There have been a number of articles milling in my head again. Being a person of above average curiosity in many directions is not always a good thing when there is an internet connection around, as you tend to spend far too much time scratching around in science and technology articles than updating your taxes or whatever else is pending.
The joy is when you read three or four totally unrelated papers and get that little flash of insight that allows you to draw new inspiration from their stories. For this blog, I drew inspiration from the reports on new or potentially new Nitrogen pathways, some trivia on inventions and business models that were rubbished only to make it big (the telephone, the light bulb, UPS), some bits about how someone took another look at a fossil that has been gathering dust for over 50 years only to discover that it is the first know specimen of a fossil animal together with its own tracks, of someone realising that “dark matter” may be hot and not cold, making the whole big and very expensive hunt for cold dark matter pointless (sorry, but was there a point) and new evidence that “modern” and “ancient” human lineages may have overlapped and interbred.
So what ties this all together? For me, it is the common thread of the Status Quo versus the alternative. Of the convenience of leaving things as they are and of a sloppiness when faced with new evidence. It is the story of missed opportunities and years of struggle on the fringes of acceptance. Typically, the status quo is defended with vigour by those who:
Thus, as history taught us, the guys from Western Union thought the telephone was a horrible idea and would not catch on. Anyone send a telegraph lately? A beautiful quote from one of the articles went something like “When the world finally manages to blow itself up, the last thing to be heard will be a lone voice saying that it can’t be done. So the battle is against the status quo of convenience and sloth in science, and the voices of those that will not believe no matter what.
For me, the status quo that aquaponics faces is not only in traditional agriculture (bad old Big Ag with his GM seeds and fertilizer market) but also in the very definitions we set for ourselves and in the equipment we have now. Aquaponics is viewed as the marriage between aquaculture and horticulture by many, but as we learn more about the possibilities of sourcing sustainable nutrients in permaculture applications, we may end up somewhere very different from where we are now. The challenges that many countries face in terms of marketing the fish yield of aquaponic systems may well facilitate the development of systems that run totally differently to the rules of thumbs guiding us at present. I still see fish, with their low Ammonia tolerance levels, as the “lower fail point” in many aspects of commercial system design and profitability and am looking forward to a time where people come up with more efficient ways of dealing with this. Home systems designed around a beautiful water feature will introduce different components and construction methods.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this are the drivers of aquaponics. Suppliers of equipment, books, designs, kits and theory of operation. Bloggers, Forum frequenters and all people vocal. The aquaponics community looks up to these individuals to a large extent and so often consider their input as telling for the direction in which it develops. I think everyone involved with the formation of standards and responsible, or capable, of influencing the industry should have the check list at the beginning of this blog etched in their minds. We are at a threshold with the formation of an international association. That in itself is already a feat in itself and a powerful reminder to those who said that it cannot be done that there are many people working very hard not to prove them wrong, but to achieve in spite of them. Let us all remain focussed on having just enough status quo for stability and plenty pioneering innovation to take aquaponics to where it can be: An open minded, inquisitive search for sustainable agriculture innovation.