Systems Ecology and Environmental Law: Do They Speak the Same Language?

    Published: Jan 1986

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    Is there a difference between the ecosystem protected by federal laws and the ecosystem that can be defined by systems ecologists? We have today a number of laws that make specific reference to “aquatic ecosystems,” often in terms of their structure, function, integrity, and stability. One example is the Ocean Discharge Criteria (ODC) regulations for issuance of a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The applicant is required to “determine the nature and degree of effect that the proposed discharge will have, both individually and cumulatively, on the structure and function of the aquatic ecosystems and organisms.” These ODC/NPDES regulations also protect against “unreasonable degradation,” defined as “significant adverse changes in ecosystem diversity, productivity, and stability ….” Our environmental laws assume that ecosystems will have legally definable behaviors, interpretable in terms of stability and disturbance. But is the science of systems ecology sufficiently advanced and well supplied with quantitative information to provide these interpretations? Or does the language of the law presuppose a level of sophistication not yet formalized in ecological exegesis? This paper examines where the state of the art of systems ecology meets the expectations of the law, and where it doesn't.


    ecosystem, model, language, algorithm, paradigm, history, aquatic toxicology, information theory, state of the art, reductionism, holism

    Author Information:

    Emery, RM
    Supervising scientist and senior environmental engineer, Envirosphere Company, Bellevue, WA

    Mattson, GG
    Supervising scientist and senior environmental engineer, Envirosphere Company, Bellevue, WA

    Committee/Subcommittee: E47.10

    DOI: 10.1520/STP29013S

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