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Ecology: Our Great Design and Life Issue




In the 21st century, we are fully entering the era of "ecologuism."

What does ecology mean? Etymologically, it comes from the Greek oikos-logos. Oikos = house, and logos = knowledge. And that house is naturally the planet. And what are the bricks? We have an atmosphere, a geosphere, and a hydrosphere. The classic elements: air, earth, and water. And from the combination of these three, thanks to the energy from the sun (which would be fire), the result is life: the biosphere. Ecology is OiKos, but it's also Logos. Knowledge. Traditionally, it has been considered that life on Earth is possible due to its size and distance from the sun. But it's not exactly like that; it's the planet's biodiversity that causes life to thrive and persist. As James Lovelock described in his Gaia hypothesis, it's life itself that enables life. Therefore, the most important characteristic of our planet is having a biosphere composed of ecosystems that act as catalysts for the other spheres: atmosphere, geosphere, and hydrosphere.



Image 1. The relationship between the geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere gives rise to life, the biosphere. At the same time, life influences the overall planetary relationships. Ecology is the science that studies the various relationships and interdependencies that occur in ecosystems.



The biosphere utilizes the chemical and physical elements of all these spheres to generate new matter, both organic and inorganic, essential for everything to function and life to thrive. We can think of oxygen as a basic element for life. It's an element that didn't "exist" on our planet from its origin and isn't related to its size or distance from the sun. Instead, it depends on the presence of plants. We, living organisms, breathe oxygen to live because photosynthetic organisms (plants and phytoplankton), as a result of their metabolic activity, produce oxygen as a waste product. It's a chemical element upon which the vast majority of living organisms, including us, have evolved. And so, we could continue with countless interdependent relationships where the activity of life itself makes life possible through a system of infinite complexity and beauty.


Ecology is based on studying the relationship between living beings and the physical environment that causes the planet to behave like a large system in an unstoppable dynamic equilibrium.


Image 2. The environmental impacts generated by human activity can affect both the soil and water and air, degrading the physicochemical composition that maintains ecosystems. At the same time, if species are eliminated, the quality of the rest of the ecosystem is affected.



People, as living beings, are part of that biosphere, but with a peculiarity that sets us apart from the rest. In our process of evolution and development as a species, we have created our own environment, partly governed by new rules that we call the "technosphere." Since the development of design capabilities in Homo habilis, the process of transforming the ecosystem has been so extensive that it has influenced the physical and chemical balance of the planet, leading to a significant loss of biodiversity that could endanger life as we know it. The use of exogenous energies to humans, such as fire, whether derived from wood, coal, or oil, has allowed the development of materials and the design of extremely functional artifacts. It has given rise to the construction of this technosphere, with a series of effects on the natural world that we now know must be corrected.



The different processes that occur from the moment matter becomes part of the ecosystem until it is used in the form of products result in effects on the environment known as environmental impacts.


What happens when the atmosphere is altered by changes in the concentration and presence of greenhouse gases like CO2 or acidifying substances like SO2? What occurs when the extraction of inert materials leads to land degradation and erosion? And when discharges into water alter its basic composition due to manufacturing processes? Ultimately, what happens is a decrease in biodiversity.



Image 4. The exploitation of resources, such as mineral extraction, directly impacts the landscape and ecosystems.


If the composition of ecosystems is altered, their capacity to support life is affected, and thus, the conditions of the environment for maintaining life, including our own, deteriorate. Beyond moral considerations, environmental impacts have a negative effect on the purely human, social, and economic aspects. When our understanding of the environment was not sufficient to comprehend the significance of human actions on its viability, environmentalism was the movement advocating for a different way of doing things. However, today we can no longer consider environmental impacts solely as a moral or ideological issue.


In our modern times, ecology must be both a science and knowledge.

Rigorous and determined decision-making in politics, design, economics, and all social spheres. In the 21st century, we are fully entering the era of "ecologism." Sustainability should not be solely a matter of ethics and conviction but of knowledge, study, and reasoning. The assessment of environmental footprint is the first step in understanding where, how, and to what extent human activities impact the environment, including those of businesses and design in particular. Once the impacts are understood, design itself becomes one of the key strategies for environmental improvement, for moving towards effective sustainability that is economically and socially beneficial. Materials, energy, and waste are crucial aspects that make a design and product a reality. How they are used, managed, and minimized are key factors for ensuring that a design is sustainable and that business and personal activities are environmentally viable in both the short and long term.

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