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What is it to be ECO?

Pedro Viterbo*
Pedro Viterbo*

ECO is the prefix of a family of words, including ecology, ecosystem, ecological, ecologist, and others. Eco comes from the Greek oikos (house). Oikos is the origin of the word Ökologie, introduced from German in the 19th century, becoming Ecology in English, and being pronounced in most European languages in a similar way to the German or English word.

Oikos, “house”, is an excellent metaphor for the environment: ecology (“eco” + “logia”) is “the study of interactions between living organisms and the environment where they live” or “the series of interactions of a specific organism with its environment”. Ecology is an interdisciplinary science, which requires a knowledge of biology, earth sciences and geography.

Among other things, ecology studies life processes, interactions and adaptation; the exchange of material and energy in the ecosystem; the abundance and distribution of organisms and biodiversity.

Planet Earth is a complex set of physical, biological and geological systems, and its evolution depends on the interactions between these systems. Metaphorically, we are talking about an Oikos complex. In the last 30 years, our planet’s physical conditions have changed, in what is known as climate change. The current consensus is clear: these changes are largely caused by an increase in gases such as carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide, resulting in global warming, changes in precipitation patterns and sea ice. Climate change is accelerating. If humanity is incapable of reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted and replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy, we will be handing an Oikos over to our children that is in worse condition that the one we received from our parents.

*Head, Department of Meteorology and Geophysics, Portuguese Institute for the Ocean and the Atmosphere.

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