition of the universe is increasing energy degradation in non-equilibrated cascades of dissipative
structures that develop patterns.

Application of the Principles through the systems framework provides a potential, localized solution to the two sets of interrelated problems. Suggesting that the primary goal of the Principles of Redundancy is to address the X-Problems would, however, be disingenuous. Development of this theory emanates from what Gregory Bateson called an ‘ecology of mind’ or ‘ecology of ideas’.

I then illuminate how trees function as the unifying link between the two sets of
problems. Trees provide a low level patterned pathway that underpins the basic
necessities of life on this planet: oxygen, water and food. Yet these patterns have the nature of establishing other heterogeneous patterns that can impact on each element of the X-Problems. There is, however, an impasse between the necessity to revegetate Australian farming landscapes and the reticence of farmers to adopt farm forestry practices at sufficient scales, largely due—it is widely reported—to a lack of market opportunities for the trees.

Distributed bioelectricity production that uses farm grown trees, municipal solid waste and agricultural residues as a fuel source has enormous potential to provide beneficial impacts on the X-Problems and future needs, whilst bridging this social impasse. To this end a model that examines the matter-energy balances needed to meet future electricity requirements in rural south east Australia is developed.

By utilising no more than 10% of farmland to grow trees and approximately half of the municipal solid waste and agricultural residues from each region, as much as 86% of demand in New South Wales and 47% of the electricity demand for Victoria can feasibly be supplied. Bioelectricity production in south east Australia can displace a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced presently by coal fired electricity plants. Including municipal solid waste as a potential fuel source removes significant quantities of chemicals that are partially causal in air, soil and water degradation with feedbacks to anthropogenic global warming.

In a globally warming, water constrained climate, the proposition to massively increase tree cover may appear counter-intuitive. Viewed systemically, as has been done here, the capacity of trees and bioelectricity to impact on the X-Problems is profound. The rationale for bioelectricity must be viewed in light of the entirety of the X-Problems. Across scales, across system boundaries, across time the model stands to achieve more to impact on the X-Problems than any other single solution. What is more, the benefits accrued go well beyond this set of problems. They reach into the very fabric of water security, employment, national security, international obligations and food and fibre production.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Race, Digby, Principal Supervisor
  • Lunt, Ian, Principal Supervisor
  • Howden, S. M., Co-Supervisor, External person
  • Foran, Barney, Co-Supervisor
Award date01 Sep 2014
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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