Energy and Ecological Basis of Extreme Events
Extreme events like hurricane María have and energy basis and play important planetary roles well beyond the effects that they may have at smaller scales. They are part of the Earth’s energy hierarchies that span the whole scale spectrum from the sub-atomic to the planet as a whole. At the smaller scale of an island like Puerto Rico, its intensity, duration, area affected, component forces, and return frequency of each component can categorize the event, and how its component forces interact with affected systems. Using energy calculations it is possible to compare the power, load, and effects of different extreme events that affect social-ecological-technological systems (SETS). Ecologists have always studied the effects of these disturbance events on ecological systems, but their focus and emphasis has changed historically. A SETS approach expands the scope of the traditional ecological focus on disturbances. On the short-term after María, the ecological sector had a greater resistance and faster recovery of its main power source (photosynthesis measured as greening) than did the technological system by delivering power to the social sector. On the longer term, these results are reversed, with the social-technological sector recovering faster than the ecological sector. A case is made on how the state (sensu system’s thinking) and functioning of Puerto Rico as a SETS is a result of extreme events interacting with the social and political condition of the island. The effects of these interactions are measured in the state and functioning of the landscape and economy of the island. To avoid collapses after each extreme event, the changes made after the events must be adaptive or anticipatory of future extreme events. Adapting to environmental change requires the generation and selection of alternative solutions to problems.