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Liebig's Law of the Minimum Pt. 1

General discussions of the systemic, societal and civilisational effects of depletion.

Liebig's Law of the Minimum Pt. 1

Unread postby JohnDenver » Mon 18 Apr 2005, 21:08:08

I've been reading "How Many People Can the Earth Support?" by Joel E. Cohen. This is a very detailed book, which opened my eyes to lots of things. The author goes into great detail on Liebig's Law, and this part was especially interesting:

"But natural communities are far more complex than the monocultural experiments on which the law of the minimum [i.e. Liebig's Law] is based. Different species have different requirements for a given element, as Liebig knew. Consequently, when one element is limited in a community of species, population growth typically does not grind to a halt; rather, a species that is less constrained by that limiting element replaces another that is more constrained in a process called succession."

This is something that seems to have been left out in the descriptions of Liebig's Law in this forum. In ecology, Liebig's Law is the mechanism of succession, not collapse. Succession and climax ecosystems are generally regarded as a positive thing, so Liebig's Law would seem to be something positive, rather than the law of the grim reaper.

Here's a more detailed variation of the same concept:
Conclusion: Collapse as a Succession Process

Even within the social sciences, the process by which complex societies give way to smaller and simpler ones has often been presented in language drawn from literary tragedy, as though the loss of sociocultural complexity necessarily warranted a negative value judgment. This is understandable, since the collapse of civilizations often involves catastrophic human mortality and the loss of priceless cultural treasures, but like any value judgment it can obscure important features of the matter at hand.

A less problematic approach to the phenomenon of collapse derives from the idea of succession, a basic concept in the ecology of nonhuman organisms. Succession describes the process by which an area not yet occupied by living things is colonized by a variety of biotic assemblages, called seres, each replacing a prior sere and then being replaced by a later, until the process concludes with a stable, self-perpetuating climax community (Odum 1969).

One feature of succession in many different environments is a difference in resource use between earlier and later seres. Species characteristic of earlier seral stages tend to maximize control of resources and production of biomass per unit time, even at the cost of inefficiency; thus such species tend to maximize production and distribution of offspring even when this means the great majority of offspring fail to reach reproductive maturity. Species typical of later seres, by contrast, tend to maximize the efficiency of their resource use, even at the cost of limits to biomass production and the distribution of individual organisms; thus these species tend to maximize energy investment in individual offspring even when this means that offspring are few and the species fails to occupy all available niche spaces. Species of the first type, or R-selected species, have specialized to flourish opportunistically in disturbed environments, while those of the second type, or K-selected species, have specialized to form stable biotic communities that change only with shifts in the broader environment (Odum 1969).

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Unread postby TrueKaiser » Mon 18 Apr 2005, 21:45:06

you just found a nice example on how the doomers chery pick what supports their madmax fantasys and ignore everything else.

edit: considering some of the admins are diehard doomers i give this post pretty good odd's of either being moved to the hall of flames or being deleted.
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Re: Liebig's Law and Succession

Unread postby MonteQuest » Mon 18 Apr 2005, 21:56:27

JohnDenver wrote: Consequently, when one element is limited in a community of species, population growth typically does not grind to a halt; rather, a species that is less constrained by that limiting element replaces another that is more constrained in a process called succession."


So, who will succeed us, John? Roaches? They are less constrained by oil, I think. Liebig's Law just explains the way of things in the natural world. Succession was not avoided, it becomes rather a moot point, really. Unless you consider that the simple "cultures" of the world might succeed us. :-D
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Unread postby Aaron » Mon 18 Apr 2005, 21:59:22

TrueKaiser wrote:you just found a nice example on how the doomers chery pick what supports their madmax fantasys and ignore everything else.

edit: considering some of the admins are diehard doomers i give this post pretty good odd's of either being moved to the hall of flames or being deleted.


How about joining us on PeakSpeak to discuss this?
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Unread postby MonteQuest » Mon 18 Apr 2005, 21:59:49

TrueKaiser wrote:you just found a nice example on how the doomers chery pick what supports their madmax fantasys and ignore everything else.

edit: considering some of the admins are diehard doomers i give this post pretty good odd's of either being moved to the hall of flames or being deleted.


And what madmax fantasy would that be? I have never even made a die off prediction--only explained the mechanism. The rate and magnitude is unknown, only certain.
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Unread postby TrueKaiser » Tue 19 Apr 2005, 00:05:29

Aaron wrote:
TrueKaiser wrote:you just found a nice example on how the doomers chery pick what supports their madmax fantasys and ignore everything else.

edit: considering some of the admins are diehard doomers i give this post pretty good odd's of either being moved to the hall of flames or being deleted.


How about joining us on PeakSpeak to discuss this?


tell the programers to get off their butts and make a alsa version and replace the outdated oss(open sound system) version they have for linux and i will gladly join.
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Liegig's Law of the Minimum Pt. 1

Unread postby MonteQuest » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 12:39:47

As we are all learning, we are about to enter an era in which, each year, less net energy will be available to humankind, regardless of our efforts or choices. It takes energy to do any work. Energy is not the only factor we must consider, however; the operative principle in determining the carrying capacity of an ecosystem is known as Liebig’s Law, which states that whatever necessity is least abundant, relative to per-capita requirements, sets the environment’s limit for the population of any given species. Climate change may well be the limiting factor or water availability, but energy seems to be forefront, for now.

The Second Law of Thermo Dynamics states that whenever energy is converted from one form to another, there is an energy loss in the form of heat. This is the law of entropy as well, which is a measure of the amount of energy no longer practically capable of conversion to work. Entropy within an isolated system inevitably increases over time. Since it takes work to create and maintain order within a system, the entropy law tells us that, in the battle between order and chaos, it is chaos that ultimately wins. The only truly isolated system we know of is the universe. But there are two other system types: open and closed. The earth is an example of a closed system. It exchanges energy with the universe, but not matter, save the occasional meteorite.

Living organisms, on the other hand, are an example of an open system, where both matter and energy are exchanged. It is because of this exchange that living systems can afford to create and sustain order. Take that useable source of energy away and they soon die. This is true of human societies and technologies as well. Human societies can increase their level of order by increasing their energy flow-through; but by doing so they increase the entropy (random movement towards disorder) within the closed system. The energy available in an ecosystem is one of the most important factors in determining its “carrying capacity,” which is the maximum load, that can be supported on a sustainable basis.

The limiting factor for any population may change over time. Nature prefers stable arrangements that entail self-limitation, recycling, and cooperation. Energy subsidies as the results of disturbed environments (mining, oil, coal, LNG, extraction) or colonization (invading Iraq) provide giddy moments of extravagance for the species, but crashes and die-offs usually follow. Balance eventually returns.

Man has increased his energy flow-through in many ways: colonization, tool use, specialization, globalization (trade), and the use of nature’s stock of non-renewable resources: coal, oil, natural gas, and uranium. This last strategy has been the most successful in increasing the carrying capacity of the environment. The human population did not reach 1 billion until 1820; so in 190 years, it has increased more than six-fold. If we were to add up the total energy consumption that keeps us in the life-style we are accustomed to, compared to the energy a human body can produce, we find that every American has the equivalent of 50 “energy slaves” working for them 24 hours a day. While we enjoy our “slaves”, it has its costs: ecological destruction, pollution, climate change, and an every increasing dependency on sun-light carbon that went underground millions of years ago, which is not a part of the earth’s closed carbon cycle system.

When there is lots of food-energy available, a population will flourish. Obviously, it can’t go on forever, eventually there will be more numbers than there is food to support them or some other “least abundant necessity” will set a limit. Over the long-term, nature will strike a balance between the number of individuals and the available carrying capacity. However, the momentum of population increase from a sudden energy wind-fall (such as fossil fuels) will lead the population to what is referred to as “overshoot, “ and far exceed the carrying capacity of their environment. Normally, Nature’s feedback loops keep its populations in check. We have found ways to circumvent most of them: medicines to combat disease, increased production of food, and the exploitation of non-renewable energy sources.

A proliferating, ever-energy-hungry overshoot population, feeding off of a temporary stock of non-renewable energy, will actually reduce the natural carrying capacity, even as their numbers and energy consumption is increasing, creating a deficit. In other words, populations in overshoot continue to grow even in the face of declining food, resources, and the ability of the environment to absorb the wastes. If this occurs, the population will not simply gradually diminish until balance is achieved: instead, it will rapidly crash—that is, die-off. The human population is in severe overshoot and our phantom carrying capacity is leaving us.

At this point, depending on how seriously we have destroyed the natural carrying capacity due to overshoot, the global human carrying capacity will plummet perhaps even below its pre-industrial levels or we could die out altogether. Other species certainly have done so in the same biological situation. This is Liebig’s Law and no species is immune. The party is over, the beer is gone, and the harsh light of morning is in our eyes.
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby lper100km » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 13:10:25

Monte:

This is as good a description as I have ever seen. There’s no need for a detailed foray into physics to support the conclusion apart from the initial understanding of the concept of entropy (or in more mundane and colloquial terms, friction).

It is so simple to grasp the concepts in the large scale. To perceive and understand them at a personal level is far more difficult. The time scales are so large and the contributions or activities of individuals are so small relative to the whole that nothing seems to change at all from that perspective.
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby MonteQuest » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 13:17:22

lper100km wrote:Monte:

This is as good a description as I have ever seen. There’s no need for a detailed foray into physics to support the conclusion apart from the initial understanding of the concept of entropy (or in more mundane and colloquial terms, friction).

It is so simple to grasp the concepts in the large scale. To perceive and understand them at a personal level is far more difficult. The time scales are so large and the contributions or activities of individuals are so small relative to the whole that nothing seems to change at all from that perspective.


Thank you. :)
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby Narz » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 13:23:35

Energy is not the only factor we must consider, however; the operative principle in determining the carrying capacity of an ecosystem is known as Liebig’s Law, which states that whatever necessity is least abundant, relative to per-capita requirements, sets the environment’s limit for the population of any given species

Unlike other species we have shown ourselves to be fairly good as substituting one material for another, once thought indispensible.

I suspect the energy (and water) will be the focal points for conflict more than the last Lithium mine.
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby MonteQuest » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 13:30:01

Narz wrote: I suspect the energy (and water) will be the focal points for conflict more than the last Lithium mine.


Yes, The core limiting factors are obviously: Food/energy, water, air, shelter from the elements, and the ability of the environment to absorb our wastes.

Then you could start listing: topsoil, loss of biodiversity, loss of habitat, ozone layer, etc.
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby dorlomin » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 13:45:46

MonteQuest wrote: The earth is an example of a closed system. It exchanges energy with the universe, but not matter, save the occasional meteorite.
The definition of an open system is almost always given that energy can flow in or out of the system, not matter.

Given the huge amount of energy we recieve from the sun the earth is surely an open system?
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby MonteQuest » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 13:56:37

dorlomin wrote:
MonteQuest wrote: The earth is an example of a closed system. It exchanges energy with the universe, but not matter, save the occasional meteorite.
The definition of an open system is almost always given that energy can flow in or out of the system, not matter.

Given the huge amount of energy we recieve from the sun the earth is surely an open system?


This is where the definitions can become garbled. The universe is an isolated system. Many call it a closed system.

I was taught to look at it from three observations not two.

Types of systems

Systems can be classified as open, closed, or isolated. Open systems allow energy and mass to pass across the system boundary. A closed system allows energy but not mass across its system boundary. An isolated system allows neither mass or energy to pass across the system boundary.


http://www.uwsp.edu/geo/faculty/ritter/ ... stems.html
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby dorlomin » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 14:00:03

But the definition posted above gives the earth as an open system. Energy flows in and out.
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby MonteQuest » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 14:40:24

dorlomin wrote:But the definition posted above gives the earth as an open system. Energy flows in and out.


Nope. From the link:

The Earth system as a whole is a closed system. The boundary of the Earth system is the outer edge of the atmosphere. Virtually no mass is exchanged between the Earth system and the rest of the universe (except for an occasional meteorite). However, energy in the form of solar radiation passes from the Sun, through the atmosphere to the surface. The Earth in turn emits radiation back out to space across the system boundary. Hence, energy passes across the Earth's system boundary, but not mass, making it a closed system.
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby miraculix » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 15:15:16

Hence, energy passes across the Earth's system boundary, but not mass, making it a closed system.
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby jerry_mcmanus » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 15:21:11

Excellent post, very concise, readable, and straight to the point.

I'm reminded of the work of Catton, who's book "Overshoot" completely changed my view of the world. I also recommend his new book "Bottleneck" published just this year (2009). It's written much more from the perspective of his work as a Sociologist, but still has many excellent insights into our ecological predicament.

At the risk of nitpicking there are a couple of minor embellishments that could be added to your post:

    - There is a distinction between long term and short term carrying capacity. Overshoot is really only possible because short term carrying capacity can be greatly enlarged beyond that of the long term, but only temporarily, and usually at the terrible price of degrading the long term carrying capacity below what it might have been otherwise.

    - The two main ways that carrying capacity can be enlarged is through takeover and drawdown. A population can takeover resources from other areas (and/or other species), and can also draw down stocks of non-replenishable resources that have built up over time.

    - Carrying capacity is too often measured in terms of population numbers alone, but that is not the whole story. It is much more accurate to measure carrying capacity in terms of "load" which is population multiplied by rate of resource consumption (and the corresponding rate of waste generation). A small population with high resource consumption will exert roughly the same load on an environment as a large population with low consumption.

In regards to that last point, Catton famously dubbed people living in modern industrial societies as the quasi-species "Homo Colossus" because our load on the environment is so grossly disproportionate to non-industrial humans.

I personally like to call Liebig's law of the minimum The Flashlight Rule. You can have a magnificent factory producing thousands of flashlights, but none of them will do you any good if you only have one battery.

Another concept I recently found to be as vivid as it is disturbing is the idea of "viability". Put simply: A complex organism can be 96% intact but still cease to be viable. Really makes you wonder if that applies to complex societies as well...

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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby rangerone314 » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 15:23:11

MonteQuest wrote:
dorlomin wrote:
MonteQuest wrote: The earth is an example of a closed system. It exchanges energy with the universe, but not matter, save the occasional meteorite.
The definition of an open system is almost always given that energy can flow in or out of the system, not matter.

Given the huge amount of energy we recieve from the sun the earth is surely an open system?


This is where the definitions can become garbled. The universe is an isolated system. Many call it a closed system.

I was taught to look at it from three observations not two.

Types of systems

Systems can be classified as open, closed, or isolated. Open systems allow energy and mass to pass across the system boundary. A closed system allows energy but not mass across its system boundary. An isolated system allows neither mass or energy to pass across the system boundary.


http://www.uwsp.edu/geo/faculty/ritter/ ... stems.html

Are you so SURE the universe is an isolated system?

Consider white holes, black holes and the concept of this:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WMAP_cold_spot#Parallel_universe
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby MonteQuest » Mon 14 Dec 2009, 15:33:18

jerry_mcmanus wrote:Excellent post, very concise, readable, and straight to the point.

I'm reminded of the work of Catton, who's book "Overshoot" completely changed my view of the world. I also recommend his new book "Bottleneck" published just this year (2009). It's written much more from the perspective of his work as a Sociologist, but still has many excellent insights into our ecological predicament.

At the risk of nitpicking there are a couple of minor embellishments that could be added to your post:


Thanks, Jerry. I, too, am a student of Catton, having read both books and his many papers. I did cover your points to some degree, but your embellishments were spot on. I go further in a follow-up thread I just posted called Overshoot and Collapse.
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Re: Liebig’s Law of the Minimum

Unread postby cudabachi » Sat 26 Dec 2009, 19:19:33

Entropy isn't what it used to be. :lol:
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