Type III comic cover. Twin Peaks title screen cartoon. Road sign mountain drawing.
Mount St. Helens erupting drawing. Volcano cartoon. Volcanic eruption comic. 18 May 1980: Mount St. Helens in the United States violently erupts, blasting rock, ash and smoke at hurricane speeds. A 240 square mile 'dead zone' is created to the north of the volcano.
Mount St. Helens cartoon. Fallen tree trunks in volcanic ash drawing. Blowdown area. A ghostly, lifeless landscape. A blank canvas begging for life to recolonise.
Scientists at Mount St Helens dead zone cartoon. Weed sprout drawing. Factory smokestack comic strip. Rather than replant the forest back to its original state immediately...ecologists choose to let natural succession repopulate the area at an unguided, gradual pace. As the Mount St. Helens ecosystem breaks ground towards repair and recovery, another system begins self-healing. The human industrial system.
Mount St. Helens cartoon. Logging truck drawing. Within weeks, the bare rock of Mount St. Helens is first colonised by microscopic invaders. Lichen, bacteria, mosses and fungi blanket the rock...and begin creating soil. Elsewhere, the industrial world acts a similar strategy of growth. Dispersing as quickly as transportation will allow...gathering and unlocking resources.
Weeds blowing seeds drawing. Weed seed cartoon. These first arrivals into the vacant sites are classified as 'Type I' strategists. Rapid growing, and quick multiplying, these pioneers invest minimal resources into the structures of their own bodies...but instead focus on quickly extracting from their surroundings and multiplying in numbers.
Weeds growing in field cartoon. Agriculture crop succession drawing. Layer by layer, the competitive Type Is work the land. As wave after wave of successive Type I colonists arrives, each eager for its time in the sun. Each wave hungers for different nutrients, and opportunistically scours the land, capturing resources before they can be eroded away.
Weed seed cartoon. Blowing fireweed seeds drawing. Industrial smokestacks smoke. Two radically different systems. Each, in their own way, pursuing the same strategy of consumption, growth, and multiplication.
Trees, tree roots cartoon. Construction industry drawing. By the 1990s, a new breed finds footholds in both the Mount St. Helens and human industrial systems. Type II strategists spend less energy multiplying and scavenging for resources, and instead commit to longer stays. They dig in deeper roots, and spend more energy developing structures which will last for their longer lives.
Young pine forest cartoon. Elk deer eating grass drawing. Piece by piece, canopies of Type II strategists shade over the now-redundant Type I species...and create the conditions favourable for a new band of allies.
Isometric industrial factory pipes recycling drawing. Owl catching mouse cartoon. Instead of competitively extracting from the landscape, the Type II strategists network with their neighbours...and begin to recycle through food webs.
Ecological succession drawing. Isometric factory recycling loop cartoon. Bagger 288. Landfill dump. These Type II systems are more efficient than those they replaced. But they are ultimately unsustainable. Despite the reduced flow...Type II systems still pump in one direction. Taking finite, valuable resources and locking them up as unusable waste.
Family photograph pose Mount St. Helens drawing. Close-up hybrid car cartoon. Camera, juice box. Their technology is underdeveloped, their product design flawed...despite their laudable efforts at loop-closing...a Type II system left to run indefinitely will surely die. And yet that is current state of both Mount St. Helens, and human industrial civilisation.
Mount St. Helens aerial drawing. Bird's-eye view volcano cartoon. Despite the cause for despair, both systems are surrounded by hope. Inspiration abounds in the forests that ring Mount St. Helens.
Mount St. Helens mature forest drawing. Fir tree stand, pine trees cartoon. A mighty Type III ecosystem borders the Mount St. Helens dead zone. Built for the long-haul, this is the most mature, complex and stable form of living system.
Mature pine forest cartoon. Redwood ecosystem cross-section drawing. Type III systems are big-bodied, long-lived, slow-growing masters of efficiency. Young plants thrive in the shade of their giant parents...as activity takes place on all levels around them.
Woodpecker beaver cartoon. Northern Flying Squirrel drawing. Elk deer herd. Weird and wonderful organisms find employment doing all sorts of niche jobs......forming a web of relationships with cooperation edging out competition as the dominant force.
Bear mountain stream cartoon. Bald Eagle nest drawing. With the 'mining' of resources already done by their predecessors, peak Type III systems take no resources from the outside, and release no wastes to the outside. An endless juggle of recycling and renewal. Evolved for indefinite occupation of a site.
Mouse cartoon signpost. Deer elk drawing. Linear, Type I systems are not categorically 'bad'...in fact, their unlocked treasures are what later build Type III systems. But the Type I survival strategy is useful only for a small window of time.
Mount St. Helens weeds. Coal train cartoon. Coal power plant drawing. And unlike Type I living systems which build capital from the atmosphere and bare soil...Type I industries consume capital which has already been produced by living systems. In a world which we have explored every corner, sighted every resource...a Type I business strategy is no longer valid for human society.
Man looking at factory drawing. Coal power plant cartoon. Ecological succession gives us hope. That this is not all there is to be. Given the time and resources to build solutions....the Type I strategists can be replaced by Type III strategists. A change in mindset one company at a time...one person at a time.
Storm winds rescue boat cartoon. Squirrel drawing forest clearing. As with mature ecosystems, there will always be pockets of Type I and Type II ready to leap to the rescue when crisis hits. But it is clear that our society needs to move to Type III-like harmony, as quickly as possible.
Man photographing squirrel with SLR camera cartoon. Drawing squirrel running. Right now the industrial ecology and the Mount St. Helens ecology are in lockstep. With Type III maturity just a glimmer on the horizon.
Wolf on cliff top cartoon. Family looking up at wolf drawing. Whether we witness Mount St. Helens reach its climax...will depend precisely on us reaching ours.

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Read some reflections and insights into the Type III comic and the Mount St. Helens ecosystem recovery in the blog section of this website.

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If you enjoyed Type III, try reading this similar comic:
Thin Air by Stuart McMillen
Trees build themselves from the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen of thin air. Can we learn to copy their engineering secrets?

Or for something completely different:
Rat Park comic by Stuart McMillen
A classic experiment into drug addiction science. Would rats choose to take drugs if given a stimulating environment and social company?
Jimi Hendrix vs Your Climate-Denying Uncle by Stuart McMillen
Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitarist who ever lived. Your climate-denying uncle is just some random bloke who no one has ever heard of.
  1. Mark says:

    great stuff

  2. Carmen says:

    Interesting parallel between the natural and industrial system! 🙂
    I’d just like to add that the Type III states in natural systems are not designed for indefinite occupation of land but are actually part of a cyclical process of succession over the longer term. As the Type III state is the most fragile stage of the cycle and takes the longest amount to time to form, people tend to place greater value on Type III environments. However, overvaluation of the Type III stage versus the importance of natural timescales for succession between each stage have led to human interference to artificially maintain the Type III state of some natural systems with negative environmental consequences (e.g. the ‘smokey bear’ policy in the USA – http://www.personal.psu.edu/agl/Law%20review%20fire-oak.pdf). A key problem in natural systems is, therefore, not the need to maintain Type III states indefinitely but the blockages that human activities are putting in place that prevent the transition from Type II to Type III states.

  3. Bruce says:

    Hope, vision, and a map charting a direction to sustainable human being.

    Thank you Stuart.

  4. kloe says:

    I am a huge fan of your work, they inspire me so much. I love the way you interweave scientific facts with the human society, it is truly amazing.

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  6. Gareth Kane says:

    Brilliant – as an industrial ecologist, I love this!

  7. Pingback: Thin Air reflections - Stuart McMillen blog

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  9. Jao says:

    Awesome! Reppin’ work man ill add your site to my news feed 🙂

  10. Mickey says:

    Excellent Comic, I will do some advertisement in a social network 😉

  11. greg says:

    great work stu, i’d love to see this as a backdrop in the council marquee for the next greenheart fair… make it happen stu, make it happen

  12. Jessie Henshaw says:

    Thanks for the great depiction of natural succession, as a path of ecosystem learning. There’s another key piece of science for it, that can help guide a Type II to Type III transition for an economy. It’s that the resources used in *every phase*, for building the next, is the system’s own surplus products. For economy’s that’s its $savings accounts people accumulate, that are used to pay for the resources invested in building the next form of the system, its creative cycle.

    Today $savings are managed only by maximizing the rate of growing $savings, and as a Type III system their purpose of $savings would change from multiplying themselves to securing the economy’s health, and relationships with the other communities it relies on. So, $savings would stop being invested for wealth as that undermines the whole, and is then largely used like endowments, for other values needed for securing the whole.

    A full model is: “Adopt natural system principles to keep economies profitable at their limits” http://www.synapse9.com/signals/2012/05/10/natural-principles-to-stay-profitable-at-limits/

  13. Melissa Sterry says:

    Absolutely brilliant! I will be citing this work in my research for The Bionic City – http://www.scoop.it/t/the-bionic-city – as this comic strip has succinctly summarized one of the key principles my hypothesis embeds. Exciting work Stuart, it’s made my day! Will ping it to a few folks I think will be excited about it too, inc the Earth2Hub.com crew.

  14. Paul says:

    The ecological portions of this were painful to read. That view of succession is considered quaint and outdated by much of the scientific community.

  15. Ted says:

    This is the coolest comic I’ve seen. Just a great look at ecosytems that either we create by design or by default. Inspirational, beautiful and directional.

  16. Pingback: The best comic about industry and ecosystems you’ll ever read | Grist

  17. Zac says:

    Your style reminds me of Scott McCloud, very direct and and interesting. Keep up the good work, Stuart!

  18. Sam says:

    Nice analogy there Stuart -really liked this one; it’s a complex topic for a cartoon to tackle! Interesting to muse on what a ‘Type 3′ *modern* human civilisation would look like… actually…I think we have already been a type 3, the Australian aborigines’ traditional way of life would probably fit the bill, and I’m thinking back to the ‘conserver’ society my grandmother inhabited, before the advent of the mass-production and consumption we have nowadays -nothing was wasted or thrown out, everything was conserved and reused because to replace it was unaffordable. We can still go back to that way of living if there is the will…but our economies are dependent on the cycle of consumption, and ‘consumer confidence’… what would happen if we stopped spending, consuming (and wasting, prompting the need for more consumtion)?. Recession! Let us know what a type 3 modern human civilisation looks like!

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