Ecosystem Complexity


While discussing simplicity vs. complexity in last week’s lecture, my initial reaction was to choose simplicity for building envelopes. Bill Gates once said, “I will always choose a lazy person to do a difficult job, because he will find an easy way to do it.” I was initially taken aback by this statement, but later realized that it’s probably natural for a businessman to want solutions that use less resources and take less time; essentially, Gates was choosing simplicity.

Although simplicity may seem like the obvious choice for many, I don’t believe that it is the universal answer for every problem. After reading about the current issues with agriculture in “A Question of Design” from Cradle to Cradle, I think the solution lies with diversifying U.S. crop production (therefore adding complexity). Our current system of agriculture replaces the natural complexity of ecosystems with only a handful of plant varieties to feed the population. According to Stephanie Mill’s Peak Nature” from The Post Carbon Reader, “Nine-tenths of global livestock production is made up of only fifteen mammal and bird species, and three-quarters of our food supply comes from only twelve plant species.” William McDonough and Michael Braungart emphasize that narrowing down the natural diversity of plant and animal species only requires more human effort in terms of maintenance, labor, pesticides, and fertilizers. In this case, technology is actually simplifying the system in a negative way and decreasing resilience. The natural ecosystems that originated were much more complex, diverse, and effective than this man-made method.


Braungart, Michael, and William McDonough. Cradle to Cradle. New York City: North Point Press, 2002. Print.

The Post Carbon Reader. Healdsburg, California: Watershed Media, 2010. 100. Print


One comment

  1. shiha003

    I strongly agree with the post in all aspects, especially needing diversity in agriculture. According the website, Understanding Evolution, the great Irish Potato Famine stemmed from the lack of diversity in the potato crop. Ireland was trying to find a way to feed more people and chose to plant potatoes, which can be propagated vegetatively (essentially cloned). This lead to low diversity in the potato crop, which made the potatoes vulnerable to diseases, which is essentially what occurred.
    Many scientists, designers, and biologists are saying that we need to return to our old practices of farming and agriculture. But I think it would be detrimentally to go all the way. I believe we still need to look forward in the terms in which we produce our food, but take the successes of the past and use our skill of technology to adapt it to our current and future lifestyles.
    But what is frustrating to learn is that there doesn’t seem to be this concern to create diversity from the agriculture companies. From many articles and papers that I read on the USDA’s website, it seems to be that their main concern is being able to produce more food while keeping costs low. They highlight the issues of the world population increasing and needing to feed these people. But I think the point that they miss is that thousands of years ago, humans were able to grow a vast variety of crops in a vast variety of climates. I feel like the agriculture industry’s focus in being able to get corn, wheat, beans, barely, and rice to whole world.
    I think the next big push in creating diversity of crops is teaching people how to cultivate their own food in the specific climates that they live in and not just try to produce as much food of minimum diversity.

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