Type III

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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 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' 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 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.
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.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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A comic about the Mount St. Helens ecosystem, and the human industrial system. A graphical look at industrial ecology and ‘green industry’.

Read my essay Type III reflections: the ‘making of’ to learn about my process for making this comic. I also discuss my research into the Mount St. Helens ecosystem recovery, as well as the concepts of ‘industrial ecology’ and ‘Type III industrial systems’ that I mentioned in the comic.

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22 October 2015

great stuff


13 December 2014

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 - 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.


16 February 2014

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


11 September 2013

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.

The Great Disruption (moving to Canberra) - Stuart McMillen blog

3 March 2013

[...] has been to communicate issues which are on the fringes of popular understanding. Examples include the linear nature of our economy, the efficient way nature builds itself, and the dangers of unchecked [...]

Gareth Kane

5 February 2013

Brilliant - as an industrial ecologist, I love this!

Thin Air reflections - Stuart McMillen blog

29 August 2012

[...] its sister comic, Type III, Thin Air ends without a specific ‘message’ or conclusion. The simple reason for this [...]

Type III reflections - Stuart McMillen blog

15 August 2012

[...] Type III is about the other story of Mount St. Helens. Usually seen only as an force of destruction, I tried to show the flip side of the coin. In the comic, I recast the iconic volcano as a shining example of nature’s versatility, creativity and resilience. [...]


29 July 2012

Awesome! Reppin' work man ill add your site to my news feed :)


2 July 2012

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


31 May 2012

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 happengreg

Jessie Henshaw

25 May 2012

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"

Melissa Sterry

24 May 2012

Absolutely brilliant! I will be citing this work in my research for 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 crew.


24 May 2012

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


23 May 2012

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.

The best comic about industry and ecosystems you’ll ever read | Grist

23 May 2012

[...] comic form they become accessible and charming (I like the dismayed squirrel on page 22). I promise reading the comic will be more fun than reading my last paragraph. [...]


22 May 2012

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


22 May 2012

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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