Ecoliteracy : Interdependence Is Life

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Interdependence is a defining feature of all life

If I were asked to select one word that describes life on Earth, I would definitely choose the word “interdependence”. Everything in Nature is interconnected. Nothing lives in isolation!! There is no such thing as living separately. Everything, including we humans, depends on everything else in Nature. But, more than mere interconnectedness, interdependence refers to the tendency of all life on Earth to be dependent upon each other in some way.


The fundamental processes that create and sustain all life on earth are the transportation and transformation of energy. Without these processes, life would not exist on Earth. Energy must be transported to the destination where it is to be used. Transformation is essential because energy must be transformed into a form that can be used by a unique organism or creature. These two processes become essential components in every segment of the network of life.


Our dependency on the Sun serves to portray the processes of transportation and transformation. The Sun emits energy in the form of photons that are carried as light waves to Earth. Some of these photons interact with plant leaves. These leaves capture the Sun’s energy. This energy reacts with a chemical in the leaf known as chlorophyll. Chlorophyll combines the sun’s captured energy with carbon dioxide from the air to form a carbohydrate (sometimes described as a sugar), The carbohydrate molecule acts as a storage depot for the captured energy. An animal comes along and eats the leaf. The animal’s metabolism transforms the carbohydrate in the leaf to another chemical called ATP.  ATP stores that energy in the creature’s body until needed by the organism to maintain life. The process goes on. The animal is eaten by another animal where the processes of transportation and transformation take place once more. On a grander scale, we see a complex network of energy flow connections that join all of the processes of energy flow into one grand and complex web of life.


What has been just described is “interdependence”. Every creature and organism on Earth, including we humans, depends upon receiving its life giving energy from some other organism or place.


If  the transportation and transformation processes within an organism or creature are cut off, death will quickly follow. If a forest is cut down or an estuary is turned into a marina, that interdependent ecosystem of many creatures will cease to exist.


This means that the key goal for ANY human created conservation program must be to to preserve and protect the interdependent energy flow of the ecosystem under study. We must preserve, above all else, the transportation and transformation of energy in all creatures and organisms if we are to sustain our own lives.


We humans like to view ourselves as independent from other life forms while having dominion over all life forms. This fantasy of dominion is blatantly false! The fact is that we humans, in order to stay alive, need to be interconnected and interdependent with other forms of life in order to receive and process life sustaining energy.


Peter G. Brown and Geoffrey Garver, in their essay ” Humans and Nature: The Right Relationship” say it well:

“The fundamental wealth on the earth, on which all else depends, is the ability to maintain life itself, which is made possible by the ability of green plants to convert sunlight into sugars. Plant-based sugars are wealth. They are used by the plants themselves and by virtually all other organisms to sustain themselves and to reproduce. Without this simple activity, all the manufactured capital, all the human capital, all the social capital, all the money, all the bank deposits, and all the credit cards on the earth—the totality of these not only would be worthless, they would not exist. An economy in right relationship with real wealth is built on the simple fact that the integrity, resilience, and beauty of natural and social communities depends on the earth’s vibrant but finite life-support capacity.”

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 ecosystems 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 interdependent 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 that depends on other systems to function.

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

For Your Further Consideration

This essay is part of a series of essays about ecoliteracy that present ideas to environmental educators, students,  and all stewards of Nature.   These ideas come from some of our modern great thinkers. The emphasis in these essays will be on two key ideas:

  1. Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy to all life. 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 is based 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 take place outdoors 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.

Please Comment 

The purpose of my essays is to develop a dialog with all of my readers. You are strongly encouraged to comment on this essay in the space provided below.

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.