Barry Commoner’s Holocenosis

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How completely everything in wild nature fits into us, as if truly part and parent of us. he sun shines not on us, but in us.  The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of our bodies, making them glide and sing.” John Muir 

Today’s blog post is a continuation of a series that describes important ideas that contribute to a modern understanding of patterns in Nature and how they are connected. In a previous post I emphasized the idea that nature can be described as a set of organizing principles . I also offered the very influential ideas  of Rachel Carson. Hopefully, this series of posts on important ideas will provide a deeper foundation for further discussions on patterns in Nature and their interdependencies which drive our existence here on earth.

I learned a new word recently. It is “holocenosis”. A real mouthful. But, a very important word that describes an essential fact about how Nature operates on Earth.

Holocenosis means that everything on Earth influences and is influenced by everything else.  Applied to a network of relationships or the components of an ecosystem in which all factors act together, holocenosis means that there are no barriers separating things. Within a holocenotic environment, it is impossible to imagine only a single change in the environment.  Every component, living and non-living, interacts with every other and, to a bigger or smaller extent, depends on every other and creates an ecological system, called an ecosystem.

Barry Commoner, an American environmental scientist,  joins Rachel Carson’s voice in emphasizing the idea that everything is interconnected. He is sometimes described as advancing the idea that our world is “holocoenotic” – a network of relationships in which all factors act together with no barriers separating them – where the whole is more than a simple sum of it’s parts.  He warned that due to human interference with the connections within our ecosphere,

“the interactions that sustain the whole have begun to falter and, in some places, stop”.

Since the 1950s, he warned of the environmental threats posed by modern technology (including nuclear weapons, use of pesticides, other toxic chemicals, and ineffective waste management). His classic book Science and Survival (1966) made him one of the foremost environmentalist spokesmen of his time. In 1970, a Time magazine cover story dubbed him “the Paul Revere of Ecology” for his early leadership in the field.

In his best seller,  The Closing Circle written in 1971, he said:

“Life begets life… Every living thing is dependent on many others, either indirectly through the physical and chemical features of the environment or directly for food or a sheltering place. Within every living thing on the earth, indeed within each of its individual cells, is contained another network-on its own scale, as complex as the environmental system-made up of numerous, intricate molecules, elaborately interconnected by chemical reactions, on which the life-properties of the whole organism depend.”

You can download your own free 24 page PDF version of The Closing Circle .

On September 30th, 2012, Barry Commoner died at the age of 95. One of Commoner’s lasting legacies is his four laws of ecology:

1. Everything is Connected to Everything Else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.

2. Everything Must Go Somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.

3. Nature Knows Best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system.”

4. There Is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

I like Barry Commoner because he describes Nature and its interrelationships in such simple and understandable terms. Terms that can easily be adapted to any sustainability education program at any level. His four laws of ecology can be used in any “hands-on” outdoors teaching experience. Even if you are taking students out simply to pick up garbage, Commoner’s second law becomes a teaching opportunity.

I’d love to hear from those of you who are doing any form of environmental education. What do you think?

My name is Bill Graham. As a Marine Biologist who has worked in the US and Mexico for 30 years, I am a student of Nature, a teacher, a researcher, and a nature photographer. Through my work, I have acquired an ever growing passion for how everything in Nature is connected. Today, I travel extensively contemplating about, writing about, and photographing Nature’s connections. I also work with conservation projects in the USA and Mexico and mentor talented youth.

7 thoughts on “Barry Commoner’s Holocenosis”

  1. Dear Professor Bill Graham,
    I hope you are fine, thank you for sending me the excellent blog.
    As you mentioned :holocenosis means that there are no barriers separating things,exactly there is a rule in painting that there is no line to separate things. There is just light from the darkest to the brightest part. I just thought that how every thing is so close to other things.
    Best regards,

  2. Hi Bill,

    This is such a great website. I am so glad I stumbled upon it! I have not yet had a chance to look at everything you have written, but everything I have read so far really resonates with my desires for the world. Thanks for taking the time to share your insights.

  3. Hi Margie:

    Thanks for replying. I took a look at your website to find a company that focuses on innovation. How might your skills be applied to creating a new Nature consciousness ???

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