Interviewer Cynthia Barnett
Interviewee Howard T. Odum
B: I am with Dr. Howard T. Odum, a graduate research professor
emeritus in the University of Florida's Department of Environmental
Engineering Sciences on behalf of the Samuel Proctor Oral History
Program at the University of Florida. Dr. Odum, who will turn
seventy-seven in two weeks, is the longtime director of UF's Center
for Environmental Policy and the founder of the University's Center
for Wetlands. He is recognized worldwide as one of the pioneering
figures in the development of systems ecology. He is known for
emphasizing both the interrelatedness of humans and nature and
balancing energy resources and for developing an economic model
to help society quantify the value of its natural resources. In
addition to nearly 200 scientific papers, he has published...
O: That's probably 300 to 400.
B: Okay, in addition to nearly 400 scientific papers, he has published
12 books. The latest, A Prosperous Way Down, written with his wife,
Elisabeth C. Odum, was published this year.
The interviewer is Cynthia Barnett. The date is August 16,
2001. The interview is being conducted at Dr. Odum's home, 2106
Northwest 9th Ave in Gainesville, Florida. Dr. Odum, where were
you born and in what year?
0: In Durham, North Carolina, in 1924.
B: Who were your parents?
O: My father, Howard W. Odum, a sociologist at the University of
North Carolina, and mother, Anna Louise Kranz Odum, of
German stock or descent, from Tennessee.
B: And what brought them to the Chapel Hill area? You father's job?
O: Yes, he was head of the Department of Sociology. Before that he
had been what they now call provost at Emory University.
B: And what was it like growing up in Chapel Hill in the 1920s and
O: You had three groups in school: the country people, very poor in
the Depression time; and the millworkers, and the mills had closed
and they were poor; and then there were the faculty kids, and they
at least had all their needs met, and the school was a melting pot
like the rest of the country and disturbed with the changes in
B: Did the groups intermingle?
O: Some, not really much.
B: So you were with the faculty kids?
B: Most of your growing up?
O: We were stimulated all the time by playing chess and hanging
around the university or doing something in libraries.
B: Did your family know Frank Porter Graham (President, University
of North Carolina, 1930-1949; U.S. Senator, 1949-1950)?
O: Yes, Pop and President Graham were close colleagues in the
development of the university there.
B: What are your impressions of Frank Porter Graham? What are a few
memories of him?
O: Genial, liberal president. I heard lots of conflicts between my father
at home, but over trivial matters.
B: Can you talk about what it was like growing up the son of someone
as renowned and prolific as Howard Washington Odum?
O: One was not so conscious of those things, and reputations were still
being developed, so all the kids growing up had a vague notion that
their parents were doing something useful. We spent a year, when I
was going on five, at Rollins College, as he was a visiting
professor, and so I became imprinted with Florida swamps and
turtles and cypresses and bald eagles. I think that imprinting
affected me; it brought me back to Florida years later.
B: What do you think drove your dad, looking back, to work through
the problems he did, involving race, folk culture, and welfare in the
South? What do you think was the driving reason ...
0: And the regionalism that he is known for as well.
O: Which is really, we would now call that a systems-view, although
that word was not in use. He came out of a poor farm near
Covington, Georgia, and delivered milk, and developed a folk
feeling. His education was all classic Latin and Greek, and he was
always quoting his parables out of those sources, and in some way
he ended up with a broader view, and later went on to get both a
Ph.D. in sociology and psychology in northern schools, Clark and
B: How much of his work did he bring home?
O: His study was cluttered, even more than mine. And so his work was
at home, and the discussions around the table probably influenced
the youngsters. But after the Second World War when I came back,
then twenty one, I really had interactions with him for a year there
before I went on to Yale.
B: So you lived at home during that year?
0: That's right.
B: And that was the time when you talked to him more about his career
and his research?
O: That is right. And how he would approach things.
B: What impact do you think his scholarship had on you?
O: Well, at that time he was known over the country as the president of
his sociological society and so on, but he had spent a year as visiting
professor at Yale, which is how I came to go to Yale. But at that time
he said that what was most important was making contributions to
concepts and theory, which had not been his forte or what he was
known for. He thought that this was the most enduring model,
which became my lifetime guide. My major professor was a similar
type who did not go to meetings to become a celebrity but stayed
home and did the writing and the detailed work. These are patterns
that are not so popular now.
B: Yes. And are you referring to G. Evelyn Hutchinson?
O: Yes, right.
B: Okay. It is remarkable that your brother, Eugene, is also a pioneer
figure in the field of ecology. What do you think it was about your
upbringing that drove you and Eugene both into careers in ecology?
O: Gene is eleven years older, and he was important in my early
development because he would teach me things that he had just
learned in school.
B: Eugene did?
O: Yes. So, even after he left and was at graduate school at Illinois, he
would send back things for me to do, go out banding birds, and
doing the things that he was interested in in those days, and that was
ornithology and not really ecology. But I think my father's influence
was encouraging us to write, and so Gene would put out a local
newsletter for the neighborhood, and I was encouraged to write as
well. And so I think those influences plus the general university
matrix in which we were embedded, encouraged us. But Pop was
always talking about that larger scale, I think, in effect it transmitted
a systems-view to us. Later on, during my military service in
meteorology, I learned to look from the large-scale down. You
cannot predict the weather looking out the window; you have to
look at the frontal systems and so forth.
B: Now, was your father's view of systems a human view and yours a
O: His, of course, was human, but it was tied to resources as well. See
his books on regionalism and southern regions, mapping all the
resources in the South, and how he tried to deal with the ridiculous
situation where the South was importing everything when it had the
resources. Of course, later it developed its economy after the
B: What are your earliest memories related to nature?
O: Well, those memories in Florida, as I say, living at Rollins College in...
B: And that was in Orlando?
O: Winter Park.
B: Winter Park, yes.
O: That lake is still there with the little train gone, and not so many
turtles there, and it is pretty polluted. But the ivory-billed
woodpecker and the Carolina parakeet were going extinct then, and
we were much influenced by the Audubon Society writings on
B: But you were only how old at the time?
O: I was going on five then.
B: So you did not know about the ivory-billed woodpecker or the
O: Oh yeah, pretty much. Again, my brother's influence on me. And
then of course, later I read for myself.
B: Wow, so even before age five you were aware of these two creatures.
O: Yes, I was raised a naturalist.
B: Was that your mom and you dad ... or all Eugene?
O: That was Eugene. He was, as I say, a bird person in those days.
B: How did your mother influence you?
O: Mothers probably determine your character in many ways on small
scales, but she was very much ... her mother, my grandmother, was
a strong feminist, and father even had to leave town when she came
to visit to avoid frictions because he had taken her away from her
B: This was your grandmother? The feminist?
B: What was her name?
O: Fannie Leber Kranz. Her husband had died. I think my mother was
like many of the women who were highly educated in those days,
they did not have enough outlets for a career, so she was frustrated,
and it contributed to her asthma and so on.
B: Was that your mother?
O: Yes, my mother. But she was, my mother was, a member of the
American Association of University Women, and so on. But
she also did things that women were expected to do, which was run
a big house with fifteen rooms that Pop insisted on building as part
of the complex that he had from being poor in the post-bellum
South. We lived in a big house, the biggest in Chapel Hill in those
days, on the highest hill, a giant stone castle. Later on, after our
parents died, none of the kids wanted it. It was too big for us, and
we sold it to the Christian church. It is a Christian church now.
B: So it is not, it was not there on Franklin Street? It was out...
O: It was out just south of the medical school.
B: So you sold it after he passed away.
O: Yes, after Mother died.
O: I recall the time it burned down when I was about twelve. It was a
Sunday afternoon with February winds. You know, it was a small
town of a couple of thousand people. The word got around, the
Odum house is burning, and everybody in town came out, and they
moved the furniture out and sat in it while the volunteer fire people
tried to put it out. And they would get one side out and then it
would catch on the other side. It was burned to the ground, but it
was the biggest social event in chapel Hill.
B: Do you remember what year that happened.
0: I would have to look it up to get it exactly.
B: And did your dad rebuild it?
O: The insurance companies did rebuild it.
B: What caused the fire?
O: The redwood shingles and sparks coming out of the old-time
B: So the house was an overcompensation for your dad's upbringing?
O: Perhaps, yes, perhaps.
B: Who else besides your mom and dad and Eugene influenced you
when you were growing up? Anyone we should mention?
0: I decided I would go into science from my seventh grade teacher,
Mrs. Davis. As often ...
B: Was that at Chapel Hill High School?
O: Yes, Chapel Hill High School. In those days I started with a class that
had about twelve people in the first grade and graduated with forty.
That was the entire class. So you get a lot of individual attention
that way, and there were good teachers along the way.
B: How did you decide to pursue zoology, and how did you choose
North Carolina State in Raleigh for your undergraduate work?
O: No, not in NC State. No, it was University of North Carolina in my
home town, Chapel Hill.
B: Oh, so you went to undergraduate school at Carolina.
O: Sure, and I lived at home. To get some college influence, I joined a
fraternity (Chi Psi), and learned how to at least be civil with people
with whom I disagreed entirely on everything.
B: What sort of things did you disagree with people about?
O: Well, in those days, I was a teetotaler and I was raised that way. And
their attitudes on women and race were pretty primitive and
sophomoric, and of course, the world was coming apart with the
war, and so you had sophomores running fraternities, flunking out,
and things like that.
B: Yes. How did you deal with this? These were your fraternity
brothers... you were an undergraduate teetotaler.
0: I was still living at home, so you know, the usual thing, you would
argue some of the time and just keep quiet some of the time. They
called me Ichabod.
B: What led you to volunteer for the Air Force's meteorology program?
O: Well, all of us at age seventeen were trying to decide what would be
a good branch to go into, and I saw this advertisement that they
needed meteorologists. I was taking twenty-three hours and so on,
trying to get enough math and physics to get into good programs,
and I applied and was accepted, was sent to basic training in a funny
place, Miami Beach of all places, which was great to come back to
Florida. And then we went for engineering training, and they
happened to send me right back to Chapel Hill, North Carolina,
where they had a pre-meteorology school, and then to officer
training at Chanute Field, Urbana, Illinois. As Second Lieutenant I
went on from there to forecast weather at the Glider Base at
Laurinberg Maxton Base in North Carolina. I had made high grades,
so I was picked to go to tropical weather school and sent to Puerto
Rico, and later on they set up their own tropical weather school in
Howard Field, Panama Canal Zone. So I was there for a year as
an instructor in tropical meteorology. This is extremely important
to me because you learn not only about the earth and processes and
engineering approaches to things, but also this view of the top-
down, the systems-view, the real systems-view.
B: Was there a significance to the war effort in the meteorology
program? Or were you sort of removed from that?
O: No, this is all focused, all this instruction had to do with the people
we were instructing coming back from the Pacific and they would
head back out. And we were trying to develop new methods of
forecasting the hurricanes and so on. For example, they sent a
civilian down to learn from us, named Robert Simpson. Later on,
after he learned something, he went on to make the Saffir-
Simpson scale that you hear about on the television, this was his
scale of hurricane influence. As part of that training, I spent a
month with the hurricane patrol out of West Palm Beach. And that
was flying into hurricanes.
B: I did not realize they did that that early.
O: That was when it started, and it was operated through the Air Force
at the time. It was later made civilian. We went through four
different hurricanes during that period. In those days they did not
use radar, but flew in at ground level in B-25 airplanes. We would
be about six hundred feet off the water and trying to take what is
called double-drift measurements of wind velocity. The torrential
raindrops were slapping the plane, and it was in yaw turbulence
sliding back and forth--very exciting. You just could not have a
more interesting training than I was lucky enough to have in the Air
B: Yes. So when you came out of the Air Force, you did not go straight
O: No, I came back to finish an undergraduate degree in zoology
because I had already been assisting Dr. R.E. Coker with his fish
collection before I left, when I was still in high school. Dr. Coker,
who wrote The Great Wide Sea, helped set up the marine programs
there at the University of North Carolina, which I later reinforced
when I came back to that department. But in the meantime my
father, at Yale visiting faculty, encouraged me to transfer and study
with G. Evelyn Hutchinson--ecologist--geochemist. So I finished the
undergraduate degree and went on to Yale. In those days I was going
to find the secret of life. In the first year of graduate school at Yale,
and reading one of the famous texts on the dynamics of
biochemistry, I suddenly realize life is just a complex system, so if
you are going to try to understand complex systems, this is not the
best scale with its fantastic costs for just getting measurements at
the microscopic level. Instead, let's go upscale and work with
environment and humans where you can see what you are doing,
and then work out the principles of complex systems which should
apply to everything. So that has been my lifetime theme. And I
think what the world needs to do, is to realize that there are these
common principles of energy, materials and information that apply
to everything. Humans, in the midst of it, think that they are
making choices, and they are, but they are choosing between actions
that fit the principles and thus will prevail, and actions that don't fit
and fail. This concept is hard to get across, even to those in the
ecological societies. We even have a controversy with a former
student about whether deterministic principles that apply both
above and below the human scale apply to ecological economics,
which is a field which we started, relating people, environment, and
B: Are you speaking of the former student, Costanza?
B: Let me go back for a moment to Yale, just so I can finish that idea.
G. Evelyn Hutchinson... was this way of looking at systems that you
began to undertake, was this different than how ecologists have
looked at the world before?
O: Oh, yes.
B: How so? Could you explain that?
O: Ecology at that point was defined as a relationship of organisms and
their environment. In other words, it is what is now called
autecology, science of a small scale. One of Evelyn Hutchinson's
fields, biogeochemistry, which is the cycles of materials, is a
larger scale systems-view of the environment. He got into that
because of his mineralogy father, and so on. So that reinforced
my orientation from meteorology to start with a large scale and top-
down view. And then we also had a lot of population ecology at
Yale, which was started by Evelyn Hutchinson following Lotka, and in
his mind there was no conflict there. Out of the students that came
out of that program, some retained a large scale, and I am an
example. Those who decided to emphasize population ecology went
down to a smaller scale again, and that entire society has been hurt
by it. People who study one scale call it a discipline, and they do not
realize that every scale is driven by the next larger scale that uses
parts from the lower scale. Science is hung up on the idea that basic
is smaller. However the correct answer is that basic is both smaller
B: I still do not quite understand the controversy though, between the
two ways of looking at population.
O: All right, the ecological community is our there ... you see the
forest, the trees, the birds, the microbes and everything. The
smaller-scale view says this is the struggle of existence between
competing populations, and that it is seething, and first one thing is
ahead, and then something else is ahead, and when it is disturbed
you get more variety, and that is all there is to it (an anarchy view).
B: So, Darwinism?
O: Well, early Darwinism, The Origin of Species. Darwin's last book,
The Descent of Man, was important reinforcement for me. It is
entirely a larger systems view. There is a natural selection for the
systems that are organized to be cooperative, including the humans.
That is the trouble for so many in the ecological societies who never
read The Descent of Man.
B: So where does the value aspect come in? That is so important to
O: Okay. The systems concepts were developed during the Second
World War including meteorology. In the post-war university there
was much discussion of systems information and energy and a very
remarkable book published earlier, Physical Biology, by Alfred
Lotka--Hutchinson put me onto it. The principles of
thermodynamics include three laws, and Lotka proposed a fourth
one. I realized as a graduate student then, that this was the
explanation of nearly everything. It was called the maximum power
principle. The self-organizing processes that you have in the forest
or in a chemical solution or in the stars or in human affairs, the
systems that prevail are those that, as first priority, pull in the most
available energy resources, and as second priority, use them
efficiently to make all the processes perform at the maximum. And
people say, well why? Why should that be? Well, it is natural
selection, but not just on an organismal level. I mean, in addition to
selecting organisms, natural selection chooses system design,
including all the components of a system, whether it be people
interacting or birds and trees interacting. There are all kinds of
connections that could be made, and the ones that reinforce are
selected. For example, when the bees pollinate the flowers, that
reinforces both the bees and the flowers. It is a closed loop
reinforcement, and therefore that design takes over. I do not
understand why so much of science, and particularly ecological
people, have trouble with understanding the maximum power
principle. And we have changed it and refined it, and we now call it
the maximum empower principle.
B: Does man not have an advantage, an unfair advantage, in this system
that you just described?
O: Humans are suffered on this earth as long as they feed back and
reinforce their environment. That is the message that is gradually
getting out. So what do the humans do for the environment, for the
whole world, that was not there before? Well, they are information
processors, both as individuals and also in their social mechanisms
that their culture developed, so that they collectively can have this
fantastic information development. That is why people are
reinforcing the earth. Of course, information civilization has a
temporary pulse from using fossil fuels, but on a longer scale, the
pulse is part of a repeating pattern.
There are a bunch of corollaries that we have learned about all
systems that are part of the energy hierarchy concept. Systems
store energies and then use them in a pulse, and that gives more
performance. An earthquake gets more done than if the plates of
the earth moved gradually all the time. They would not get as much
done as by building up a strain and then releasing it with a sudden
surge. We find pulsing in the molecules, the cells of organisms, in
ladies with pregnancies, and human sleep; pulsing is the normal
pattern to plan for. The world is using the sustainable steady state
model where growth builds up and levels off. And that came out of
ecology earlier, and that is Cowles' model. It is not correct.
Systems build up and have a consumption pulse, and then they reset
and do it again. I think most ecologists now are coming to realize
that. Other colleagues contributed to that consensus such as C.S
B: When are you developing these theories? Is it after you had left
O: I started as a graduate student with my dissertation, The
Biogeochemistry of Strontium.
B: And I know before you arrived here for good in 1970 you were at
UF, Duke, University of Texas at Austin, University of Puerto Rico,
and full professor at UNC Chapel Hill. What were some of the most
important times during that time when you were a young professor?
What sorts of theories were you developing during those years?
O: I came first to Florida in 1950 for four years, and at first I was doing
biogeochemistry, and I remember one senior professor who said,
"when you gonna do some biology?" W.C. Allee had come to
Florida as Biology chairman and encouraged me to do the Silver
Springs project with which we developed energy systems theory.
W.C. Allee, who was a social-ecologist, had published this great
"AEPPS" book, named after five authors, Allee, Emerson, Park, Park
and Schmidt, which had summarized fragmented knowledge of
ecology, that encouraged my brother to do his textbook
Fundamentals of Ecology. But Gene had an out-of-date framework
and asked me to collaborate authoring two chapters on energy and
population. I just brought the new stuff out of Yale, and helped him
organize. Gene forgot his original offer to include "with
collaboration of" and left my name off the first edition.
B: Your brother did?
O: And so I told him I would get a lawyer if he did not correct it, so the
next edition, he put it in.
B: My gosh.
O: There are complex exchanges between brothers. There has always
been a need for us to hold together as best we can, make joint
contributions, and reinforce by sometimes writing together, but
there have been problems.
B: So you have also been competitive?
O: Well, I never felt it, but my brother did. It is described in Gene's
new biography authored by Jean Craige, a nice lady in Athens
(Director, Humanities Center, University of Georgia). I was eleven
years younger and didn't expect to be equal until later.
B: Well, you were the upstart little brother.
0: Besides, my background is entirely different, starting with Air Force
meteorology. Returning to college, I took the equivalent of an
undergraduate major in chemistry along with zoology. My wartime
engineering training was all quantitative, and his was in another
direction. But over the years, he has been a genius at reaching
people. During the war, he taught eighteen hours of elementary
courses to ignorant kids off of Georgia's farms and learned to reach
people who have poor backgrounds. And so that has been his
strength, to cultivate ways of feeding ideas to people at a rate they
could take them, and not shocking them. Whereas my tendency is
to say what is correct, even putting down stupid ideas. And, of
course, that is not the way to influence people.
B: So when you read his biography recently, you learned things that
you had realized?
0: I scanned it.
B: That is interesting. An yet over the years, you have collaborated on
0: Sure. For example, after Gene's son died prematurely (liver
disease), his mother, Martha, asked us to write a co-authored paper.
I wrote the draft of a paper authored by William Odum, Gene Odum,
and myself on the pulsing paradigm, relating theory and Bill Odum's
work on marshes. The pulsing idea was already in my 1983 book
Systems Ecology (last chapter). The paper was a good chance to use
my nephew's very nice estuarine research, and Gene's acceptance
among ecologists, to advance a principle. So we would do things
like that. We put out a paper recently. I think lots of people in
ecology are like a Romanian ecologist who approached me at an
international conference a couple of years ago in Denmark. He said,
"I hear your brother is the good ecologist and you are the bad
ecologist." But he says, "why do you not come give us a lecture and
let us see."
B: Well let me ask you, what does he mean by you are the bad ecologist
and your brother is the good ecologist?
O: Well because...
B: Because you challenged the system?
O: Challenged sometimes. I am primarily an environmental scientist on
a larger scale. The consequences of each scale of science are driven
by those at the next larger scale. People at one scale do not want to
be told that the answers are not in modeling up from their parts, but
in aggregating all this detail in order to deal with the next scale. On
any scale, half the knowledge is about the parts and the other half is
in emergent combinations. Science is badly hurt by letting
disciplines study only one scale.
Also, if you are in an engineering college, ecologists assume
that you are somehow hurting the environment.
B: I see, you are messing with it. You are manipulating it somehow.
O: Something, who knows?
B: Would you say you are close to your brother?
O: We were very close, up until the time I had the problem with the
book, and then ...
B: And that was early in your careers?
O: That was in 1953. But we have worked together many times since,
but I had to learn to be cautious. We were given the Institut de la
Vie prize in 1975, and that was great, going to Paris. That is a group
that normally does not look at environment, but with new world
interest in environment, they departed from the molecular biology
interests and gave us the prize.
B: So you were awarded that prize jointly?
0: Yes. Some of the people on the awards committee were from India,
so Gene sent me a letter and said, let us put our summary papers of
our presentations in the Indian journal, Tropical Ecology. Mine
introduced the concept that we now call transformity, a
fundamental new concept. So I did, and it came out in 1976. But
his turned up instead in the front pages of Science, and he got the
Tyler award the next year. On the other hand, Gene pushes our
stuff. People say that when Gene is ready to adopt one of H.T.'s
ideas publicly, it must be all right.
B: That must be frustrating.
O: It is not, because I have a different model for my life's role, one
advocated by my father in his later years. What's important is to
contribute new synthesis. Breaking new ground is the model I have.
My major professor at Yale, Evelyn Hutchinson, was that way, not
trying to be influential. He wrote his papers and books, and once in
a while he would go to a meeting, and inspired students by example.
However, there's more than one useful model for scientists to
B: I know you had grant work in Florida as early as 1953. Could you
talk about some of the earliest work you did in Florida?
O: Florida, in those days, did not have research grants, it was just
starting. The Office of Naval Research gave us one of the first grants
in the entire university, comparing springs and their ecosystems.
And then we had a little project on phosphorus in waters from the
Florida Geological Survey, you know, $500. And there was one from
engineering on red tide, and one on boron. So understanding of
chemistry of ecosystems developed using biogeochemistry, the
concept I had learned from Evelyn Hutchinson, a limnologist.
(Limnology is the study of streams and lakes.) And when W.C. Allee
came down from Chicago and set up changes in the department of
biology, he gave me the limnology course. My early limnological
work showed the role of phosphorus, which seemed to be extreme
in Florida, appearing in waters in all kinds of interesting places. Our
early work showed where things were eutrophic, that is nutrient-
rich, where they were oligotrophic, and the ecological
consequences. We did not have a lot of measurements on $500, but
even now these are the only ones they have to decide how Lake
Okeechobee and other places have changed.
B: So those early studies are what they rely on now to measure?
O: Well, you cannot rely on two or three numbers very much, but still
this survey suggested principles.
B: What did you learn about the role of phosphorus in Florida's lakes?
O: Wherever the acid waters of swamps cross phosphate rocks, then
you had more phosphorus, and so you had more fertility.
B: Was that good or bad?
O: Well, in those days, that was regarded as good. And Canada had sent
people to work with Hutchinson to talk about fertilizing all the lakes
of Canada. So the idea in those days was to make everything more
eutrophic. But in Florida, it was already eutrophic in a great many
places and surviving fairly well with it. I mean ecosystems were
fairly well adapted. Many of the fish could live with eutrophy and
the low-oxygen conditions, and so on. The chemical tests made blue
solutions. One day, all of a sudden, this blue-black solution resulted
in tests of the tributary of the present Rodman Dam. My god, we
have discovered a new phosphate deposit. Of course, it turned out
to be Orlando sewage. Phelps had made his name well-known in
environmental engineering for understanding the behavior of
oxygen in water. Retired, he came down to the University of Florida
and was helping out with waste studies in what is now the Center
for Wetlands. I came and showed him some of the results. I was
fresh out of school, a couple of years out, and he was my present
age. And he says, oh well, nutrients are not very important. It was
just incredible the misunderstanding in those days of the role of
nutrients in controlling all of the waters and their ecology in Florida.
B: And what was Phelps's first name? This is the guy the Phelps lab is
O: That is right.
B: Okay, I will fill that in. So, if you could just follow up on what has
changed about the phosphorus in our lakes now.
O: Well, whenever consumption is greater than plant production, then
the consumption process turns loose nutrients; it turns loose the
phosphorus and the nitrogen and other trace materials needed.
Modem society, because it bums fossil fuels and uses fertilizers
straight from mining, turns loose huge quantities. Now we have this
supereutrophy wherever humans are: it comes off the highways, out
of the cities, off the sewage, out of the boats, off everything. So all
of a sudden we have more nutrients being turned loose all over
Florida than it can accept. Of course, one of our greatest
contributions was showing how to use wetlands to regulate
nutrients, and the University of Florida probably did not get enough
credit for it. This was done after I came back to Florida in 1970,
and we set up the Center for Wetlands with a $1,000,000 grant from
the Rockefeller Foundation and NSF (National Science
Foundation). I knew wetlands would work from studying nutrients
in salt marshes in North Carolina and rainforest in Puerto Rico.
B: And the Amazon?
O: Our work had included measurements in soils there. Wetlands are
nature's way of taking in excesses and binding them back into
organic matter. They redeposit nutrients in peats, and we set up
experiments to show that for Florida. We held a national workshop
in Gainesville in 1972-1973. And immediately everybody who came
to that national workshop went home and wrote proposals to treat
wastes with wetlands.
B: So even scientists did not know the value of wetlands before that
O: They knew in general that they were interesting ecological places,
but not this particular role of wetlands in world purification. Many
scientists even now, the negative-type conservationists, will oppose
the use of wetlands for this purpose. However, you do not have to
use natural wilderness wetlands for this. You can build new ones,
and that is what we learned to do. It is easy to control water levels,
and once you get the right hydroperiod and multiple-seed it with
many kinds of species, nature self-organizes and gives you back a
pattern that fits that particular condition. So this is now done all
over the world, and with magazines and journals recording
successes. This was one of the successes of a new field, Ecological
Engineering. My former students founded the Ecological Engineering
journal, and we now have a new society, and it met for the first time
in Athens, Georgia, this year. We had my brother, Gene, give one of
the keynote speeches.
B: What was the name of the new society?
O: American Society of Ecological Engineering
[End of side 1, Tape A]
B: This is side two of tape one, and you left off talking about the
American Society of Ecological Engineering.
O: Ecological engineering differs from environmental engineering in
that it expands the scale to include the ecosystems around the
engineering technology. For example, consider wastewaters coming
out of a pipe. Environmental engineering works with processes in
the technology to try to get the waters to be appropriate to the
environment. But ecological engineering takes it a step further and
says we are going to let self-organization, that is nature's design,
work with us. And so we are going to adjust not only what we put
out, but help the environment manage it in such a way that it
develops an interface that benefits from the waste, because there is
no such thing as waste in ecological engineering. It is potentially
useful byproducts, but not waste.
B: That is interesting. And what year again was the national wetlands
O: Well, that was 1973 I guess. Ed Pyatt was chairman of our
department and helped us start with a one year Rockefeller planning
grant, which included that workshop. And then from that we turned
in a $1,000,000 proposal, and we got a lot of endorsements. We
had Reuben Askew's (Florida governor 1971-1979) letter
B: How about Stephen C. O'Connell (President, University of Florida,
1967-1973)? Was he instrumental?
O: He approved it. I thought maybe he might not approve it because I
had testified in favor of a wildlife professor who had been an
environmental activist in IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural
Sciences), attacking agricultural concepts. They wanted to fire him,
and there was a hearing. Manning Dauer (University of Florida
Distinguished Service Professor, Department of Political Science,
1933-1987) was the attorney for defense, and he had me testify.
But my testimony was just to show that IFAS at that time was not
following as free policy for faculty as in engineering and biology. I
had been in both of those departments, so I could speak with some
B: What was the name of the wildlife professor?
O: That is one I am going to have to look up.
B: Okay, we will fill that in. And ...
O: He eventually left. I think he chose to leave, but it stirred up the
B: What specifically was the controversy? Why did they want to get rid
O: I would have to review that.
B: Okay, we will fill that in. That sounds like an interesting story.
O: It is. It was a time of university activism regarding Viet Nam, race,
and environment. The public perception was that O'Connell, a
jurist, was inaugurated to quell activism. I believe the first Earth
Day was 1967. I was still at the University of North Carolina at that
time. So in Florida in a time of expanding environmental activism,
they were trying to punish a person because he was speaking out...
but I had looked at his scientific papers, which seemed to be
reasonable science, and there was just no basis for firing him.
B: That brings me back to when you first came here as a full professor
in 1970. I want to ask you to characterize the environmental
outlook of the three campus groups: students, faculty, and
B: Here in Gainesville, yes. Was the student body beginning to pick up
on the environmental movement that we were seeing?
O: Yes, it had not been as active here as it had been in some other
universities, such as Chapel Hill. But nonetheless, it was developing,
but later. At Chapel Hill, I had been a part of three departments. I
was joint professor in departments of Botany, Zoology, and
Environmental Science and Engineering. And I also organized the
Marine Science major curriculum program, an interdepartmental
major, in memory of R.E. Coker, my early teacher. We also set up
the ecological degree program. I learned from being
interdepartmental that no one chairman would back you. So when I
came to Florida, when they asked me if I wanted to be jointly
appointed in other departments that I had once been a part of, like
biology, I said no. If I am going to do engineering, I am going to
stick with it. At that time, this Department of Environmental
Engineering Sciences was really quite innovative because it had half
engineers and half scientists, and they were all trying to deal with
these environmental problems. So it was a very creative time, a lot
of mixing, hydrology, ecology, and then our innovation with
wetlands. To answer your question, I think all the environmentally-
related departments were innovating at that time.
B: You helped shape the university's policies on environmental
education during that time? How did the administration ...
O: As to the question of what the environmental curriculum should be,
there was already competition as to who was going to do
environment. Possibly because of my proposals, I was made
chairman of a university-wide committee on an environmental
science undergraduate degree. Bob Bryan was provost then, and
later acting president.
B: Robert Bryan (Acting president, University of Florida 1989-1990).
O: Yes. They appointed administrators to my committee, so we met for
a whole year and put out a report. Archie Carr was on it. The
question was whether to put in an undergraduate environmental
science program, and it split down the middle. The member from
the medical school abstained, and forced the vote into a tie, which
meant that there was no degree recommended... So we submitted a
final report that had a weak majority conclusion and a strong
minority statement for a degree.
B: Did the vote line up with all of the administration opposed?
O: Yes, because they wanted to push their own programs, they did not
want one campus-wide program. So the IFAS dean was against it,
and my chairman was against it, and so on.
B: And what was the medical program's beef with it?
O: He said environment is "fly-by-night." He thought it was a passing
fad and did not see any point in setting up a new curriculum.
B: And now they have a whole College of Natural Resources.
O: Well, that is later when it came up again, 15 years later. But at that
time, I went out of town for a month in the summer. When I came
back, one of the deans had come over and picked up all the copies
of the report and destroyed them. I let it pass; there are times to
fight, and times not to fight. Then years later, the pendulum on the
environment swung back. We had a lot of strength on this campus
in environment in maybe twenty departments. I mean, there was
entomology, and aquatic plants, agricultural engineering, and all
kinds of places. I proposed an environmental college and hit a
nerve, and all of a sudden it caught fire. They set up a set of
committees, and the first time they had the faculty interested to
come out to a general meeting, 300 turned up. Later on, it sifted
down to smaller numbers; the outcome of that is the program that
Stephen Humphrey now directs (College of Natural Resources and
Environment). Even then there was the struggle as to whether that
should be within IFAS or be separate. But of course, it is a virtual
college, and it does not have any budget except for some fellowships
and some secretarial help.
B: Did you argue that it should be outside IFAS?
O: Yes, I thought it needed to be independent, a full fledged college.
That is still the issue now. So much for the undergraduate program.
For graduate studies, in order to give strength to ecology, I
proposed an "ecology independent major," and that was picked up.
It was separate at first, but then it was combined into this
environmental college. Humphrey picked up on this graduate
major, but it is not as good as a regular college. The problem is that
the environment cuts knowledge across old disciplines. With the
typical disciplines, chemistry, physics, and forestry, etc., you can
line them up in parallel (here I referred to a drawing on paper),
I F -*- Environment
like that, each one with its scale and a set of principles. When you
go to train somebody in the environment, you need some of each of
the old disciplines. The whole country now is starting stronger
environmental programs. For example, I check at Yale every
summer when I go up there, and they just put in a new
environmental program they adapted from their former forestry
department, renamed it, and are moving it towards an
environmental college. Some places have environmental studies,
which are pretty weak in that they are not required to learn
quantitative science. They learn the qualitative sides of it as part of
good general education. Some places have hard-core sciences, and
then others try to compromise between these ideals.
B: I guess we will go back to 1971 when Environment, Power, and
Society is published. Could you talk a little bit about that book and
its impact? That was one of your most important books, right?
O: Yes. We started writing chapters even as I was doing the rainforest
work, and they were rejected at first. Then publisher Wiley changed
their mind and encouraged me to finish it. This was an attempt to
use systems concepts to understand all systems, but particularly this
scale of humans and the environment. By this time we had evolved
a set of symbols that represent the way the world breaks systems
into units. It is a general-systems language, and it had an energy
aspect and a mathematical aspect. It connects science to the verbal
thinking that people have, everybody, including the mathematicians-
-as they were raised at their mother's knee. (I drew an example of a
symbol of a water tank.) Well, my symbol language translates verbal
models and immediately elicits what the symbols in the drawings
look like. The minute you have done that, you have automatically
written the equations for a computer program, so you can simulate
the system. I guess that general connectivity concept hit a nerve. It
was fairly new and many people were influenced. For example, the
input-output energy people apparently got their ideas out of one of
my diagrams in that book.
B: Is this the time when you explain the concept of emergy?
O: In those days we were still calling it embodied energy. It is energy
that went into something, it is embodied. There were other
concepts with that same name that were getting confused, and
people were attacking each other. In 1983, we realized that what we
were doing is not what some other people were doing, and that it is
separate, and it should have a name, not some English name that
everybody would be confused about, which is what ecologists have
done in the past. They keep taking English names and reusing them
in some narrow way. We used a new word, emergy, which is short
for energy memory. It is the memory of what was used up to make
B: And it is basically a measurement of the value of natural systems.
O: All real value, real wealth, if you like, requires work to be done.
According to the second law of thermodynamics, everything diffuses
apart, falls apart. You have to keep building it back up. You build
your house up, and it eventually erodes and falls apart. Your body is
doing that all the time. The work required to make something, or to
sustain something, that work is real wealth, and that is the measure
of it, and it applies to all scales. The problem is that available
energy at one scale is different from available energy at another
scale That is, it takes a lot of phytoplankton to make a little
zooplankton to make a few fishes to make one giant fish. So a joule
or a calorie of one level is not equivalent to that of another. (Here I
referred to a drawing of an energy chain.) It takes a million calories
at a lower level to make one at higher level. People who are trying
to do energy analysis and deal with value have been using energy to
measure work. They renamed available energy, by the way. They
now call it exergy, which is available energy that can do work. But
they are adding different kinds together as if they were the same,
and that is wrong. Engineers have known for a long time that they
should not add electricity and coal because it takes four coals to
make one unit of electricity. That principle applies to everything, so
what we do is put everything in units of one kind. That is called
energy; it is a memory of what it takes through all the pathways in
terms of one kind of energy. Each joule of whale required 10 billion
joules of sunlight, to put them on an appropriate basis. The
conversion from one to another is called transformity. Use of this
value system is gradually spreading internationally. We had a
conference two years ago here on emergy, and Mark Brown edited
our proceedings book. We are having one September 20, the next
one. Every other year we have this.
B: Could you give me an example of an emergy analysis you would do
using a Florida example? Could you give an example that would help
readers of this document see how this is effective?
O: One example to mention is from the book that has details:...
B: Environmental Accounting: Emergy and Environmental Decision
Making (Wiley, 1996).
O: Yes. One of the example in there is the Santa Fe Swamp, which is the
headwaters of the Santa Fe River, and also a part of the Santa Fe
Lake. To save money, Georgia-Pacific was going to dig up that
peat, about three meters of it, and use it for fuel. Of course, that
takes away the natural functions; they did not realize how much.
But the public had an instinct about it and opposed it. Georgia-
Pacific proposed to give it to the county. The question is: how
much is it worth, for taxes and other things like that? We had a
radiocarbon measurement done. The bottom peat was 1,500 years
old. If you take the work of nature times 1,500 years, and convert
emergy to emdollars, the economic equivalent, you have the value
of the peat. It comes out to be 1.2 billion emdollars. Emdollars are
the emergy share of the gross economic product. We think all
public decisions need to be made with emdollars.
B: What was the reaction of Georgia-Pacific and public officials to your
O: That was really interesting. They sent lawyers around to visit. I did
learn that they sent the same questions to my brother. I never
heard the final outcome. But ours is published. The point is that
environmental products are worth much more than you pay for
them, because the money does not go to the environment. Money
only goes to people to process products, and it does not recognize
at all how much nature has put into it. Nature might have put a
little in it, or might have put a lot in it. You cannot tell from just
what you pay somebody to bring it to you.
B: You have said one problem with emergy evaluation has been fear of
the correct answer by government and private sources. Can you
O: When the mitigation business in Florida started, saying you can
develop one wetland by enriching or protecting another one, the
people getting ready to deal with this and their billion-dollar land
values had me come around and present these concepts as a
scientific method. Then they backed off because the state did not
use it. The state wanted to use its present method, which is usually
some kind of committee action. I asked one of the people, a former
student, actually, in the Florida Department of Natural Resources,
why they were not using it, and why they backed off. She said they
were afraid of it; they were getting a lot of money to protect the
environment with the present method of mitigation, and they were
afraid they might not get as much. Then the people whose private
lands, the developers, who were trying to do the development, were
fearful of something new. They believed they could do better with
the present system of personal interactions and the present
economic values. The idea among the public and most people is
that value is market value, it is economic value, what people are
willing to pay. They don't believe in a natural-value system. People
in thermodynamics know there is, but they are arguing about the
best way to measure it. The majority, particularly in a society that
had two centuries of explosive growth, see no limits. They don't
believe energy is relevant. If you want something, you just
advertise, and you can just have it. That is the struggle between the
reality of value and the public's perception. It is going to be a
drastic change when the public realizes limits. I do not know
whether or not I will live to see it, but our recipe for that is, as you
know, in this new book, The Prosperous Way Down, which explains
how to deal with it once the shock hits us.
B: Let me ask you, are we not doing constructed wetlands now? And
private wetlands mitigation now? And do you think that is working?
O: Developing wetlands for wastewater is, I think, doing real well. But
they keep doing stupid things like spending $100,000 to plant what
they want to grow. By next year these are all dead and something
else has come in and covered the area nicely, by nature. They have
not quite learned the difference between brute force and self
organization, which is ecological engineering, which is to let nature
tell you what fits. But there are plenty of problems like that, but in
general there should be a wetland between every outflow of every
agriculture and every run-off and every sewage drain and any open
waters. I think that principle is out there. I am not up-to-date on
how many of those mitigation swamps are really working. I think
the notion that we will get rid of all the little ones and have one big
swamp saved somewhere else is a mistake. The little wetlands are
what keep the superficial groundwaters wet. Transpiration keeps
the forest from getting too hot and exploding in fires when you get
B: So even one of the teeny-tiny wetlands you see when you are driving
on the interstate, like those in the middle of the median, those are
O: Absolutely. The big mistake in the forestry industry was to drain
those, but they are not completely drained, so most plant and flora
still have about five to ten percent of the areas in little cypress, gum
or some other little wetlands. But they are partly drained, and the
sooner they fill the ditches back, the sooner they will protect their
own forest by maintaining the superficial water levels. In other
words, nature's self-organization of water was to maximize
productivity of the landscape, and that is what people want--the
same thing. It was shortsighted to try to get that little bit of extra
B: We just took a short break, and you were just mentioning that
emergy has been used in two lawsuit that were settled out of court.
Are you able to talk about those at all?
O: Well, sure. In one, a landowner had dredged some mangroves down
in Lee County, against the rules of both the state and the Corps of
Engineers. The state lawyers heard about our method. It was
interesting that they caught on to emergy quicker than my own
B: What year was that? Was it in the 1980s or 1990s?
O: No, it was in the 1990s, but it was not with the present
administration of DEP (Department of Environmental
Protection). When we had preliminary hearings, their
environmental consultant resigned; then they had the second
hearing and settled out of court. The market value of wood and a
few fish was at the $1000 level, whereas the destruction of a whole
coastal protection system of mangroves and tidal exchanges comes
out with emergy evaluation at the $1,000,000 level.
B: Do you think eventually this will begin being used in development
O: I think so. It may take people a while to accept that the market
value is not the appropriate public value. Market value is one
correct value, it is what it is worth to people, it is what it is worth to
businesses, but it is not a measure of the effect on the economy, the
B: So emergy will always be far greater than market value?
O: Usually, not all the time. Once, drought in Texas got so bad in one
place that people were willing to pay more than what nature's water
was worth. So it can happen, but not usually.
B: I know when you came up with the concept of emergy, you said you
believed that having such a rational science-based measure of real
wealth would eliminate much of the rancor and adversarial decision-
making that plagues environmental issues, but it seems today that
the rancor is only growing greater, it seems worse than ever. Why
would you say this is?
0: Well, that is part of any system, you build up and store the need for
something, and when it gets to a threshold, then it flips. We already
discussed that with earthquakes and with storms, and this also
applies to human affairs.
B: So that is a natural occurrence, and you believe that will flip?
O: Sure. The best example connects with my father again. All during
the time I was growing up, my father was always speaking for racial
harmony, and he was one of the moderate southerners who were
trying to say that the way to do it was to do it gradually. By doing it
a little here and a little at a time, it looked to me like we were not
getting anywhere, and nothing was happening. But of course, what
you had was a gradual build-up of beliefs and so on. Then Martin
Luther King hit the nerves, and it flipped. That is a good example.
B: So your dad was right?
O: Not quite, he was wrong about how to do it. Of course he was right
about what he was trying to get done, but you can't make large
changes gradually. He was partly right, you do it by educating and
writing and so on, but it still does not happen until there is a
controversy that brings the issue to the center stage so that
everyone can look at it and flip.
B: I misunderstood. So there has to be some sort of boiling point?
O: Yes, there has to be some kind of trigger to release accumulated
feelings in a pulse, which gets it done quickly. Human culture has
been built, in both genetic and social inheritance aspects, to do that,
because that is what energy principles require of any system. The
general-systems concept applies to human affairs in the same way.
Pulsing maximizes performance.
B: Do you think both sides of these rancorous environmental issues
will eventually have that same sort of revelation?
0: There are so many issues here, but the one we were talking about
was whether a majority of the public would then be ready to accept
a new valuation method for public benefit. Whether they will call it
emergy or call it something else, it will happen in a flip, I think.
B: Is now a good time to talk about the controversy with the former
student Bob Costanza? Was that about emergy? Or was that
O: Bob was one of our energy systems graduates. He and Mark Brown
were in the same class. He was in architecture when Harry Merritt
dropped him, and I admitted him to our program, supported on our
Department of Energy grant, which had been running several years.
When we started emergy evaluations we were moved from the
environmental division to the economics division. The new people
managing that grant said "your stuff does not seem to be the same
as the stuff out of Illinois, which evaluated embodied energy by the
input-output method. We think you all ought to get together." So I
sent Bob Costanza to Urbana. This worked pretty well. He got them
interested in our method, but also adopted their method and came
back with it About that time I went to New Zealand on a special
fellowship. He finished up about the time I got back. In his first
jobs, he applied our methods, but he was not having much
influence. He started interacting with Herman Daly at Louisiana.
He believed he could get more influence by not opposing
economists, but joining them. So he helped start the Society and
Journal of Ecological Economics. He put all of us on the board of
the new journal and got started. There were important conferences
in Sweden and at the World Bank. At some point, however, there
was a deep struggle there, and one of the main issues was input-
output embodied energy versus emergy. Another was market value
versus other values. So he took us off the board. Now they are
using economic methods more. When my students had the 65th
birthday celebration for me in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, later
published as the book Maximum Power (ed. by Charles Hall), there
was controversy over emergy. Most of my former students did not
know what to make of it.
B: Is there a continuing conflict today between ecological economics
O: No. We founded ecological economics, not only through Bob
Costanza, but through other people and journals. Emergy is part of
ecological economics. But that particular journal, since he has
edited it, has not accepted emergy papers. The only time they
published emergy was Mark Brown's paper co-authored with Bob
Herendeen. So they published it because they thought it was a
criticism, but the next year the paper was given an award as the best
thing in that journal. But there has only been one in that journal.
We publish elsewhere.
B: Is Costanza still the editor of Ecological Economics?
O: Yes, but he is no longer directing that society. I have talked to him
since. I think we are both trying to do the same thing, trying to get
economics and environment together. I think the ultimate outlet for
emergy is for it to be adopted by the economists because they are
concerned with people and value, whereas many ecologists regard
that as a dirty application and are not interested. Emergy is opposed
by three kinds of people: One is ecologists who regard this as some
kind of application, if useful at all, as something applied, not basic.
Then it has been opposed by some economists, who at first glance
think that we are trying to displace market value, which we are not.
Market value still applies for individuals and businesses, and that is
what people have to use. Emergy and emdollars are not to be a
substitute for market value. Then the third group includes some of
the thermodynamicists who do not want to give up the idea that
energies of different kinds can be added as measures of work.
B: I didn't understand the third group, I'm sorry. What was the third
0: Thermodynamicists, who do exergy analysis. Emergy analysis
requires one step beyond their exergy analysis to convert exergy to
emergy of one kind. My own background is pretty heavy with
thermodynamics from both physical chemistry and from
meteorology. In a paper I just reviewed yesterday for a journal, they
were adding the joules of beef to the joules of corn as a measure of
total production. And that is absurd because it takes many joules of
corn to make one joule of beef, so to add them as if they were
comparable is incorrect. Getting that across is slow because it is a
paradigm shift, and people do not want paradigm shifts because all
of a sudden they would have to turn around and say, oh my gosh,
every paper I have published should have been different. A new
generation may be more open minded.
B: So the basic difference between you and the economists is that they
put human value, and you place a systems value?
0: No, I do not like you to put it that way. The measure that we have
that economists, I think, are going to use increasingly, is a second
value, the contribution of real wealth, how to measure real wealth.
Economists need to deal with that as well as market value, which is
what people value. Both these systems, the circulation of money
using market value, and the real wealth, are coupled together, and
we know how. So emergy evaluation is not against economists,
although we lost opportunities in the early years when some of our
advocates came on the way you just did. When I came back to
Florida in 1970 with some of these ideas, I gave talks in economics
that were reasonably well-received. And then Engineering formed an
Energy Center, and got a personable fellow, a former fisherman,
named Tom Robertson, in engineering, under Dean Smuts, to
coordinate the Energy Center. There was an energy crisis developing
due to an OPEC embargo. Then he went around saying the
economists are all wrong and Odum is right, and we have had to live
that down. Tom Robertson, by the way, is good friend. Right now
he is in Washington D.C. helping to manage an energy discussion
group on the internet with about 500 members. I receive about 50
e-mails a day on the new energy crisis. This is part of a group that is
called Die-Off, by Jay Hanson.
B: Oh boy, I have seen this. That guy found me. I know exactly who
you are talking about.
O: Tom Robertson.
O: The university-wide Energy Center of the 1970s did not pull the
campus together, the crisis faded, and so they canceled it. Later,
Engineering formed another one under Barney Capehart, which
was narrow, only within engineering. And now, with Capehart
retiring, there is no energy center except the solar energy center.
So our Center for Environmental Policy is the main effort in
publishing research to prepare for the new energy and environment
crisis. We are just right now only a publication operation, with a
secretary and some cooperative faculty, doing conferences and
publications. We need to reestablish an intercollege energy center,
but this university, with all its reorganization of trustees and all
that, is in such a fluid state, I do not know where that initiative is
going to come from. My attempt to talk to the new president scared
him; he heard the word environment and ran.
B: Oh really? How about the provost? He seems to be environmentally
O: He is different.
B: Let me ask you again about applying value. Pollution credits and
things like industry solutions like wetlands-mitigation banks, how do
those fit into your model? Do you see those types of things as
O: Yes, the correct alternative is the one that fits the maximum
empower principle. And we say empower rather than power
because then that means that we are adding energies on a common
basis. The public policy that will succeed is the one that generates
the most real wealth, which you calculate from emergy. The
question with mitigation alternatives is: how much of this is
equivalent to that? You need to compare on an emergy basis, which
we immediately convert to emdollars, so that people can understand
B: Do you think that the people who are carrying out pollution credits
and the like are doing it right?
O: Well, they are not using this measure now, so it is a guessing
business. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is now finally
considering emergy. There is a former student, Dan Campbell,
who is part of the EPA in Rhode Island, and some of its staff have
been looking into emergy in this past month using a project in West
B: Okay, so the concepts are the right way of thinking about it.
O: And the measures, the measures are sound.
B: I want to go back to 1971, because we skipped over something I
wanted to ask you about. I think it would have been 1971 when
Governor Reuben Askew made his first calls for Florida to
manage growth. And our initial growth management laws passed the
following year. Were you involved in the governor's first growth
O: Yes. He had me on his speakers platform on one occasion. But then
at a later time, he kept his distance.
B: Why? What happened?
O: It is hard to say. People get labeled as extremists or too abstract,
and politicians try to be middle-of-the-road. On the other hand, he
wrote us a letter.
B: For the Center for Wetlands, for your Rockefeller-NSF grant.
O: Yes, that is right.
B: What was it about your involvement in the growth conference that
turned him off?
O: People who try to explain how society will have to adapt to no-
growth sometimes get an image as opposing growth. But let me
mention another occasion. Governor Bob Graham (Florida
governor, 1979-1987; U.S. Senator, 1987-present), our present
senator, had a later growth conference, and I was on that one. They
had a lot of subgroups, and I was made chairman of one of the
subgroups, with citizens of all walks of life. So we kicked around all
these things, and then they had the big session with several hundred
people in a giant room, and we all made reports. I made a report on
our group, on what we had agreed on, and what we did not agree on.
I said a couple of things having to do with valuation and also about
the need to be working on what to do when growth stops due to
energy shortages. Resource people agree that fuels are going to
tighten up, although at that time prices were down. But he
admonished me, saying growth will not stop.
B: Did he?
O: He said it was ridiculous, growth is not going to stop. Of course, he
was quite correct in the short run, and he was quite wrong in the
B: So you actually think Florida's growth will stop?
O: Of course.
B: How will that happen?
O: Not only Florida's growth, but the world economy. Florida just
tracks the rest of the country, partly driven by ups and down of
tourism. Right now we have some cutback in the economy, so
Florida cuts back. If you calculate the renewable emergy carrying
capacity of Florida, it is 15 percent of the present. By the time the
world fuels are too expensive, Florida economy has got to come
back to 15 percent. That means you cut the standard of living to 15
percent or you cut the population to 15 percent or some
combination of the two.
B: Could you explain that? That is intriguing, and I was going to ask
you about that. How would you create an emergy model for Florida?
O: We have, and in fact, it is in the back of the Florida book.
B: Okay, that is called Environment and Society in Florida by Howard
and Elisabeth Odum and Mark Brown.
B: What did that basically look like? Can you describe what the emergy
evaluation for Florida looks like?
O: Sure. It shows the components of real wealth, where they are
coming from. Again, most of it is fossil fuels, directly or indirectly,
that is, either they are coming in as fuel or ..
[End side 2, Tape A]
B: This is side one of tape two, and we were just talking about an
emergy evaluation of Florida and what it looks like.
O: (Refers to a diagram.) You know the word carrying capacity is an
old wildlife term, and it refers to how many quail or turkey you can
support in a given area. It refers to something that is at the top of
the food chain, but also how much the bottom can carry on the
average. But with carrying capacity of people, it is not only what the
area of land and the waters of Florida will carry, but it is also what
you can bring in from outside, that is, fuels in this case, pipelines of
B: What does it mean that we have a 15 percent carrying capacity?
O: It's what you can do if the fossil fuels and minerals were completely
gone. We can do all the things with sunlight and renewable energy.
We can make fiber, food and housing, motor fuel, and all those
things, but you cannot do them all at the level of the present
society. You have to cut back to 15 percent.
B: 15 percent of the current level?
O: That is right. But that is not going to happen in a big hurry. It is
going to drop a little bit, so if your population goes down at the
same rate at which your real wealth use goes down, then you can
keep the same standard of living.
B: Maybe this would be a good time to talk about the fossil fuels that
we know exist in the eastern Gulf of Mexico that are not being
O: Back in the days when I was at Texas, I was director of the Institute
of Marine Science at Port Aransas. It is a branch of the
University of Texas at Austin. Many of our studies of the Texas bays
had to do with the processes that formed organic matter that then
was covered over by sediments, which makes oil. One of the things
we learned there and published about was that any kind of extreme
knocks out the consuming organisms and leaves behind the organic
matter to form oil. So oils tend to form where there are extremes,
and one is extremely briny places--salty, like south Texas and the
desert areas of the world. Another is in the river deltas. In the river
deltas you get the surge of fresh water with organic, and then it is
salt, and then it is fresh, and then back to salt. Consumers can't
develop, and so the production of the plants is not eaten by animals.
These are places where oil forms. Oil areas that generate and retain
oil are those that have clay sediments, not porous limestone. Coral
reefs do not form oils normally because they have good consumers.
Also, they are porous, and do not collect oil. Where there is high
diversity you do not have any extremes. That is why the Bahamas
have turned up very little oil. Peninsular Florida is the same way,
except for the small Sunniland field.
B: Which is in the Everglades and southwest Florida.
O: It is very tiny, and it, too, had a briny condition that was there for a
B: So you do not believe there is as much petroleum?
O: I do not think there is in the limestone and sandy sediments of
Florida. As soon as you go west, there is--where there are river
sediments from the north--obviously, the Mississippi and the
Apalachicola River. From there south is, of course, where they
are going to drill next, according to the new plans.
B: How about natural gas? Does that follow the same pattern?
O: Yes, but it is much less. I think internet discussion groups are
bringing our fuel limitations out very well, and the public is
gradually beginning to hear it even from George W. Bush (U.S.
President, 2001-present), that in North America, the gas is going to
run out soon. Too many new developments are using gas, and when
they cannot find it, and they are, of course, going back to coal. But
with coal it takes more to process it and to keep it clean and all of
that. The thick seams of coal, when they are gone ... you use thin
seams of coal and they do not give you much net energy. In other
words, we keep using poorer and poorer deposits. We have to put
more back into getting them. What you can get beyond what you
have to put back runs everything else. If that gets less, the standard
of living has to come down.
B: So you think we are making a mistake building new coal-fired
plants, such as the big one in Jacksonville.
O: No, I do not think so. I am presuming they will have to take care of
the environment better than in the past, but the maximum power
principle says that you cannot not use energy. If you do not,
somebody else will overgrow you and go do it. So on that, (Richard
M.) Nixon (U.S. President, 1969-74) and (George W.) Bush were
right. But at the same time, you do not do it wastefully, in such a
way that you hurt the environment, because that cuts down on
maximum power as well. We need to keep the environmental
production going while you are moving the fuel. Turning loose
private industry to maximize their profit without incentive is not the
way to do it. Tax incentives can help the environment contribute its
B: What do you think about liquefied natural gas and the potential of
moving that into Florida?
O: I just came from Alaska. I was there a week with my daughter. Of
course, gas development is in all their newspapers too, whether to
take their north shore fuel and run it down the present pipeline,
liquefied, or whether to send it by ship. This liquefied gas is
refrigerated in order to compress it. It takes a low temperature, and
this gives you, essentially, a floating bomb, so people do not
normally want to move it to anywhere around an urban population.
I cannot think of any place on the west coast where you would want
to have one, and the same with Florida. I doubt if the politicians
would allow it once the dangers were known. If the stuff gets loose,
it may blow up, or it may suffocate people. It's just too dangerous.
So that is why these plans to perhaps have LNG energy come in from
wherever it is, the near East or Alaska, wherever, will not be
B: Or the Bahamas, right?
O: One plan brings LNG into the less populated Bahamas and then
through a pipeline down under the Gulf Stream, which is a mile
deep. It is a huge expense, but that kind of thing is being discussed.
Again, emergy is the way to determine which of these alternatives is
B: But you do not think it will be liquefied natural gas for those
reasons you just stated?
O: No, I did not say that. I am saying that whatever is necessary to use
the fuel with the most net yield will prevail. People are going to use
it. As to whether--for example in Alaska--whether they use ships
from Alaska, or run the gas back down through Canada and the
McKenzie Delta, a long, expensive new pipeline ... You may have
to do an emergy evaluation. At the time the existing Alaska pipeline
was being discussed, Mark Brown did an analysis of whether it
would yield net energy, and he got a ten-to-one yield ratio, which is
very good. Therefore, we predicted it would be a success, and it
was. We have had a very good record predicting with emergy
evaluation. For example, it predicted that the oil-shale development
was not a net energy yielder, as we testified in Congress in 1975.
They ignored us and went ahead with it. Both the federal
government and the oil companies lost about $3,000,000,000. It
did not work. There is no way you can tell whether something will
work unless you do an emergy evaluation, because the money does
not cover all of the aspects.
B: Could you describe your emergy evaluation of Florida Power's
nuclear plant at Crystal River?
O: There was a period when Florida Power had a very environmentally-
oriented policy. It had a vice president dedicated to it, and had a
whole lot of contracts with us and other universities to understand
what they were proposing in building that nuclear plant and
releasing the hot water. We did things like measuring the estuarine
productivity; we measured the day-night rise and fall of the oxygen.
So we measured the productivity of the areas that were getting hot
water. The trouble was, it was not steady hot water because they
were turning the plant on and off. They had to because that is the
nature of power plants and repairs. An estuarine ecosystem adapts
to steady hot water, as in hot springs. The productivity of the grass
flat ecosystems was about half, with environmental cooling.
B: Just the switch in temperatures?
O: Yes. On the other hand, the estimated emergy of environmental
damage off somewhere, let us say Buffalo, New York, where they are
making steel for the cooling towers, was even greater than using the
environmental cooling. In other words, letting the hot water go on
into the grass flats and having less productive grass flats by half, was
less emergy damaging to the environment than building a cooling
tower to prevent it. People building the cooling towers were not
figuring on the environmental load of all that construction
somewhere else. People often view on too small of a scale. Our
result caused a reconsideration of policy which held up that cooling
tower for some years. But then the national policy to do it
irregardless took over, management of the power company changed,
and they went ahead with cooling towers, and added some more
nuclear power, and so on. We evaluated the whole area including
the intake system sucking in water from offshore, causing a canal
ecosystem full of batfishes. It was interesting the way ecosystems
reorganize to fit the new conditions. Part of the problem with the
environment is that people try to go measure the impact right after
some change is made, and you should not do that. Wait three years
and see how nature has built in response. So there emerged a
principle to contrast short-term evaluation and long-term
B: Are those fishes there now, is that new ecosystem there now?
O: Well we have not evaluated it since. I put in proposals to take
another look, and a summary, but the later administration of Florida
Power was not interested. Of course, they had serious problems
with CEOs, and embezzlement.
B: The upshot was they did not do it, what you proposed.
0: No. They did not find a way to use the hot water as a coastal
resource. They did the more expensive thing, not based on the
evaluation that is possible if you use emdollar evaluation.
B: Do you think the environmentalist side on that issue was really not...
O: In that case it was not, it was small scale, small myopia.
B: I guess we will go through some of the big Florida projects that you
worked on. I was curious if you had ever worked with Disney or for
O: The Center for Wetlands had a project that developed Disney waste
wetlands, but I did not have much to do with that. I brought in a
deputy, Ronnie Best, and turned a lot of projects over to him,
particularly when I was on sabbatical. I went off to the LBJ School
of Public Affairs in Texas (Lyndon Baines Johnson, U.S. President,
1963-1969), again to develop our emergy concepts, in 1982, so that
particular project was done by someone else. Mark Brown might be
able to tell you more about it.
B: So you did not work with Disney then.
O: No, not personally.
B: Okay, how about your early evaluation about...
O: Let me say this about Disney, that when they put in EPCOT
(Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow), they were scanning
universities for inputs, and we proposed putting something different
from what they wanted. They wanted a village of the future with
more and more technology. We proposed a village of the future for
living with lower energy when it becomes necessary, and they turned
B: I bet it was very interesting.
O: They thought it was nutty, I suppose, or they knew their public
better. The public is not ready for that. The public is going to be
ready for it soon, but they do not know it yet.
B: When they are forced into it.
O: You cannot use questionnaires to ask people in order to find out
what the public policy will be because it changes as a whole, and
they all do it together. They flip together. That is the power of the
social system, and again, an example of the pulsing impact. In
regards to the cross-Florida barge canal, the government spent
$500,000 on a committee and on questionnaires to get a popular
view instead of doing an emergy evaluation.
B: And you were involved in that?
O: No, we were opposed to it. Mark Brown and his associate Susan
Carstenn have done an emergy evaluation of the cross-Florida
barge canal which they are about ready to publish. Like a lot of
other things where the public is split, it is not a clear-cut difference
in emergy value. It is one where the values of both are similar.
Apparently the public's opinion is tracking the real value in that
B: So you were part of the effort to oppose the cross-Florida barge
canal in the 1970s?
O: I was in North Carolina in 1969, and Ariel Lugo was very important
here. He is now director of the Institute of Tropical Forestry in
Puerto Rico where we interact, but he was here in botany. He
brought me down to give an evaluation lecture, make our
contribution, and sign letters. All that was successful, and Nixon
stopped it. So that was our primary involvement then.
B: What was the purpose of doing an emergy evaluation of it now?
O: It is whether to remove the ...
B: Oh, the Rodman Reservoir. Okay, so not whether the government
should have done the whole ...
O: No, it would not be hard to show that the project was a net loss.
After all, it started as a way to avoid submarines in the Second
World War. It disrupted major ecosystems for little purpose.
B: Back to Disney, it seems like it would be interesting to do an emergy
analysis of Disney itself.
O: No, we have not done that one, and you are right, it would not be
hard to do, I think, if they would give you the numbers. What do
you need for one of those evaluations? Well, for one thing, you have
to have all the costs involved, the flows of money, because that
identifies things that were purchased and brought in. Then you have
to have the actual fuels, electric power used, lands used, and
environmental measures. There is the number of tourists and the
amount of money they brought in. We have done emergy
evaluations for the whole state, and we have done it for about ten
counties and sixty nations.
B: Well, if you have done it for the Civil War, you can do it for Disney.
0: That is right.
B: Could you talk about the early evaluations of Cape Coral, Marco
Island, Naples, that southwest area?
O: At the same time we got our Center for Wetlands money, we also got
the attention of Nat Reed and his aid, George Gardner.
B; So this is about 1973?
O: Yes, a little later. They picked up on all this and set up a set of
federal projects and got state planning involved.
B: Was that when Nat Reed was working with Nixon?
0: No, he was under-secretary ... who would that be under?
O: We had a whole set of projects which we called the south Florida
projects, about a half a million dollars, worth nearly ten times that
now. We evaluated environmental issues in south Florida and we
picked several counties to emphasize, Hendry, Collier, and Lee
County. We also did the Keys, and Monroe County, the Everglades
and Everglades Park, and Lake Okeechobee, and the Kissimmee River.
Our reports were probably ahead of their time, and the present
revisions now going on in the Everglades are doing the things we
recommended. Our emergy evaluations were not yet called emergy
and publication was delayed. We had problems because we did not
know how much solar energy was equivalent to fuel energy, and it
took us until the 1980s to get that clear, to get the numbers right.
So we have 2000 pages of unpublished reports, a lot of evaluations.
For example, Frank Nordlie in zoology helped us edit one set of
these, and I dug those out last year and put some up for possible
publication with the corrected values, now that we know how to
convert solar energy into higher level energy (40,000 solar calories
per coal calorie). Over-evaluation of the potential of solar energy to
replace fuels is hanging up the solar energy policy of the world.
People do not realize how dilute solar energy is. At the solar center
here, we have been off and on arguing with them, or at other times
collaborating with them. They put emergy evaluation in one of their
handbooks. We evaluated Florida's energy future with our state
B: What is the answer?
O: You cannot improve on photosynthetic conversion to biomass. The
most efficient conversion possible was achieved with a billion years
of evolution. If you work long enough on solar technology, you are
eventually going to get that same conversion efficiency. It takes
many joules of sunlight to make one joule of fuel, and that is not
something you are going to be able to improve. Solar technology
tries to take the solar energy and jump right directly to electricity.
You can do it, but you put so much emergy back into the process
that you do not get any net. That is in our books (refers to page in
Environmental Accounting). People are torn on this, so ..... that
no one will believe us.
B: What was controversial about these south Florida reports that you
O: Well, for example, with the Kissimmee channel, Tim Gayle did his
thesis, a beautiful job of showing how, in channelizing the
Kissimmee River, the water that used to take three months and
arrive after hurricane season would come zipping down and arrive
in the hurricane season. Then the excess had to be dumped in the
ocean. So all that water was wasted, all the productivity of the
wetlands, and all the filtering.
B: So, all the things we know now, you guys were saying in 1973.
O: Yes, in 1976. That is where it came from. Now that policy is
straightened out. They could have put the river back easily by just
putting a set of dynamite charges along the banks, blowing it up,
and let the water reorganize it, but instead, they are doing it by
bulldozers step-by-step. Again, people do not have confidence in
nature's self-organization, which is what you are going to have to fit
anyway. So why spend all this special energy trying to manage the
change at extra cost?
B: What were some of the things you found out about Cape Coral and
Marco Island and Naples?
O: Well, at Cape Coral the developments cut deep channels that
undermined the groundwater, losing land values.
B: So that had already been done by the time you looked at it?
O: Yes. We showed what is wrong with it and evaluated the lack of
fresh water. Maurice Sell's studies discovered that the
wastewaters of Naples, that they were turning loose from the treated
sewage, were going up in the mangroves, and the mangroves were
profiting by it. They were not hurt by it, and they had faster growth.
It was another demonstration that wetlands, marine wetlands in this
case, are a good way to ameliorate this big problem that Florida has,
and still has, of excess nutrients.
B: So, in Naples, this wastewater actually helped the mangroves?
B: I do not quite understand about Cape Coral, though, is it different
there because these are manmade?
O: As Flora Wang in our group showed, if you cut a channel with
Florida's porous sands, which have 20 to 30 percent pore space, or
limestones, then the water table is dropped for a mile away. So if
you have a deep channel, you have dropped the water table,
therefore the plants cannot reach it, so you have turned it into a
desert. The rain that falls on it does not hold and sit there, it just
shoots down to the bottom and out. That is not the proper way to
use valuable water. When you drain, you turn the soil climate of
south Florida into an Australian hydroperiod, and so things like
Melalucca prevail. Exotics, by the way, are one of the big issues
that I did not put on my list of things to discuss in this interview.
Exotics are one of the best tools that nature uses to get productivity
out of areas that have changed. Unless you can change the regime
back to the way it was, you need to learn to live with exotics. It is
doing something that is giving you a productive result. The first
time an exotic moves in, it may be a monoculture. How do you
maintain a higher diversity? How do you eliminate the excesses that
cause exotics to be monocultures instead of just adding to the
diversity? These are appropriate questions.
B: Does this mean you think we are making a mistake spending so
many millions to take the Melalucca back out of south Florida now?
O: The way it is done, probably yes. You have not really changed the
conditions. It is too bad we did not build Florida structures up and
let the water regime stay the same. It is too late for that right now.
You already have too much housing at the ground level, and now the
water table has to be below that. That makes a semi-arid soil
climate that favors exotics with the strategy of transpiring and using
up the water to make the soil dry again. It adapts to wetland
conditions by wasting the water, whereas the original cypress has
leaves that reflect the infrared solar energy and saves the water and
keeps soils wet. That is why if you want a headwater, then you have
to keep the pond cypress, not bald cypress. A pond cypress regime
is necessary if you want to continue to have a headwater. That is
why all of the headwaters start with the pond cypress: the
Okefenokee in southern Georgia, the Green Swamp, the
Withlacoochee, and the Big Cypress headwaters. Everywhere all
over the state, preserving the headwaters of swamps maintains
water because that particular vegetation does not transpire, it does
not grow rapidly. It saves water instead.
B: So the exotic species are not as bad as the current scientific
community would make us think that they are?
O: Well, it depends.
B: There seems to be a real eradication effort state-wide.
O: Some is misguided, particularly in aquatic plants. The proper
solution is to cut off the nutrients, that is to cut them off at the
source. People are beginning to catch on to this. There are more
recommendations, as with the Everglades, to put in strips of
wetlands to catch nutrients. Accept the principle that you have to
have a eutrophic monoculture wherever there is an excess, and you
have to save areas for that. Then the water coming out of that zone
will be oligotrophic and usable in the more normal way. Unless you
can stop the nutrients at the source, you have to have a eutrophic-
type wetland to catch them. Instead, we have a destroy and replant
policy. It is absurd, going out poisoning or cutting to remove them.
Of course, they will just grow right back because you have not
changed the conditions. Nature is trying to tell you something.
Nature's way of getting rid of any excess is to bind it up into peat.
That is done with solar energy that does not cost you anything, and
for this exotics are useful, but it does take land area. Land is the
problem in the Everglades and everywhere else. You do not have
much land area left in which to catch the nutrients. You sure can go
back and stop this by putting regulations or something on all these
companies that spread fertilizer and poisons over the grass, and get
people to xeriscape and use a diversity of natural species. It is in
the news, even yesterday's newspaper had an article on it. People
are coming around to it.
B: What would have been the better way to handle the aquatic plant
O: Well, as I just said, to cut off the nutrient source in the waters by
putting a strip of wetlands and by stopping it at its source. Consider
the septic tank wastes, let us say, that are going into some lakes and
turning them eutrophic. If you do not mind a eutrophic lake, it is
useful, like a sewage pond in Texas, but if you would like a lake that
is clear water for other purposes, that does not have great oxygen
swings, then keep the nutrients from getting that far. The aquatic
plant people--I do not know where they are coming from, and they
are just wasting money.
B: They are wasting money by trying to poison the plants.
O: Or to remove them.
B: Or remove them.
O: Instead of getting at the fundamental, which is change the nutrients
of the water flow.
B: Some of these people you are talking about are people on the IFAS
O: No, I am not pointing at anybody, I am talking about the policy of
the state in supporting these big projects, aquatic plant projects. I
have not kept up with who is continuing the poor policies. I would
rather say that people are catching on, and it is gradually about to
switch. Ecological engineering education gives you the proper
concepts, but puts out only a handful of people each year, whereas
you still have biology departments everywhere putting out ten or a
hundred times that many people. What are they taught? Well, they
are taught no-change conservation. There is a society of restoration
and it does some of the same things the ecological engineering
society does. Except the word emphasis is wrong. Restoration
implies you are supposed to go back to something. If the conditions
are going to be the same as they were, you could go back to it, but if
the conditions are going to be with humans and environment and
higher nutrient levels, then you have to have a new system, and that
means new species and new designs, and the trick is how to get it all
to maximize the landscape productivity. We just have too few
people with enough environmental science to go into these jobs, and
it takes others five to ten years to catch on.
B: We talked about the ivory bills and the Carolina parakeets, and you
know, is it ever possible or is it ever a good idea to try and
O: Sure, if you have got a habitat that will support them. The Carolina
parakeet, according to the early ornithology books, got a lot of its
nutrition out of the cypress balls, but all the great cypress forests
were destroyed except remnants like the Corkscrew Swamp and one
or two along the Tamiami Trail. We hardly even have a
demonstration for the public to see, so I do not think there is
enough habitat for the ivory bill right now (which could be
reintroduced from eastern Cuba). There are so many parrots and
parakeets loose in south Florida, I keep thinking that eventually one
will catch on, that can live under the new circumstances and spread.
I am in favor of exotics that are adaptive.
B: You are speaking of the feral parakeets.
O: Yes. There may be somebody who knows if some of these new ones
are using cypress balls or natural sources of food, or whether they
depend on people and their fruit trees.
B: I wanted to go back and finish talking about southwest Florida. How
about the work you did on Marco Island?
O: Diana Steller did a lovely thesis on it, and Marco Island was in
Maurice Sell's dissertation. At that time the developers had a trick:
they would cut off the water table to the mangroves, then they
would say, "see they died, there is nothing we can do about it, now
we have to develop it." They did that on Marco Island, so they put
up a few high rises, and then people would come down and they
would say, oh look at all this space, and look, my kids could canoe
out there in the swamps, and this and that. Of course, they would
buy condominium deeds, but by the time they got there, instead of
one, there would be ten. All of a sudden, in order to have all those
cars, you ended up paving the place over. We did an emergy
evaluation of that particular pattern. (Emergy was still called
embodied energy then.)
At the same time, there was still rancor about the herbicide
agent orange in Vietnam. In the 1970s I was on the committee of
the National Academy of Science to evaluate herbicide impact,
and the Vietnam war was still going on. That would make it 1974, I
think. We all went to Vietnam and did experiments and sprayed
agent orange and studied its effects and how long it lasted. It was a
$2,000,000 Department of Defense project involving many
universities and people. Our part was the mangrove study at Vung
Tau. It was pretty interesting field work. You would be out there,
protected by two soldiers standing by with machine guns in case
there were Viet Cong. We learned later that the place we were
studying had an unwritten agreement that they would not fight in
that area. It was used for recreation for both sides. So anyway,
there was a lot going on.
B: What did you learn about the effects?
O: We learned that the stuff did not have any long-term staying power.
It did not last, but killed the mangroves outright. The monsoon-
adapted trees inland would come back after defoliation because
they had storage. But mangroves, since they were evergreen, did
not store any energy, and if you killed them, they would not come
back. We recommended that they replant them, and use bombers to
bring thousands of seedlings from Thailand and drop them into the
place. The south Vietnam members that were on our national
committee said, "no, we want to turn it into rice paddies." So we
did not recommend that, but we did evaluate it. Mark Brown
evaluated the whole war. He showed that of the emergy running the
war, ten times as much was coming from the U.S. as from North
Vietnam. Some of that same energy was being used by the other
side to fight back. It was an incredible evaluation of war--the first
really good one, and of course, we have since evaluated the Civil
War and others. In Vietnam all the refugees went into these
defoliated areas, and they cut down all the dead trees to make
charcoal, and then they started on the live trees. What had been a
partially damaged mangrove area was stripped bare. There are forty
species of mangroves in southeast Asia, and in this country there are
only four. The devastation was not only the Americans spraying, but
also the refugees stripping. I went to an international conference in
Japan several years ago and heard a paper by the Vietnamese on
what they had done with that land, the north Vietnamese, after they
B: What did you find?
0: They did not turn it into rice paddies. They made plantations of
mangroves. Instead of natural mangroves with forty species, they
set up forestry plantations of one species.
B: What did they use them for?
O: For wood, charcoal.
B: So it was the federal government. ... back to the southwest Florida
O: The reason I got on that was...
B: The mangroves, right.
O: We did a field study on Marco Island. Howard Tees from Miami
took agent orange and sprayed a plot. One of the two ingredients in
agent orange was illegal, so he sprayed with the other legal
herbicides. He lost interest, and so we did a study of the area that
had been killed. That was one of the many things that was done
there by Maurice Sell. The rate of recovery was rapid--we got a real
detailed view of how quick it could be restored if the seeding source
B: But you said initially it was a developer who illegally sprayed agent
orange on mangroves down there?
O: No, you misunderstood me. It was a scientific experiment. Pseudo-
legal. We did not do the spraying, but we did the measurements.
B: And the south Florida project, was it funded by the federal
O: Yes. The Department of the Interior under Nat Reed. It was
two-thirds federal, one third from the Division of State Planning,
and that probably was Earl Starnes.
B: I am still trying to get at what was controversial about your reports.
Is it that the public was just not ready to hear these things? Were
the developers angry?
O: No, they were new ideas that took time for the agencies to absorb. I
do not think the full impact ever reached them. Society published
things, but it was going too fast, we were doing too much. As part
of the project, we put out four public affairs booklets. They talked
about growth and non-growth, and energy, embodied energy
(emergy), and planning, in the context of those counties.
We had splinter projects. Naples, Florida, has a small river
down the middle called the Gordon River, and they wanted to
dredge and channelize it. It was controversial, so the county put out
an RFP (Request for Proposal), asking people to bid on it. So we
bid on it, with my hydrologist collaborator, Wayne Huber. We did
not know that we were bidding against Art Marshall, which was
too bad because we approved of what he was trying to do. We did a
real first class job on it, showing how the water of Naples was based
on the water in the surface sands, because the deeper ground has
salt in it. Deeper sediments were flooded in the Pleistocene Era.
Lands with elevation below twenty-five feet, in the whole state of
Florida, have groundwaters that are not suitable, they are too salty.
Naples was using the water in superficial sands. The rain in one year
was used up before the end of the year. The solution was not to
drain it, not to dredge. If you dredge that river channel, you would
have sucked the water right out of their water supply. It was not
hard to prove that. That got us down there, and we saw instances
where development had built the roads up through wetlands, and
thus preserved the wetlands rather than draining them. We
developed a whole lot of guidelines for the state, and put them in a
handbook of wetland management that has been reprinted a couple
B: So you were listened to in that case.
O: Sure, I did not mean to imply that we were not listened to. The
energy crisis of the 1970s came and went, and the minute we started
talking about eventual economic leveling and coming down, then we
started losing people, then often they'd throw everything else out. I
remember one time, my brother tried our approach in a lecture he
gave in New York. He called me up and said it did not go over, and
he was not going to use that any more. My response was, what has
that got to do with anything? Are we in the public relations
business, or are we trying to find the truth and maybe shock people
into taking notice of it? Of course, the practical path is somewhere
in between, I am sure.
B: So you are not in the business of making people happy or telling
them what they want to hear?
O: We could have done better, I am sure, but we were pulled in too
many different directions, but maybe not... who knows? Our
preliminary reports were extensive, but only part was finally
B: I am going to turn the tape over now.
[End of side 1, Tape B]
B: This is side 2 of Tape B.
I was just going to ask Dr. Odum about the Keys part of the south
O: Jim Ruttenber, who is now professor of environmental medicine at
the University of Colorado, came down from Emory and did the
Keys, making our embodied energy valuations there. It was in his
dissertation at Emory University. Again, I do not think we
adequately ever published all these things because we were still
struggling to get the correct conversion of solar energy to fuel. I
guess there were about fifty theses and dissertations completed.
Even now it is possible, and perhaps we should go through and pull
out important conclusions. Certainly the main ideas went into the
intellectual community and did spread.
The coral reef off the Keys is deteriorating. Dredging up and
down the coast is making waters turbid; of course, corals require
light, and they are shaded out. They have been hit with all kinds of
over-fishing. Our student Tim McClanahan showed that if you
over-fish the larger fishes like the triggerfish on reefs, which are
really managers, the balance of the different things falls apart, and
the urchins overeat and run wild. The reef collapses, so to speak,
and becomes a weedy bunch of struggling organisms (the way many
people think of ecosystems) instead of a very highly organized and
coordinated network, which is our view of it. I saw the reef again a
couple of years ago, and it hardly looked like a coral reef. It is
covered with patches of dead stuff, algae, and so on. Florida's
environment is deteriorating badly because of the eutrophication
and the adding of the organic matter which grows turbid microbial
populations instead of clear water. The self-contained reefs have a
self-contained nutrient type of cycle; photosynthetic Zooxanthellae
in the corals, and their food chains, all in clear water, take
advantage of the currents and wave action. Florida has always had
red tides, but runoffs from land are causing brown tides, and
blooms of new microbes are becoming dominant. A lot of it is tied
to the increasing levels of civilization dumping organic into the
B: But you also mentioned, it is over-fishing as well.
O: In the coral reefs, we were fortunate enough to study an essentially
virgin coral reef at Eniwetok in the 1950s. It is one where my
brother and I worked together, and we got an award for it. The atoll
had been ten years without any people, and underwater was like the
very best of the kinds of pictures you will see on television, with
large fish schools and highly diverse and beautiful patterns of
corals, reef algae, and diversity.
We took one of those Windjammer cruises once and went to
the different reefs in the Bahamas, where you stop and swim, but
you hardly see a parrotfish. And those you see are deathly scared
and swim away. Most people, when they go to Cancun or
somewhere, do not see a really good coral reef, they see paltry
B: What will be the impact of the loss of the coral reefs?
O: To understand, we use the concepts of maximum power. An
economic system with a lot of fuel that knocks out the
environmental system prevails because it has more power than the
environmental system had by itself. The long run effect, as fossil
fuels are cut back, and all kinds of efficiencies and economies come
in, will be restoration, if you can manage to hang on to some
remnants now. That is why it is so important to protect what you
have in the way of reserve areas to reseed ecosystems, so they can
come back. There is optimism for the future of the environment,
but only if we reduce population as fast as the resources for the
economy decline. Environment will be protected if we reorganize
around less fuel-costing transportation.
B: I would like to come back to that at the very end, when we talk a
little bit about the future. I wanted to ask you, did you do very
much consulting work on behalf of developers or the development
0: I made a policy never to consult, except to give lectures. I will take
an out of state honorarium for giving a lecture, but I never
consulted. It did not seem like it was right. If I am paid by the state
to try to find the right answer to all these controversial issues, I
should not be taking money from either side. Except from the
public, except for formal research projects through the university.
B: When you did the Florida Power study, that was on behalf of whom?
0: That was a contract with the university. You know how grant and
control research works at most universities. Most of the money
goes for students, equipment, travel, and overhead. If you are on
nine months contract, it may pay some summer salary at your
regular rate, but normally there are no honoraria, or salary
increases. Results are published--open to the public.
B: So you did not work very closely with developers during these times.
I know you said you have had students who you have watched go out
into the world with their great ideas and what they have learned, to
work for either government or private industry, and that that
sometimes has been a disappointing experience. Could you talk
about that experience?
O: Well, in a typical case, my student Scott Nixon, who graduated
from North Carolina, went to Rhode Island where they said, "if you
want to get tenure here, you quit doing that energy stuff and start
doing your phytoplankton ecology." They forced him to go back to
smaller scale. Of course he did, and he was head of Sea Grant with a
very successful career there, but he has been, like the rest of his
field, forced to work at one scale too small to answer the larger
questions or predict or manage. The same thing happened with
Walter Boynton. He had done the Apalachicola River in the
Franklin County energy study involving all the questions of dredging
that river, saltwater passes, the oyster industry, and the way it was
courting troubles with disease because of the salinity change, and all
that. So he gets up to Maryland and they tell him, your major
professor may be able to do that kind of stuff, but you cannot. Quit
this nonsense about evaluating the economy and the environment
and start studying the animals. People can be limited by the
framework of orientation of their own training. Some were small-
scale trained, for example, chemistry and biology. Scientists of our
time are taught to look smaller to parts for answers about a system.
Biology was bad enough when I came along as far as its scale of
interest. I was lucky to have a major professor who was not so
confined because he had not been trained just in biology. Then, the
world went to molecular biology, which is an important field, even
while I was at North Carolina that was happening. But to be a good
molecular biologist and take all the courses that go along with that,
it automatically squeezed out hydrology, economics, and geology,
and all the things you need to do to understand anything about
environment. It is even worse now, and some environmentally
illiterate people are coming out of biology departments and being
hired by environmental agencies.
B: All those things you mentioned, the human and the microscopic, it
all seems to be coming together in the Chesapeake Bay and in North
Carolina with this issue of pfiesteria.
O: That microbial bloom is one example. While we were at a Beloit
College workshop this summer, we made a simulation of it using
the object oriented program EXTEND, to make very attractive little
icons on the computer screen, and when you connect them up it
simulates their growth and toxic actions. My former associates, B.J.
Copeland, who was one of our best people when I was director at
the University of Texas Marine Institute, became head of Sea
Grant there at North Carolina State in later years. Pfiesteria turned
up, and some lady used pressure on the legislature to get together a
half-million dollars for research.
B: Joann Burkholder.
O: You know about it? There was a book written on this recently. I
guess Copeland's job was to try to get the research done, so he
wanted to spread the money among more than one investigator to
get certain further things done, but she used legislative pressure to
get him fired. That is a nasty story in North Carolina. There was an
article recently, putting that book down, so I do not know the latest
on that one.
B: It seemed to be a very hysterical sort of a book, and it was
unscientific. I remember reading a review of it where the writer, for
example, described her fiery blue eyes and described her physically,
so you can kind of see that it was very dramatic. I did want to ask
you about the media, so maybe this is a good time to ask, I will ask
you when we come back. [Tape interrupted.] We were just talking
about the rather sensational book that has been published about
pfiesteria. That was leading into a question about how the media
covers environmental issues. Particularly in Florida, how do you
think the media does covering environmental issues? How does that
hurt or help public understanding?
O: There are individuals in the media who are well-trained in
environment, but in general, most have had training in economics,
but not the environment, and have no judgment about scientific
issues. They simplify by seeking adversarial people when they
should be discussing all the factors and people who have solutions.
Instead, they try to get opposite sides to argue and create emotional
attention. I think the media coverage is not good at seeking answers
in most cases. The public has the same problem in that when they
go to high school or even college, they may get some economics and
that is all. They do not get economic and environment
understanding in the proper perspective.
B: It sounds like you are also saying the issues are perhaps made too
O: Often they do not get the right issues, they create false issues. An
example, I am not sure it is related to Florida particularly, is
Biosphere 2. We had four of our students participate in this. You
know what I am talking about?
B: Yes, but explain Biosphere 2 for the tape.
O: Biosphere 2 is a 500 million dollar project that was set up in the
mountains, 4,000 feet elevation, near Tucson, Arizona, funded by
one of the billionaires. A very remarkable set of people developed a
project and had splendid engineering and several had science
backgrounds. They built this giant glass structure and people
moved in for two years. They overdid the public relations and
caught everybody's attention, and to some extent, imagination.
Many scientists who were small scale did not understand the
significance, and I suppose were jealous of the money going to
others. Because some of the people there were not fully trained
with science degrees, they just blasted them. The newspaper people
took that point of view and just massacred them and created an
entirely wrong image. Two of the people who were inside
afterwards came here and did Ph.D. degrees: Linda Leigh and
Mark Nelson. I worked with a Harvard faculty member in editing a
book recently published. This volume pulled the best of both
groups, the first team of people who were in there plus the team
that followed when the billionaire got improperly turned against the
original team because news people said it was terrible. It was not.
They walked in one day and threw everybody out and threw some
people in jail and lawsuits followed. Colombia University ended up
taking it over, but they changed the concept to a growth chamber
instead of it being a self-organized living model of the biosphere. It
needs to become a national lab, but it is beautiful work, and by
putting this book out, we documented it, but it did not change the
public image. The media are not capable of handing environmental
things because they take specialists and their prejudices and spread
them out, and try to create controversy with it, and leave people
with the wrong impression. It is really a sour business.
B: What is the answer to that? What is the solution there? How do you
O: First, require journalists to have a course in environmental science
and economic balance. Well, where are those courses? We give
them to a handful of students. We have written the books for
schools and colleges to do it, but they are not being adopted
because people who are going to adopt them don't see the need for
systems views and principles. They don't believe human affairs are
controlled by these principles.
B: What are some of the important lessons that came out of Biosphere
2 that you have put together in this book that the public should
have known about but never found out about?
0: Well, it is a model for the whole world. Like the present earth, it
had more respiration (consumption) that is, more carbon-dioxide
generation than it had plant production at first. Therefore, you had
an accumulation of carbon-dioxide with all those associated
properties, waters getting acid, and the oxygen being embedded in
ocean, soil, and concrete, and used up in the process. There it
happened quickly because the system is small, only three acres in
size, whereas the whole globe takes many years to fully respond.
Very quickly, it ran out of oxygen, and management had to move in
an oxygen tank truck. It is the most beautiful demonstration of how
beautifully our earth is self-organized by its many ecosystems and
the way they interplay, the ocean and the atmosphere, and the
coupling that has developed is self-organization over billions of
years. It showed how much energy and genetic diversity it takes to
try to even simulate enough of an earth to support eight people that
B: I guess we will go back to some of Florida's big environmental issues
that we had to finish talking about. One was Lake Okeechobee.
Did you do very much work there?
O: Yes, that was part of our Kissimmee, Okeechobee, Everglades
project. We made a valuation of it and we simulated and showed
how the phosphorus was increasing its turnover time, and what
would be necessary to keep it from becoming more eutrophic. It
was all shown in the thesis of Tim Gayle way back in the 1970s.
When the hurricane drowned those people before the Corps of
Engineering put up its levees, it was because the farmers had put up
a flimsy dike that held the water back before collapsing. If that dike
had not been there, I think that water would have simply overflowed
into the glades. Now, in order to keep water from overflowing or
getting too high, they dump it into the sea. That is being corrected
now, but they still have wrong plans. We just did a new evaluation
of alternatives and distributed it around to all the boards that are
involved with this. The plan in 2001 is still trying to hang on to the
agriculture just south of the lake, which needs to be a eutrophic,
natural absorbing slough. This area is already bounded by ditch
levees. This first sector could be turned over to hyacinths and other
eutrophic aquatic plants, let it grab the nutrients and sediment
them, which is nature's way. Then the water coming out of that
sector would be oligotrophic, which would be the desired original
condition. Instead, they are trying to do it piecemeal, setting up
some little tiny wetlands, pumping waters here and there, and into
the ground and back with all sorts of artificial experiment
structures. That area is too deep now, for rooted plants. The peat
is nearly gone, and the agriculture has already failed there. The
federal government had to buy the sugar last year and support sugar
prices above world prices. It is against all economic principles for
us to subsidize sugar here just because we do not like Cuba, and
Cuban exiles with political power are running the sugar in Florida. It
is quite clear what needs to be done, so we interact some with the
committees involved, such as the committee chaired by John
Marshall, the nephew of Art Marshall. So we are spreading this
information around. I suspect they will eventually come around to
this plan. It has been my experience that, if we get our ideas and
spread them broadly and give it some time, they will usually be
adopted. Maybe they have to try the wrong thing first and come
back to it.
B: What do you think of the impact of the water management districts
on the state, particularly the South Florida Water Management
District? How good of a job do you think they have done?
O: Florida is fortunate to have districts that are authorized to manage
water, and have some taxing authority, and can try to do something,
which many states do not have. On the other hand, the first one
which was set up was mainly aimed at grabbing more water for
agriculture originally, and then for Miami. The present plan being
implemented gives more water to the Gulf Coast development. Still,
there is progress there.
B: Right. So the restoration plan is really an urban water supply plan
and not so much of an environmental restoration plan.
O: Partly. They are trying to restore the oligotrophic Everglades. Of
course, the cutting off of that water did many other things. It not
only gave the Everglades Park this too-much, too-little pattern, but
the saltwater moved in all through the lower Everglades and
produced dwarf mangroves everywhere. Dwarf mangroves grow
when the salt is too high. When mangroves transpire, salt is left
behind as the plant makes fresh water. Mangroves normally will
have double the salinity round their roots. That is, solar energy
pumps the water out, leaving salt behind. But then the salt flushes
out through the crab holes. If it gets too salty then even the sun's
transpiration cannot pull out water against that gradient. Little tiny
dwarf mangroves result; that is what is around the Florida Power and
Light Corporation in Miami. We were talking earlier about Florida
Power cooling towers at Crystal River. The big controversy with
Florida Power and Light at Miami is about whether to put that hot
water out into grass flats or build a huge network of cooling canals.
B: That is near Biscayne National Park?
O: Right. So public opinion forced them to construct the canals where
water goes up and down, and up and down, down and around.
Unfortunately, they paved a lot of it, which is a mistake, instead of
allowing natural growths along the banks. That was another
example of a huge expense that was, according to our Crystal River
work, incorrect. They could have made some compromise and done
better. Anyway, nature tries to organize around human folly, and
there has been a crocodile colony growing in there.
B: I have seen it, it is full of crocodiles.
0: 0, you have seen it since I have. How many mangroves are in the
B: You know, I did not see any mangroves in the grid. There is no
growth on it. There was quite a bit of wildlife, birds and crocodiles,
but that was it.
O: Well, nature will self-organize as best it can to fit humans; that is
part of ecological engineering.
B: What is the impact of dwarf mangroves?
O: The productivity is a fraction of that in a full-community ecosystem
where there are many processes and diversity.
B: One more thing about the Everglades, what do you think of the ASR,
Aquifer Storage Recovery technology that they plan to use to store
water deep underground to pull up later when they need it?
O: That is the one I was objecting to. They are doing that in place of
giving up this small amount of agriculture for a slough. (Refers to
Odum's plan map.) See, this would not give up all the agriculture.
The plan offers to the remaining agriculture the opportunity to
pump their waste into this eutrophic slough, which is cheaper than
using technology. About twenty years ago, we published a plan for a
eutrophic strip to come all the way down from Lake Okeechobee to
Florida Bay that everybody could pump into or pump out of, so this
is another version of our earlier plan. It is a way of getting the
nutrients out of the agriculture and into peat on the bottom of this
B: Again, that area would give you enough storage room for the
amount of fresh water they need?
O: It would give you enough nutrient absorption capacity. I think the
question you are asking me now is a different one. You are asking
whether or not they need the water storing capacity.
B: Well, part of the reason they claim they need it is for the urban
O: We did a Martin County report, you know. We have done a number
of county reports considering alternatives with our emergy analysis,
where they have an excess of water. The Stuart Canal from Lake
Okeechobee comes through this county to the Atlantic Ocean. Our
point was that fresh water is the ultimate limitation of economic
growth in Florida, as most everybody comes to realize. Martin
County quit letting that water drain away and set up its own storage
for that purpose. So I think I am for any procedure to store fresh
water because you can get more total energy production, more
total value, out of fresh water on land, which is what the earth tries
to do. The earth brings the rain to land. And keeping it there and
getting the good out of it gives you more than letting it run into the
sea. But when it runs into the sea, it is not all wasted because it
drives currents and makes the estuaries more fertile and does a lot
of secondary things. If you take fresh water that has been going into
an estuary and then take it away, then the estuary loses about half
of its productivity, and its faunas and floras and all those fisheries.
There is a principle here that we have not mentioned, that all
energies in nature are in use already. When somebody says, "there
is some unused energy, some tidal energy, or wave energy to use,"
they do not realize that it is in use already, and you are getting the
economic good out of it because it is cleaning up your water, giving
you life support, protecting your coastline, and giving you fisheries
and all these things. You forgot about those. It is like the salmon, if
you take the water for the hydroelectric power, you will not have it
for salmon, and fertile floodplains. You cannot have it both ways.
B: That reminds me about the politicians in south Florida who would
eye the Suwannee River and say that water is not being used.
O: The Suwannee River already generates environmental value with
economic value within its watershed and at the coast. Water coming
out of rivers turns to the right in the northern hemisphere because
of the Coriolis force. That means they tend to swing north on
Florida's west coast, but sometimes it comes south to Cedar Key.
Keeping that fresh water enriches, but there are several different
patterns to which ecosystems adapt. With pulses of floods in a big
river, you get low diversity but high productivity, so you get oyster
reefs and an oyster industry, Apalachicola Bay, for example. If it
comes out slowly and gradually, as in spring fed rivers, then you will
get a high biotic diversity. Then you will get grass flats with many
species, and not so much of any one. Now both patterns are
valuable. One is more stable and aesthetic; one is a yield system.
B: So which is more valuable?
O: You have to evaluate with emergy-emdollars. In those two cases
they are both going to have high values. That is where nature has
put together different adaptations for different circumstances.
When you first knock out an ecosystem with changes, you have
removed its production of real wealth. After a while nature
organizes something else there that builds back some value
B: How would you analyze something like that if you consider the huge
human population in south Florida looking at the Suwannee River
and weigh that against...
O: For example, you get more total wealth developing two areas than
diverting resources from one to overdevelop another. The U.S. cut
off the Colorado River water going into Mexico. California
overdeveloped, leaving other states underdeveloped. Water
illustrates another principle I have not mentioned. To get the full
use out of energies of one level, one quality, they need to interact
with an energy of either a lower quality or a higher quality, so that
mutually they amplify. Water is a means to attract fossil-fuel
investment, and that attraction ratio in Florida now is about seven to
one. For every unit of real wealth from nature, on average it
attracts seven times as much purchased emergy. For example, fish
population develops a fishery industry, and Cedar Key is becoming a
tourist center, with money that buys more emergy. So, if you knock
out the fresh water, you not only knock out that emergy, but you
knock out what it was attracting. If you move it to south Florida,
then you are going to lose eight times the amount you transfer. And
if you pull it down there, where it is too crowded, you exceed the
optimum density for maximum empower production. You will get
less total production by doing that. By keeping your water
distributed in natural hierarchy, which is what nature does, keeping
it spread out, then you get more. Counting what you can buy and
bring in, you will get more development if you are interested in
development. You will get more economic development by
developing both areas than you will by trying to let one area that is
already fully developed to overdevelop.
B: Even accounting for the 15 million people they expect to live there,
that would still hold true.
O: No, those people would be further north and those people will have
a better chance to survive when the fossil fuels collapse.
B: Have we talked about Florida Bay yet?
B: Okay, let us talk about that.
O: Florida Bay is naturally like the bays of Texas that I used to work in,
that is, it is a little bit hyper-saline. Sea water is three and a half
percent, thirty-five parts of salt per thousand, but Florida Bay
salinity is higher. When the salinity is high, as we have already said,
it tends to channel the productivity into a few things, so they
traditionally had a lot of pink shrimp, for example. When the
Everglades waters were diverted, there was more variation there,
upsetting ecosystems. A persisting impact is the turbidity from
dredgings. Sediment is loose, it takes a long time for it to get
pinned down by plants and microbes. Every time the wind blows, or
boats pass, it stirs up. That cuts out the light, cuts out the
productivity. Around the Keys, within a foot or two of the surface,
are magnificent grass flats and other animal consumers, wherever it
is shallow enough. As soon as you get deeper than that, the
ecosystem is less because the light is shaded out.
B: And what will be the impact of that ultimately?
O: Well, right now you have less productivity and less wealth.
Management can do some things about that, eliminating dredgng.
Partly it is boats with too much power. Getting the Everglades water
flowing back through there will probably help the Ten Thousand
B: How about the issue of the freeze line moving south and the transfer
of the citrus south?
O: As you know, the orange industry in Florida used to be more in
central Florida, between here and Orlando, and then very severe
freezes knocked most of the trees out, so growers moved south and
drained wetlands there instead. The amount has not been
calculated, but I think that the freeze line has moved south because
of the draining of the wetlands in north Florida. It has been proven
that you keep oranges protected best with water rather than with
smoke or air turbulence.
B: How far south might it be lost?
O: You know, the orange industry now is from Orlando south.
B: How about the Fenholloway River, did you work on it?
O: About 1953 I was here as a young faculty member in biology and
teaching limnology. A proposal was made in the legislature to
classify the rivers of Florida, not according to their values, what is in
them or in the ecology, but according to the uses we wished to make
of them. The classification included a category for fresh water
drinking and one for industrial waste.
B: So this was when you were first at Florida in the 1950s.
O: Yes, that is right. Here is a young guy right out of school, and they
took me up to one of the legislative committees in Tallahassee and I
tried to explain environmental value, but it did not have any effect.
Although biologists were against it, they went ahead anyway and
made it an industrial river. So they set up the paper mills at Perry
and dumped black wastewaters into the river, including the toxins,
etc. One-third of the tree is lignin, and when the tree decomposes,
that lignin which is natural, normal, becomes the peat or the peaty-
colloidal black waters, and they are healthy. Lignin is one of the
best absorbers of toxins and heavy metals. Consistent with the Gaia
idea, wetlands have developed as trees developed lignin, so that the
whole system will continuously purify the freshwaters of the earth.
Should we bur peat, or use it for water purification? In pulp-paper
manufacture, we take out the fibers, leaving a third of the weight
that goes into this black water that we dump somewhere. Lignin
itself is not toxic, but in huge concentrations and with the wrong
molecular size, it can use up the oxygen too fast and knock out
ecosystems. So this goes down the Fenholloway River. As
documented by Skip Livingston, much of the life in the Fenholloway
River estuary and coastal waters was displaced. The grass flats that
you find north and south of the mouth are missing in this zone. A
whole section of tourism, fishing, and environmental attraction was
removed. We had a thesis done by Peter Keller to help bring out a
better idea, which is that lignin ought to go back where it came
from, which is into the pine-land wetlands. There it mixes with the
ordinary lignin and becomes part of the gradual purification.
Having some black water in the streams is fine. That is what colors
the Suwannee River and to some extent all rivers. When government
agencies finally decided they were not going to allow this discharge,
about three or four years ago, the company proposed a pipeline.
B: Into the Gulf.
0: It would get it there quicker, but with less treatment. And so then,
Steve Medina, who is a lawyer, representing a local group, got some
of us involved in evaluations and alternatives. We have two plans.
One was to pump it uphill, back into the pine-lands and into the
little swamps that are between the pines. We calculated all the
energies involved and what it would take, and all the energy. Mark
Brown's idea was to build a strand, that is, a strip of wetlands, and
run wastewater from Perry into the coastal wetlands and into the
marshes. By the time it went through there, all the lignin would be
absorbed or mixed with the natural lignin and would gradually be an
ordinary black water. The industry would remove toxins first. Both
of those plans turn out to give the area a multimillion dollar benefit
in emdollars compared to the river or pipeline discharge.
B: What was the response to those plans?
O: They had us come in and testify at hearings. I guess they had
trouble with me because my testimony was to help keep industry
jobs and environmental values. If you do not protect environment
there, the pressure of tourist interests and retirees is going to build
up and drive out the pulp mill, and so that does not make any sense.
Increasingly the shortage up there is water, and pulp-paper mills use
much groundwater. If you put it back in the pine-lands, it
percolates and recharges the groundwater. The only problem is you
have to get hold of the lands or get easements so you can do it.
After that, the EPA government agencies took it under advisement,
and I guess the whole thing is still pending. That is one of our
current controversies. Bob Knight's studies showed wetland
treatment of pulp mill wastes in the panhandle of Florida. It is not
just at Perry. I went over to the St. John's Water Management
District at Palatka and gave a lecture there as well, on the study we
had made--Peter Keller's thesis that he did.. They brought in the
people from the pulp mill there. For a while they had run some of
their waste into their floodplain wetlands over there, then the EPA
forced them to dump it into the river instead, which was stupid.
Peter Keller's thesis on that wetland showed that the tree growth had
increased during that period, and the diversity had been maintained.
In other words, wetland dispersal was a good solution they had
before, and they needed to go back to it, after they remove the
actual toxins. I hope we have been making progress. But that has
been our role, finding the correct answers with good ecological
engineering. With new ideas and evaluations you still have to wait
until the pressure for change builds up with a clientele to get
political action. That is where the journalists could help, if they
would just take some time and learn about emergy emdollars, and
insist that an emergy evaluation be made of everything. They could
cause the environment and economy to improve greatly.
B: How did the Buckeye Cellulose pulp plant respond to that proposal
on the Fenholloway that you guys had? Do you remember?
O: I don't know. Actions are still pending. We are going to write all
this up one of these days, but I was going to wait until there was
some kind of a solution first. Of course, industry often thinks short
range, what do we have to do this year, or in the next three years?
They keep buying and selling that plant.
B: How have citizen activists generally responded to your emergy
O: If we get a chance to explain it, they like it unless it goes against
something that is really deeply ingrained. Example, controversy on a
fish pass for the Rodman Dam with Marjorie Carr, after Archie
Carr's (herpetologist, University of Florida, 1933-1987) death. She
was an activist. I studied Silver Springs several times. When the
Rodman Dam cut off the mullet, the shad, and the big catfish, Silver
Springs had less to show their tourists. I had another thesis done on
it by Bob Knight, who is now an authority on ecological engineering
[End of side 2, Tape B]
B: This is side 1 of Tape C.
Continue, you were talking about Silver Springs.
O: Silver Springs was losing some of its natural attraction because of
the Rodman Dam. I prepared a letter to the editor. A fish pass was
needed. I had already written to the Silver Springs management to
get them in back of it. I mentioned it to Marjorie Carr, and she got
upset and asked me not to write it. The dam is only about twelve
feet high, and it would be no problem running a very shallow ditch
around it full of aquatic plants, perhaps a mile long, and get all the
migratory fish back. She was afraid a fish pass would be an excuse
for them not to remove the dam, which she believed would happen
soon. I should not have listened to her. That was ten years ago, and
here we are, with a dam and no pass. So I think I should go ahead
and write it. That is an example of the kind of unbalanced
environmental activism that I think is wrong. You ought to have all
the facts out there, public. Then we can put them in perspective
using the emergy method. But you can see that some activists do
not like us because of that policy.
B: Let us go back to the point about the students. You mentioned the
environmental agencies, both at the state level and the federal level,
being filled with perhaps too many conservation-minded people. Let
us follow up on that point.
O: You misrepresent me. I am conservation-minded, it is what you
mean by conservation. As you know, it has a bunch of meanings. It
is policy against new ecosystems that I oppose.
B: I want to talk about who peoples those agencies.
0: I don't know many agency people, but I can discuss public actions
B: But at the same time, at least in Florida, it seems that many of your
students have gone on in important positions in the state
government, and local governments, and water management
O: They have to compromise. They end up with some kind of a blend.
It is interesting. I guess there are a hundred of them out there that
have come out of our programs in the last thirty years.
B: Do you end up talking to those students later about those
O: Sometimes, once in a while. But I have dropped the ball too many
times by being slow to reply. That is one of my regrets. Another
regret is that the Center for Wetlands has yet to be endowed. It has
done so many important things for the state and has more potential
ahead. It needs a big permanent endowment, and I should have
gone out after it. We were busy with the battle of energy policy and
publication needs. The Center for Wetlands was set up under four
colleges with an inter-college board. Engineering was one, IFAS was
another, Planning and Architecture was another, and Arts and
Sciences. When I was on sabbaticals, we had acting directors from
those other colleges. Endowment for wetlands should have been
part of the University of Florida's priority list, which in recent years
campaigns for private money. Dean Wayne Chen gave Wetlands a
hard money secretarial line item. But John Lombardi (president,
University of Florida, 1990-1999) dismantled the cross-campus
centers and turned wetlands over to engineering. I decided not to
fight that, although it was against the Board of Regents'
authorization. Engineering was happy to have it, but it was not one
of their priorities. They would not put it in the priority for the
money seeking. Nor did the main administration. Each college had
other priorities. So, no endowment money was sought. Multimillion
dollar grants may yet be possible. It was hard to campaign for
money and maintain a graduate program of critical mass, but I could
have done more.
B: Yes, I supposed in the Engineering College, you would have computer
and aerospace and other industries contributing huge amounts of
research grant funding. It must be hard to compete for attention
against those departments.
O: No, the Center for Wetlands has received good research project
monies, good support from Florida Phosphate and from the National
Science Foundation--all kinds of places. It operated at around a
half-million dollars most of the time it has been existence.
Engineering emphasizes technology design, but engineering needs to
include environmental design also. They were happy to have the
center, but they were not going to push it. When I retired and
Ronnie Best left, only one was replaced. We now have the means
and methods for proper use of wetlands, how to evaluate them,
where to place them, and how to deal with nutrients. Most of the
kinds of wetlands have been studied. Both wetlands and ecological
engineering now have graduate certificate teaching curricula. The
environment still remains second priority in public affairs in Florida.
B: I guess particularly with the technology explosion that is going on.
O: That is right. That is why coming back to a lower energy world is
going to be a challenge for university research. People got the idea
that technology was energy free, and I think the current economic
turn down is correcting that idea. The more information is
processed, the more high-tech you have, the more energy it takes to
service, just to operate the internet or its servers in other states.
Progress, technology, information, is energy-driven and so is the
economy. The minute your energy supply tightens up, then your
economy levels, and information growth stops. Then, when it gets
even tighter, you have to cut back. It does not mean you stop all
progress, but you reduce innovations. Descent is coming, that is
why we need to get task forces started to study and plan. It is
political suicide probably, for anybody, even a well-established
politician, to come out and say that growth is over. To hold the
standard of living, we have to cut back and reduce population. It
will be hard for religious leaders to change. Otherwise, population
will be reduced by epidemic diseases and a crash. An economy that
does cut back takes over economically. All of that reverses our
growth culture. Growth is in our culture, and worse than that, it is
in the Constitution. The Constitution was written for an expanding
colonial, invasive culture moving into a new continent. You are
going to need constitutional amendments. Even the very
fundamentals of private property, mining rights, and western water
law, and things like that which are designed to accelerate growth
have to change.
B: Let me throw out just a couple more big-picture issues and Florida
issues, such as the destruction of citrus trees and pine trees to stop
epidemics like citrus canker and the pine beetle.
O: Nature maintains stable production by not having too many of any
one species. Rainforest that we have studied so long is an example.
An area of rainforest has a hundred green tree species, but each one
is chemically different. For an insect to eat it, it has to have the
different enzymes. An insect that can eat one does not have energy
left to maintain enzymes to eat another one. The next edible tree is
over yonder somewhere and the insect cannot get there without a
bird eating it. The birds are set up to eat many more kinds of
insects. So diversity is the way you prevent epidemics. On the other
hand, some pulsing is appropriate. Those are two principles there.
Now when we do agriculture, intensive agriculture or intensive
forestry, we build monocultures. That is only possible because we
set up some way to defeat the consumers, the insects and microbes
that would normally run rampant, consuming and destroying. We
use pesticides on the one hand, or we develop more sophisticated
biological controls such as insects that control other insects.
The question is, should one special interest set up a
monoculture that disturbs the environment that is adapted to
human settlements? Many Americans live in stable landscapes that
have some pulsings, some tree growth, and some diversity,
adequately managed waters and economic prosperity. It is a
pleasant, diverse environment for people, particularly in an urban
society. If somebody sets up a plantation monoculture, and all of a
sudden is having trouble with pine beetles, citrus diseases or fruit
flies, do they have the right to go and destroy the landscape and its
nice balance just to favor their enterprise? Cutting trees that are
not infected makes no sense when they are scattered in housing
areas where tree diversity is large. Again, whenever you have to
chose an alternative, you should do an emergy evaluation. Where a
landscape has nothing but those plantation trees and nobody living
there, the emergy analysis might favor removal of infested trees. On
the other hand, in modern Florida with its high diversity, with most
people doing something else besides raising monocultures, that does
not maximize emergy and emdollars. The emergy of the residential
areas are greater than that of the crops.
B: But agriculture is still the number-two top industry in the state.
O: That has been the justification, but there are other ways to be
productive too. You do not have to have an agricultural
monoculture, you can have four crop species instead of one, and
more genetic varieties of the same crop.
B: Has anyone done an emergy analysis that looked at the citrus canker
0: I do not think so. Someone should do it. [Interruption in tape.]
In our yard we had one pine tree get full of insects and die
about twenty years ago. So what? It decomposed, and it had
woodpeckers in it for awhile first. On our one acre lot we have
maximized diversity, which probably keeps any local infestation
from harming somebody else. Our other pines were not affected.
Of course, I am happy to follow any regulations, even if misguided;
with diversity one tree is not that important.
Another big mistake is planting ornamental monocultures. For
example, putting all the elms along all the roads in New England was
a big mistake that led to an epidemic of Dutch elm disease.
Maintain the diversity within a plot and also maintain the diversity
of plots. Agribusiness tried to increase global food production with
miracle rice. My first energy evaluation was on this in 1966. I was
in North Carolina, and they invited me to go to Washington as part
of the President's Science Advisory Council, which was taking
up the question of energy and agriculture. We brought our
evaluations showing the energy basis, and boy, the agriculturists
landed on me like crazy, and the subcommittee voted twenty-to-one
not to include my section, which had calculations of what was wrong
with their miracle rice. But the main committee said, "those guys
are biased and narrow," and included my report. It was our first
publication on what is now called emergy evaluation. That report
on agriculture was from the White House and shook everybody's
view of agricultural progress.
B: Could you follow up on that idea a little bit? If we should not have
monoculture in Florida, who should do it?
O: No one. Maintain genetic diversity in agriculture. The latest
problem is monoculture within the same species. Molecular biology
produces new insect resistant varieties of corn. The next thing you
know, Monsanto or somebody has got all the corn in America with
one genetic variety. That means it is set up for one disease
mutation to cause national famine. There are other worries too; if it
is toxic to insects, how toxic is it to your unborn child? I used to
study experimental embryology at Woods Hole. We used to add
little tiny bits of chemicals like lithium to Arbacia (sea urchin) eggs
and watch the normal growth go twisted and produce abnormal
embryos. This business of changing the chemistry of food is awfully
dangerous. The people doing it, molecular biologists, have less and
less knowledge of systems or complexity or the next largest scale
(ecology and environment), or even of economics. They are
dedicated and push for this and it sounds great to people who don't
believe there are limits. The public has a feeling that something
might not be right, but it may be worse than they realize.
B: How about the frenzy over mosquito-borne diseases?
O: Well, when we set up our big project (Rockefeller-NSF) on
wastewaters in wetlands, we brought in a Public Health virologist
with a chip on her shoulder, determined to prove that
environmental recycling was dangerous. We set up sentinel
chickens all around to monitor misquito bourne virus. We also took
samples for other viruses in the waters, and then down underneath
the swamp waters that percolated down through the peat. These
wetlands act as a very slow filter and recharge the groundwaters.
They also flow laterally. She hunted, hunted, hunted, and finally
found one virus underneath all her measurements. She said "even if
it was only one virus, if it had been the St. Louis variety I would have
tried to shut you down." St. Louis is the encephalitis that has had
epidemic-like properties in Florida cities. It is transmitted by
mosquitoes, not natural mosquitoes, but the exotic mosquitoes that
come about when you have temporary pools in towns. What killed
the people in the yellow fever epidemic in the Panama Canal
development was not the natural mosquitoes. It was the African
Aedes aegypti, which had been brought over and grew in flower
pots. That brings me around to the main point, that if you rush in
and spray, and they are doing it right now, you knock out the
natural insect fauna and the checks and balances with the hundreds
of insect species that eat each other and so on. Spraying may make
the mosquito problem worse, with a few species which are capable
of creating an epidemic. Chemical spraying is absolutely wrong, this
knee-jerk action, but the public does not understand. Anyway, in
our studies, I put sentinel chickens out in back of my house next to
the pond, and there were not any viruses there. But Eastern Equine
Encephalitis (a bird virus that rarely affects humans) was discovered
in our wetlands. So we quit having students stay overnight out
there. Gabriel Bitton joined the department, and did viral studies.
He set up columns of wetland peat for percolation, and showed that
water viruses don't last long before being denatured or eaten by
something. So anyway, our experiment to put treated sewage waste
waters in wetlands had worked out, and is now practiced worldwide.
Early on, somebody in that area said, "just wait; if that filtration
doesn't work I am going to sue that guy (H.T. Odum)." To do
something new, you have to be a little tough and grit your teeth.
In the trailer park that supplied the wastewaters there was a
darkroom that was releasing soluble silver into our wetland, which it
sucked up just fine. Later on, we got an EPA grant to set up barrier
strips in the swamps at Waldo in order to flow waters with heavy
metals over the peaty surface. Heavy metals did not even get thirty
feet before they were absorbed. People have worried that wetlands
would later release substances that they absorb. With the
Sendzimir Grant we set up a project with Poland where they have
wetlands that have received mining wastes for 400 years. They were
doing just fine after 400 years. We have just published our book
with CRC Press on heavy metals in wetlands. It summarizes our ten-
year project. It is full of emergy evaluations as well.
B: This is Heavy Metals in the Environment: Using Wetlands for Their
O: That is not the real title we started out with here. It was a multi-
authored report with a technical name, but publishers change your
titles to sell more copies. The cover made it look like it was only my
research, whereas it was research by ten authors. A main part was
from Joe Delfino (Professor of Environmental Engineering
Sciences, University of Florida 1982-present) and his students.
B: What about the mercury showing up in all the fish and panthers in
O: Professor Delfino has been a major researcher on that one. In
addition to the natural cycle, incinerators release mercury into the
air that spreads over and rains down where it absorbed by peat.
Later, when you drain the Everglades, it oxidizes and mercury is
released again. Mercury tends to go to the top of the food chain,
even in the sea where it concentrates in swordfish.
B: I was gong to turn to some sort of big-picture Florida questions.
What do you think is the worst environmental mistake we have
made as a state? That is a hard one.
O: When you say environment, I do not separate out the environment
from the economy, I put the two together. The worst mistake in
modern civilization is allowing excess automobile horsepower,
allowing unnecessary cars as part of our freedom, allowing
individuals to apply power to things that do not reinforce
productivity. That is, we run cars and build throughways instead of
asking what is the most appropriate transportation to make an
optimal fit of people and environment. But in a free society with
expanding energy, maximizing power allowed each individual using
an individual car to save a couple hours a day, and time is emergy.
Soon that is going to change drastically. Recall the energy crisis that
started in 1973, which by 1980 created huge inflation. We are
about to do it again with new energy changes. There is little
institutional memory of this anywhere in government. Only senior
people in universities understand the things what were discovered
and worked out, that we call net emergy evaluations, the
government people are all gone. We have got to turn to the
previous knowledge or else repeat the mistakes. The governors of
Florida have all been developers, by and large, and their maximizing
population growth was certainly a mistake. You have to maximize
empower, that is, you have to maximize your total use of energy,
but maximizing the population, when you are going to have to cut
back, is very short-sighted. There has been a whole bunch of
mistakes connected to the energy problem, such as encouraging air
conditioning to displace windows.
B: What are some of those lessons from the 1970s and policies that are
not being followed?
O: An example is, agriculturalists would like to think that they can
substitute corn for oil by making ethanol. Ethanol can be used, as in
Brazil, but our emergy evaluations agree with those of others that
there is no net contribution. Somewhat comparable methods all
show that by the time you have taken the corn and converted it into
alcohol, you use as much fuel energy as you make. The only people
who claim net yield leave out the emergy in the services. They say
there are not many calories in human services, and we will leave
them out. Of course, what goes into the raising, and paying, and
supporting of all those people is huge, so we include it and they do
not. Five or ten years ago, a public hearing was held locally to
promote ethanol. They had one of the congressmen, the IFAS
people, and somebody invited me, along with nice news people.
Everyone made little speeches about agricultural ethanol as a new
industry for Florida. I got up and pointed out that there is not any
net gain when fossil fuels give you around six times more yield than
is used to process it. Ethanol gives you about 1.1 more than you
use, so it is never going to compete, it is not a good benefit, and
therefore it will not be economically competitive as long as there
are fossil fuels. Of course, they were embarrassed. The new
company they had just formed went bankrupt about three months
later. We have had this running war with well meaning people
wanting to do things that are not net benefits because they are not
quantified on the right scale.
B: That reminds me to go back to fossil fuel, to petroleum, for a
moment. We were talking about the eastern Gulf of Mexico earlier,
and you were saying that there was not as much petroleum there as
there is in the western Gulf.
O: Sediments from rivers were deposited west of a north-south line
B: What I wanted to ask you, should we be drilling around the
Apalachicola embankment, where we know there is a lot of natural
gas? Is it appropriate Florida policy to just let them go ahead and
0: All these emergy evaluations have to be done at several scales. You
could look at the scale of the company that is going to do it, and
whether it is a net benefit to them. Then you can look at Florida,
and then you can look at the nation. For Florida, the energy
involved in that amount of fuel could be evaluated relative to other
things going on that would be hurt by it. Pubic opinion senses net
harm if you start to get oil spills all up and down the coast around
Cedar Key and Clearwater. You probably would not have a hard time
just proving that with emergy. On the other hand, "energy will out,"
as we sometimes say. However, a country like the U.S., that is trying
to have world influence, is in position to do things worldwide,
expected to, and it is our public policy to, had better save something
for an emergency. That applies to Alaska and its north shore. If you
could do the exploration and not develop it--that is a hard thing to
do. National policy ought to save home reserves and use foreign fuel
B: Once they find it, they want it.
0: Not only that, but the money is needed to keep oil drilling
companies alive. They have to operate with capitalistic investment.
On the other hand, government could authorize the exploration but
not the development of it.
B: This is an interesting idea.
O: Because of our fuel waste, there may come a time when the U.S., for
lack of net emergy, loses its place as a leading nation. We are not as
close to the Near East and central Asia, and we may be in serious
trouble soon for lack of reserves. Of course, we have several times
tried to reinject oil into underground reservoirs. We are doing it
now. But the first time the price rises, they go and pump it out
again. The Teapot Dome scandal occurred during President Warren
G. Harding's administration and involved the leasing of naval oil
reserves to private companies. It was an original reserve that was
saved for emergency and they went ahead and used it. It is pretty
hard not to use available energy.
B: What do you think Florida has gotten right in terms of