Ecoliteracy – What Is Life?
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Fundamental to all ideas about ecological literacy is the definition of life on Earth.

What Is Life ? This is a question with many answers. A dictionary might tell us that life is a distinctive characteristic of a living organism that has the capacity to grow, metabolize, respond to stimuli, adapt, and reproduce. But, defining life requires a greater depth if we are to understand how Nature operates.

We can define living things by their structure

  • Living Things Are Composed of Cells
  • Living Things Have Different Levels of Organization
  • Living Things Are A Network of Systems

Or, we could define living things in terms of energy

  • Living Things Transport and Transform Energy
  • Living Things Respond To Their Environment
  • Living Things Grow
  • Living Things Reproduce
  • Living Things Adapt To Their Environment

Interdependence is a defining feature of all life. 

Every living being is inextricably interconnected to every other living being. All life processes intermingle and are somehow dependent upon each other. Everything within Nature is interconnected and interdependent. More than mere interconnectedness, interdependence refers to the tendency of all life on Earth to be  mutually dependent upon each other.  Animals depend on plants for the production of oxygen, while plants absorb the carbon dioxide released by animals. Bees, butterflies, and birds assist in pollination and seed dispersal, enabling the reproduction of a multitude of plant species on which other organisms depend for food and shelter. And, of course, Earth’s connectedness with the sun’s energy is of primary importance because solar energy drives all life.

Humans are also interconnected to and interdependent with Nature. This refusal by humanity to accept our interdependence with Nature is a basic reason why the effects of human overpopulation and over-consumption exist.

We humans need to embrace a systems view of life

It is important to recognize that we need to understand systems and the systems view of life because systems are the networks by which life’s vital energy is transported and transformed. A thorough understanding of Nature’s living systems, as well as energy flow within these systems, is key to the development of conservation programs by human beings. When a conservation program developed by humans proves ineffective, it is usually because there was insufficient comprehension of living systems and Nature’s energy flow within these systems.

Life is a collection of living systems

We humans will be unable to resolve our population crisis until we recognize that life is a collection of systems. While we may not realize it, we encounter and connect with systems every moment of our lives. Our bodies are a large collection of interconnected, self-maintaining systems. Every person we meet, every organization we work with, every animal, every tree, and every ecosystem is a system.

Life is a continuum

The endless complexity of life is organized into patterns which repeat themselves as they energize each hierarchical level of an ecosystem.  From the ceaseless streaming of protoplasm to the many-vectored activities of supranational systems, there are continuous flows through living systems as they maintain their highly organized steady states.

 

For Your Further Consideration

This essay is part of a series of essays that present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   These ideas come from some of our modern great thinkers. Typically, these essays will be paraphrased quotes from books and papers authored by these people along with Internet references. The emphasis will typically be on two key ideas:

  1. Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  2. Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generations.

Here is a current list of essays about ecoliteracy. This list will expand with time.

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself,  or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

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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 Responses to “Ecoliteracy – What Is Life?”

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