Deep Ecology And Soft Engineering Exploring The Possible Relationship Of Soil Bioengineering To Eastern Religions

Design in soil bioengineering is mostly qualitative, intuitive, and perhaps even "organic," especially in contrast to conventional approaches to erosion control. It clearly requires a sophisticated understanding of water flows and energetics that cause erosion but, as noted by Shields et al. (1995), "Despite higher levels of interest

FIGURE 3.12 View of tree trunks extending from root wads in a stream restoration project in central Maryland.

in vegetative control methods, design criteria for the methods are lacking." One interesting exception is the design analysis of root reinforcement of soil reviewed by Gray and Leiser (1982), but even this effort covers only a limited range of applications and only a few types of plant root systems. Design knowledge in soil bioengineering involves basic concepts but quantitative relationships, such as Hudson's formula described earlier for riprap rock criteria, have not been developed. Most design is based on a heuristic interpretation of the spatial patterns of erosive energies of a site, and it consists of careful choice and placement of plant species and natural materials to dissipate these energies. Because the systems are living and will self-organize, growth and development of the ecosystem over time must be integrated into the design decisions to a significant extent. Because of this nature of design knowledge and because of the qualities of materials used (i.e., live plants vs. concrete), the field has been referred to as "soft engineering" as compared with the more conventional "hard engineering" approaches from the civil and geotechnical disciplines (Gore et al., 1995; Hey, 1996; Mikkelsen, 1993).

Another dimension of design is that "plant-based systems have greater risk because we have less control" (Dickerson, 1995). The idea of control is fundamentally inherent in all kinds of engineering, where the behavior and consequences of designs must be known and understood with a high degree of assurance. However, in soil bioengineering as in all examples of ecological engineering, the designs are living ecosystems which are complex, self-organizing, and nonlinear in behavior. Design knowledge of the systems has developed sufficiently to the point that they can be used reliably but uncertainties remain because of the inherent nature of living systems.

All of the aspects of soil bioengineering design described above: qualitative, intuitive, "organic," and, to a degree, reduced human control, suggest possible connections with Eastern religions, which share these qualities. Religions are philosophies that help humans decide how to act and how to think. The discussion that follows is an attempt to show how a consideration of one particular set of religions may provide perspective and insight on design in soil bioengineering. The suggestion is that, to an extent, there is congruence between these two activities that may be profitably explored and exploited.

The Eastern religions of Hinduism and various forms of Buddhism are a related set of beliefs based on the search for enlightenment. The state of enlightenment is the goal of individuals who believe in these religions, and it represents a condition of harmony and contentment between the individual and the cosmos. Enlightenment is achieved through introspective meditation and living one's life according to certain rules and beliefs. It is a mystical state of being that is not connected to normal human reality. Thus, belief in these religions causes one to strive to lead the appropriate kind of life that results in enlightenment. These religions do not rely on supreme beings for insight and wisdom but rather on the individual's search for the right way of life.

Two books are especially relevant for relating Eastern religions to ecological engineering in general and, in particular, to soil bioengineering. Pirsig (1974) in Ten and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance introduces Zen Buddhism indirectly through a story about a cross-country motorcycle trip. This is an intensive philosophical work with the subtitle, "An Inquiry into Values." The most directly relevant sections of the book involve the discussion of how the everyday maintenance of the motorcycle can provide an expression of the Zen philosophy. An analogy from this discussion can be drawn for the relationship between the ecological engineer and the ecosystem that he or she creates and maintains. Capra's (1991) book entitled The Tao of Physics is a more extensive treatment in that it explicitly reviews all of the Eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese thought, Taoism, and Zen) while describing parallelisms with modern physics. This work discusses many direct relations between Eastern religions and physics, which are applicable to considerations of soil bioengineering, such as ideas on the importance of harmony with nature, the roles of intuitive wisdom, and the concepts of change and spontaneity. Capra provides detailed descriptions of the Eastern religions that provide quick introductions for readers from Western traditions. One passage about Taoism, which is the set of beliefs referenced in the title of the book, is given below:

The Chinese like the Indians believed that there is an ultimate reality which underlies and unifies the multiple things and events we observe: ... They called this reality the Tao, which originally meant "the Way." It is the way, or process, of the universe, the order of nature. In later times, the Confucianists gave it a different interpretation. They talked about the Tao of man, or the Tao of human society, and understood it as the right way of life in a moral sense.

In its original cosmic sense, the Tao is the ultimate, undefinable reality and as such it is the equivalent of the Hinduist Brahman and the Buddhist Dharmakaya. It differs from these Indian concepts, however, by its intrinsically dynamic quality, which, in the Chinese view, is the essence of the universe. The Tao is the cosmic process in which all things are involved; the world is seen as a continuous flow and change.

One particular example of possible application of Eastern religion to ecological engineering is the dualist notion of life situations represented by the polar opposites,

FIGURE 3.13 The diagram of the supreme ultimate in Taoism. The symmetrical pattern of yin and yang.

yin and yang. This is shown in Figure 3.13 with the "diagram of the supreme ultimate" (Capra, 1991):

This diagram is a symmetric arrangement of the dark yin and the bright yang, but the symmetry is not static. It is a rotational symmetry suggesting, very forcefully, a continuous cyclic movement ... The two dots in the diagram symbolize the idea that each time one of the two forces reaches its extreme, it contains in itself already the seed of its opposite.

The pair of yin and yang is the grand leitmotiv that permeates Chinese culture and determines all features of the traditional Chinese way of life.

In the Taoist beliefs a principal characteristic of reality is the cyclic nature of continual motion and change. Yin and yang represent the limits for the cycles of change and all manifestations of the Tao are generated by the dynamic interplay between them. Thus, it is a form of organization. Although the yin and yang represent opposites, there is a harmony between them. Ecology, too, can be characterized by the interplay between polar opposites such as primary production and respiration from ecosystem energetics (see Figure 1.2) or in the growth (r) and regulation (K) terms in the classic logistic equation from population biology:


N = number of individuals in a population t = time r = population reproductive rate

K = number of individuals of a population that can be supported by the environment (i.e., the carrying capacity)

In this model, growth of the population over time is directly proportional to the intrinsic rate of increase, r, but inversely related to the population's carrying capacity, K. Factors related to r cause the population to grow while factors related to K cause the population to remain stable. Species also tend to adapt towards either the growth states (r-selected) or the stable states (K-selected) as discussed in Chapter 5. Thus, growth versus stability might represent polar opposites, like yin and yang. There are also examples from geomorphology such as the opposite processes of erosion and deposition, and the opposite zones found in the inner and outer banks of meanders and in pool and riffle sequences, both of which involve alterations between erosion and deposition. Obviously, design in soil bioengineering involves an understanding of these opposites and a plan for their balance on any particular site, perhaps in a fashion similar to the way a Taoist would relate yin and yang in life experiences.

Capra's work is especially relevant because he has begun to think about Eastern religions as being ecological due to their reliance on holism and the interconnect-edness of all things. He has contributed to the growing philosophy called deep ecology (Capra, 1995; Drengson and Inoue, 1995), which attempts to articulate beliefs about sustainability for human societies. In these efforts the science of ecology is a model for developing an alternative world view or cosmology.

A few direct connections between Eastern religions and ecology and ecological engineering have been made in the literature. Cairns (1998) mentioned Zen in a paper on sustainability but did not develop the connection very much. However, Barash (1973) discussed Zen and the science of ecology in some depth. This paper, though obscure, is remarkable for having been published in a very empirically based scientific journal (American Midland Naturalist). One wonders how the paper survived peer review in this context. Sponsel and Natadecha (1988) make direct ties between Buddhism and conservation in Thailand, and they suggest that recent examples of environmental degradation may be the result of a decline in faith caused by westernization of the culture. More general reviews are given by Callicott and Ames (1989) and Sponsel and Natadecha-Sponsel (1993). Finally, a particularly interesting example of the connection between Eastern mysticism and ecology is found in the work of Ed Ricketts, who is best known as the model for the character "Doc" in John Steinbeck's (1937) novel entitled Cannery Row. Ricketts was a marine biologist who wrote an important guidebook to the intertidal ecology of the Pacific coast (Ricketts and Calvin, 1939). This book is significant as an early example of the modern approach to animal-environment relations. It is a highly refined form of descriptive ecology, especially in placing macroinvertebrates in their habitats. Ricketts also wrote philosophy, inspired by ideas of holism and interconnectedness from his ecological field work, which had similarities with Eastern religions (Burnor, 1980). In fact, Hedgpeth (1978b) described Ricketts (with additional reference to his interest in music) as a man whose driving force in life was "an urge to bring Bach and Zen together in the great tidepool." Thus, an introductory knowledge of Zen Buddhism enriches the reading of Rickett's guidebook and may lead to a deeper understanding of intertidal ecology. As an aside, Rickett's association with John Steinbeck is one of the remarkable stories in the history of ecology. Here, a marine biologist and a novelist more or less collaborated to produce a kind of mythical bond during the Depression years and into the 1940s (Astro, 1973; Finson and Taylor,

1986; Kelley, 1997). Steinbeck's (1939) The Grapes of Wrath which won the Pulitzer Prize for literature was published within weeks of Rickett's book, indicating that these two men reached high levels of achievement (and enlightenment?) together. Their collaboration may be best represented in the record of their scientific collection expedition to the Gulf of California, later published as Sea of Cortez: A Leisurely Journal of Travel and Research (Steinbeck and Ricketts, 1941). Their collaboration was cut short by Rickett's accidental death in 1948, after which it has been said that the quality of Steinbeck's writing declined.

Several workers have briefly mentioned connections between ecological engineering and Eastern religions in particular. Todd and Todd (1994) mention feng shui, which is a set of principles from Chinese philosophy for organizing landscapes and habitats. Jenkins (1994) in his review of composting systems included a chapter entitled "The Tao of Compost" which makes a case for integrating waste disposal into people's lifestyles. Finally, Wann (1996) described related thoughts as noted below:

It's clear that we need more sophisticated, nature-oriented ways of providing services and performing functions. Many designers and engineers are taking an approach I call aikido engineering. Essentially, the Eastern martial art discipline of aikido seeks to utilize natural forces and succeed through nonresistance. Aikido never applies more force than is necessary. Its goal is resolution rather than conquest. We can and should use this approach to find solutions that avoid environmental and social problems.

Mitsch (1995a) compared ecological engineering in the U.S. and China with emphasis on technical aspects. He found some differences in approaches that are culturally related but may also reflect philosophy. The Chinese utilize ecological engineering applications widely (Yan and Zhang, 1992, plus see the many papers in Mitsch and J0rgensen, 1989, and in the special issue of Ecological Engineering devoted to developing countries: Vol. 11, Nos. 1-4 in 1998). They also have been practicing soil bioengineering for centuries, as illustrated by an ancient manuscript on the subject shown in the text by Beeby and Brennan (1997, see their Figure 6.14). Do Chinese philosophies of design differ from Western examples? If so, they deserve special study in order to enrich Western thinking and design.

In conclusion, the point of this section is to suggest relationships between Eastern religions and design in soil bioengineering and, to some extent, more broadly in ecological engineering. Successful soil bioengineering often depends on the ability of the designer to "read" a landscape and arrive at a design through observation, intuition, and experience. An understanding of the interconnectedness of hydrology, geomorphology, and ecology is needed along with a respect for aspects of complexity and change. Thus, it is suggested that the soil bioengineer is like the Zen master, similar to the description given by Barash (1973). David Rosgen's (1996) approach to restoring streams is a good example that is based on a deep understanding of nature. Thus, similarities between a stream restoration plan (Figure 3.9) and a Zen water garden (Figure 3.14) appear to be superficial but may be more closely related. Is a bed of riprap rocks similar to a Zen rock garden?

Single fall

Mixed-direction stepped falls

FIGURE 3.14 A typical Zen water garden. Note the similarity between the arrangement of components here as compared with the stream restoration plan shown in Figure 3.9. (From Davidson, A. K. 1983. The Art of Zen Gardens: A Guide to Their Creation and Enjoyment. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York. With permission.)

' " Smooth "thread fall" —Water-dividing stone

Single fall

Mixed-direction stepped falls

Broken-water falls

FIGURE 3.14 A typical Zen water garden. Note the similarity between the arrangement of components here as compared with the stream restoration plan shown in Figure 3.9. (From Davidson, A. K. 1983. The Art of Zen Gardens: A Guide to Their Creation and Enjoyment. G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York. With permission.)

Individual case studies are presented below to review issues and designs of soil bioengineering in more depth. Four different situations are included to cover the range of applications in the field. For each case study one particular design is highlighted as an example of how ecosystems are utilized to address erosion control with engineering approaches.

Urbanization and Stormwater Management

Urbanization removes the cover of vegetation and replaces it with land use that is dominated by hard surfaces including buildings, roads, and parking lots. Impervi-ousness is the term used to describe the extent to which a watershed is made up of hard surfaces, and this parameter has been shown to influence hydrology dramatically. The most significant influence is on runoff volume. Figure 3.15 plots imper-viousness vs. the runoff coefficient, which expresses the fraction of rainfall volume that is converted into surface runoff during a storm, illustrating a direct relationship between hard surfaces and runoff volume. The increased runoff in urbanized watersheds in turn creates increased flooding and increased channel erosion in streams draining the landscape. A threshold seems to exist at about 10% imperviousness, above which hydrology becomes seriously altered and thereby causes significant impacts (Schueler, 1995). Stream ecosystems in cities are degraded by these impacts, with loss of habitat and pollution by a number of contaminants (Paul and Meyer,

One way to visualize the imperviousness of watersheds is with a comparison of hydrographs. The hydrograph is a plot of discharge rate or flow of a stream as a function of time. Many different time scales are of interest to hydrologists, but here

Organic Gardeners Composting

Organic Gardeners Composting

Have you always wanted to grow your own vegetables but didn't know what to do? Here are the best tips on how to become a true and envied organic gardner.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment