Empowering Stewards of Nature (Free Book)

Free Book

Empowering Stewards Of Nature


At this point in our planet’s history, probably the most important people on our planet are environmental educators, youth under 25 years old, and all  stewards of Nature. This group will build a legacy of future generations that will practice a new consciousness for Nature that has been lost by recent generations. The current destructive trend of apathy toward Nature, human over-consumption, and over-population has the potential of being reversed by this group before it is too late. It is this new legacy who will be preserving and protecting Nature’s essential and vital energy flow. This book, Empowering Nature’s Stewards, is addressed to this group of important human beings.
The book emphasizes the real reason that all environmental conservation practices exist — that is the preservation of the pathways of energy flow in Nature. Life is defined by Nature’s energy flow. By identifying and conserving energy flow networks, mankind does not get involved in making changes to Nature, Instead,  mankind embraces Nature as She makes the decisions that best serve Her and Her creatures.
The book:

  • Identifies the core problem on Earth – An unsustainable human population and human overconsumption that is depleting our earth’s resources.
  • Defines Nature as a complex energy flow network of interdependent “living systems”.
  • Discusses Nature’s energy transformation and transportation processes.
  • Evangelizes the idea that conservation is the act of identifying, preserving, and protecting energy flow pathways in Nature.
  • Identifies conservation practices that will protect these vital energy flow pathways.
  • Emphasizes that environmental education can build a legacy of young people who have the potential of reversing an unsustainable human population growth rate and overconsumption.

In addition to the extensive text on these subjects, the book offers a series of case studies, activity sets, and lesson plans.
The book is in the form of a PDF book which is provided free of charge. 


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A Legacy Worldview – Teach The Children Well

How do those of us who care and are aware face the grim dilemma of an unsustainable human population? Most certainly, conservation through obedience doesn’t work. Rules and policemen don’t teach anything. Laws, rules, and regulations can easily be ignored if one avoids individuals in law enforcement. The most likely and effective process is through education. However, the current attitudes of many members of the adult human population limit receptiveness to the idea of environmental education. Indeed, we have lost a large part of the adult population who will continue to live in unsustainable ways.


Nonetheless, education builds consciousness. It builds a capability to make good environmental decisions that are available to everyone — not just scientists and administrators. The challenge of environmental education is to build a legacy of conservation-minded people. Whether you are an educator or a student, your challenge is to pass on this legacy through your knowledge and your energy. Your job is to build a network of environmentally aware people through your example. In doing so, you will help build a future with people who care for the home in which we humans must live.  That is what this essay is all about.

Many people and groups are beginning to realize that building this new environmental awareness can happen only in our children and in our youth. Young people are not yet culturally conditioned to a way of life where Nature is ignored. Young people are open to new ideas and new world views.  The fresh minds of young people respond to facts and learn through awe and wonder. These young minds have the potential of becoming the next generation of environmental leaders.


Energy flow conduits in Nature are much more than the food webs and energy flow that we see in Nature. It is the connection between human beings where a conscience based on knowledge and conservation awareness is passed on to other human beings. Education through legacy building is the best and most empowering conservation strategy that is available to us humans. Passing on ideas through education builds a consciousness — a capability to make good ecological decisions by everyone. — not just scientists and administrators.


What message do we present to our youth? The message must start with the fundamental premise that nothing on this earth exists solely on its own. Everything is dependent upon everything else. Because of the vital importance of Nature’s energy flow and the conduits that transport and transform this energy,  the basic theme of any environmental education program needs to be built on the premise that everything in Nature is connected. Understanding this fundamental idea of interdependence in Nature is a crucial first step to effectively conserving our planet. 

Therefore, the basic objective of environmental education is to build a “connectivity consciousness” in our youth in hopes that our youth will build a legacy that influences the generations that follow them. This makes the relationships between generations an important connection in Nature. This idea of generation connectivity amplifies the huge importance and responsibility of environmental educators.


Through hands-on, place-based education that emphasizes inquiry-learning, we can develop a consciousness for the interdependency of all forms of Nature. A consciousness that recognizes and accepts the fact that, for Nature at all levels to exist, everything in our universe, in our world, and in our local communities is connected. We can build this consciousness in our youth by offering ways to identify, understand, and preserve vital connections in Nature as well as the ecosystems that embrace these connections.


In a profound message called “Teach The Children”, poet Mary Oliver  says:
“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms. Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
Children and youth up to and including age 25 represent 50% of the human population. If teaching methods make a subject interesting for each age group, children and youth are receptive to the awe and wonder of Nature. They will participate in activities that will reinforce the learning process.  They love to look, touch, feel, smell, and taste.

In turn, children and youth can influence adult members in their family. Children and youth can also influence the next generation. The idea of legacy education is a powerful conservation tool over the years. Let us assume that you have an environmental education class of 20 young minds. Let us also assume that you are able to significantly influence two (10%)  of these people to a point that they are able to eventually influence two other young people to a point of action. And so on. Over ten years,1,024 people will be strongly influenced by your singular influence in one year. If you do this for 10 years, your effort will result in 102,400 new stewards of Nature. If your success rate is 15% instead of 10%, your legacy from a 10-year effort will be 590,490 people. If your success rate is 20%, your legacy from a 10-year program will be 10,485,760 people. If there are 10,000 environmental educators providing significant influence to only 10% of their students, their legacy will be 10,240,000 young people becoming significant stewards of Nature. This very basic mathematical exercise demonstrates the significance and power of legacy building. By empowering a small group of students each year, one is able to eventually create a huge cadre of influential stewards of Nature well in advance of the projected 50-year date when it is thought that the human race will be in mortal danger of collapse due to its own ignorance.


Multiplying and spreading your knowledge and example to others is a powerful conservation strategy. By educating locally, but thinking globally, you become the initiator of a network of social energy that can grow and save Nature from human destruction. Your influence now can help build a future positive equilibrium in, at least, some corners of Nature’s existence.


Conservation is the act of identifying, understanding,  preserving, and protecting Nature’s energy flow. Legacy building – passing it on to others – must be added to our definition of conserving Nature. Legacy building is empowering environmental stewards, directly or indirectly, at all ages and within all disciplines.

The legacy worldview incorporates both the systems worldview that was explored in the second essay and the environmental ethics discussed in the fourth essay. These two subjects are seemingly unrelated. However, both worldviews address interrelationships. The systems worldview focuses on the technical truths about Nature’s interrelated systems while the ethical worldview focuses on the qualities and guidelines for human interaction within Nature’s ecosystems. The legacy worldview passes on facts and guidelines for action through the transfer of ideas to other groups and future generations. The legacy worldview represents the positive influence that is so badly needed if humanity is to survive on Earth. Here are two examples of young people and their mentors building a legacy of environmental consciousness. 


The Green Team


I am privileged to mentor a group of 10 incredible high school seniors in an environmental education program in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. My students use hands-on, place-based, Socratic (inquiry-based) teaching strategies to help young people in the primary grades understand the flow of Nature’s energy and why everything in Nature is interconnected. This program, called the “Green Team”, uses a local estuary as the “classroom”. Being the “resident biologist”, my job is to provide the technical information necessary for the Green Team to build an effective teaching package. However, the actual teaching activities are conducted by my students.

Typically, the Green Team first provides a 45 minute in-class oral and video Socratic session to introduce the ideas about energy flow in Nature. Within a week of this activity, the students take a field trip to a local estuary. First, they participate in the “string game” activity where they learn about the complex connections in the ecosystem. Then, they enter a mangrove ecosystem, get wet, and trace Nature’s energy flow from the sun, through the mangrove system, into the estuary water plane, and out to sea. This activity is heavy with sensory activities. And, finally, the students participate in a “What did you see?” session.


The Green Team participates in legacy building. First, I passed the information on to my students. Then, they passed what they learned to younger students. With time, we hope that the younger students will become the new Green Team.


 The Little Acorns Program


Deborah Perryman is an award-winning environmental educator from Elgin, Illinois, USA who provides us with a second example of legacy building.  Deb is an Illinois teacher of the year recipient. She oversees the National Biodiversity Teach-In  which is run by her students. Her hands-on, place-based environmental teaching work is portrayed in this video.


Legacy Building Resource Material
Thanks for reading this blog essay. This website offers a free PDF version of a book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature”. The book offers education methodology and content for building a connectivity consciousness for Nature within your students. The methodology includes seminar-style Socratic learning in the classroom coupled with activities in Nature that emphasize Nature’s relationships and energy flow. The book also offers some activity sets that will prove useful as you implement your environmental education programs outdoors. In addition, there is a series of environmental case studies that can be used in inquiry-based learning sessions. You are free to use the material offered in these packages “as-is” or modify things to fit your needs. To download this book, follow the instructions on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book.  


For Your Further Consideration


Ecological literacy (ecoliteracy) is the ability to understand how our Earth’s natural systems make life on our planet possible. The essays in this website offer thoughts about ecoliteracy to all environmental educators,  students, and stewards of Nature.   The emphasis is on these key ideas:
  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. 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 (the “Living Earth Story”) is supported by the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental educators, their students, scientists, and all stewards of Nature  are a powerful progressive force that, through their knowledge about Nature, through the legacies that they create, and through their informed actions are capable of overseeing the well-being of our home —  Mother Earth
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a worldview in the minds and hearts of all of our youth. Environmental education must include the acts of passing this consciousness on to future generations.
  • If you are interested in working with me, other environmental educators, and other stewards of Nature to build a legacy of young people who will embrace and evangelize the worldview that “Everything on Earth is Connected and Interdependent”, please provide your questions and comments in the space provided below or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.

Please Comment  Here


Environmental Ethics – Guiding A Reluctant Humanity

This blog essay is the fourth in a six part series that is based on the premise that:

  • A crisis within the human population could destroy our race by the year 2050.
  • We humans are engaging in a behavior of infinite growth on a planet with limited resources.
  • Our children and their children have the power to save the human race from destruction.

The text of these blog essays is the draft version of my new book entitled “Lessons From Our Web Of Life – Empowering Stewards of Nature” which will be offered in early 2018 as a free PDF version. Here is a description of the book. The book will contain case studies and lesson sets that are not included in this blog essay series. You are strongly encouraged to use the comment space in this essay to offer your comments, opinions, and corrections. You will be acknowledged in the book. 

The six blog essays are:

Who among us knows what significance any other kind of life has in itself, as a part of the universe? For the truly ethical man, all life is sacred, including that which from the human point of view seems lower in scale. If a person has been touched by the ethic of Reverence for LIfe, he injures and destroys life only when he cannot avoid doing so, and never from thoughtlessness.
“Every person is born with the concept:
” ‘ I am life which wills to live, in the midst of life which wills to live’. From this conflict comes death and destruction. But if he understands Reverence for Life, at last the will-to-live, that fierce affirmative force which holds us all by the throat vanishes. In its place there is only the will-to-love, and the blessings of healing, and the sense of communion with all living things.”
                                  —  From: “Out of My Life and Thought”
                                             by Albert Schweitzer, 1875-1965
Up to this point, the book has presented an environmental dilemma that mankind will be facing by the year 2050. This dilemma could result in the eradication of the human race. We then took a look at the current scientific worldview that our planet is a “living system” where everything, including humans, is interconnected and interdependent. We justified this thinking by emphasizing that everything on our planet requires energy to live and  that our planet’s  highly interconnected living system transports and transforms this vital energy.


All of this makes much sense when one studies Nature. But, there is one huge barrier that inhibits this awesome living system that is our home. That barrier is the attitudes and activities of a huge population of creatures we know as “human beings”. David Brooks, in his book “The Road To Character [ https://www.amazon.com/Road-Character-David-Brooks/dp/0812983416  ], notes that:


Over the past several decades we have built a moral ecology around the “Big Me”, around the belief of a golden figure inside ourselves. This has led to a rise in narcissism and self-aggrandizement“.


The result is a belief by humanity that there is no such thing as a human dependency on Nature. Instead, it is believed that modern technology allows we humans to exercise control over Nature.  Environmental policy makers often perceive that environmental “management” actions are based on the application of scientific fact. But yet, the “management” of Nature by mankind is a fantasy because, as noted in previous blog essays in this series, systems science has taught us that it is impossible for we humans to predict the effects of Nature’s processes or the effects of our actions upon Nature. In truth, our actions are the result of value judgments and opinions and not scientific fact. Our interventions in natural processes often yield unexpected results. Our interventions sometimes causes damage to the environment.


So, how do we face this problem? The approach suggested in this book is the application of a set of ethical and ecological guidelines that are based on scientific fact and not on political will, man’s ego, or mere opinion or judgment. In this section, we start looking at the kind of ethical guidelines that are needed for mankind to survive in Nature.


Morality (from the Latin moralis meaning “manner, character, proper behavior“) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and action between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper. Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion, or culture. Morality can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with “goodness” or “rightness”.

Ethics is the creation, study, and application of moral guidelines for humans living on our earth. Typically, ethics refers to human behavior that is held to be a standard for the majority of a given people. This standard reflects what is morally right or wrong in inter-human relationships. Traditionally, ethics has focused on theological and philosophical guidelines. The world of theologians consists mainly of extrapolations of their beliefs. The world of philosophers consists consists of extrapolations of their thinking.  Theological ethics are based upon the authority of revelation that is written in books such as the Bible and the Koran. Philosophical ethics are based upon the “authority” of human reason. The ten commandments from the Christian bible is a list of theological guidelines. “Thou Shall Not Kill” is one such ethic that recognizes reverence for human life. This ethic has resulted in the creation of human laws prohibiting the murder of another human. The quote from Albert Schweitzer noted at the beginning of this essay is another example of an ethic – reverence for life. This quote is directly related to the ethic that “Thou Shall Not Kill”. 


Both theologians and philosophers have created human-centered (anthropocentric) models of our world with insufficient relevance to the realities of Nature that surrounds us. Humans are not the center of the earth. Humans are one species among millions and are only part of the process of life. Dolphins, mice, and a virus are just as much a part of life on earth as humans. Theologians and philosophers have created inaccurate geographic-centered (geo-centric) models of our our planet as well. Earth is not a singular entity. Earth is a planet among billions of planets and stars in our galaxy. There are billions of such galaxies.


In recent times, there has been a growing awareness and concern about mankind’s huge negative impact on planet Earth. Some of this concern has been described in the essay on human population growth. This concern has driven the development of a new ethic that focuses on man’s relationship to his environment. Environmental ethics is the philosophical discipline that considers the moral and ethical relationship of human beings to the environment. Environment ethics is different than the theological and philosophical guidelines mentioned earlier in this essay. Theological and philosophical ethics focuses on relationships between human beings. Environmental ethics focuses on the relationship between mankind and his environment. Human values become an important factor when looking at environmental ethics because these values are guidelines that help a person evaluate an action or event that might affect the plants and animals (including other humans) in local or distant ecosystems. Human values that are derived from environmental ethics can be influenced by experience and by environmental education.


Environmental ethics is sometimes called a “biocentric ethic” which asks us to value the rest of Nature in and of itself. This requires that we accept that we humans are neither the center of the universe nor the determiner of value. A biocentric ethic requires humility. It requires that we humans remove our hubris and learn to live in coupled human-and-natural systems. It requires us to adapt to Nature’s patterns even as those patterns change. It requires us to recognize the importance of Nature’s “web of life” – the living systems that we described earlier. It requires us to protect the web of life because, in doing so, we protect our own future as a race.


Environmental ethics are also based on scientific fact. They provide guidelines for maintaining the health of the natural world by recognizing our current understanding of how Nature operates. Environmental ethics are the principles by which Nature’s stewards, educators, and practitioners of conservation science operate. In turn, stewards of Nature pass on the ethical guidelines and values to our children through environmental education programs. Ultimately, it will be our children, those most likely to be affected by the upcoming environmental crisis, who would employ those ethics while influencing the older generation of humans.


An essay by David King  entitled Principles of an Ecological Morality  is an excellent presentation and summary of the issues concerning environmental ethics. King’s essay outlines six guiding principles of Nature, based on scientific fact.  These principles guide the establishment of an environmental morality within humans.


Principle #1: Everything in Nature, Including Human Beings, Is Interdependent.


Within Nature, everything is connected. This universal quality applies to BOTH mankind and to Nature. More than mere interconnectedness, interdependence refers to the tendency of all members of Nature’s systems to be fundamentally linked and mutually dependent upon each other. This interdependence is a well established scientific fact.  Interdependence is a defining feature of all ecosystems and all activities of mankind. As mentioned earlier, 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 the energy from the sun drives all life.


When applied to human systems, the principle of interconnectedness places increasing value on the interdependence of all individuals.  As a result, each individual is highly valuable in his or her own right. As we humans are all entangled with Nature, so we are entangled with each other. Every human depends upon Nature to survive. Indeed, Nature can do without humans, but human beings cannot do without Nature.


Connectedness, relationship, and community are fundamental concepts of ecology. Connectedness, relationship, and belonging are the essence of the spiritual experience. Thus, it is not surprising that the scientific ideas of living systems discussed earlier in this book are in harmoney with many ideas in spiritual traditions.


Thomas Merton, the writer, poet, artist, and Trappist monk, once said in his essay entitled “A Search For Solitude”:


Man can know all about God’s creation by examining its phenomena, by dissecting and experimenting and this is all good. But it is misleading, because with this kind of knowledge you do not really know the beings you know. You only know about them”.


Most of our contact with nature is in passing. We drive by. We take a glimpse. We get a quick emotional “fix”. Nothing more. We are not connecting. There is no true immersion. We are not totally engaged in the moment. We are ready to move on rather than linger a while. We are preoccupied with “things” in our lives. We are not beholding Nature. While we may know some facts about Nature, we do not really “know” Nature.


A forest is entered, not viewed. We do not really engage or know a forest until we are well within it both physically, aesthetically, and spiritually. Engaging Nature means “knowing” rather than just “knowing about”. “Knowing” means observing and understanding how Nature is connected. It means knowing our interrelationships, our connections, with our surroundings. It means us being connected with those surroundings – those patterns in Nature.


In being connected to Nature, we acquire the core of “knowing” Nature and Nature’s patterns. We may never have complete answers, but we grow to “know” Nature as we live the questions themselves.


Jeremy Lent, in his book “The Patterning Instinct“, talks about our interconnectedness with Nature by suggesting that:


The systems approach invites a different way of making meaning from our world. By emphasizing the underlying principles that apply to all living things, it helps us realize our intrinsic connectedness with the natural world. The recognition that we are not separate from nature and cannot, ultimately, control it encourages a more participatory approach of trying to influence the complex systems around us for greater harmony. In place of the metaphors of nature that have led humanity to this precipice, the systems worldview offers up a new metaphor of nature as a WEB OF MEANING, in which the very interconnectedness of all life gives both meaning and resonance to our individual and collective behavior.”


An essay from  White Eagle’s The Still Voice says:


“Among the many beautiful trees there is one tree, set beside the stream, which calls you. You sit down, your back against the trunk. You feel the strength of that tree as you rest against it. You gradually become absorbed into its life, aware of its roots reaching down to draw strength and sustenance from Mother Earth. Its branches lift toward the sun, absorbing the life force from the sun and the air. You become aware of the flow of life from earth to heaven, the inbreathing and outbreathing. You become the tree.”


Poet Alison Hawthorne Deming describes the connections between all things in her wonderfully profound poem “The Web”. 


It is possible there is a certain
kind of beauty as large as the trees
that survive the five-hundred year fire,
the fifty-year flood, trees we can’t
comprehend even standing
beside them with outstretched arms
to gauge their span,
a certain kind of beauty
so strong, so deeply concealed
in relationship –black truffle
to red-backed vole to spotted owl
to Douglas fir, bats and gnats,
beetles and moss, flying squirrel
and the high-rise of a snag,
each needing and feeding the other—
a conversation so quiet
the human world can vanish into it?
A beauty moves in such a place
like snowmelt sieving through
the fungal mats that underlie and
interlace the giant firs, tunneling
under streams where cutthroat fry
live a meter deep in gravel, a beauty
fluming downstream over rocks
that have a hold on place
lasting longer than most nations,
sluicing under deadfall spanners
that rise and float to let floodwaters pass,
a beauty that fills the space of the forest
with music that can erupt as
varied thrush or warbler, calypso
orchid or stream violet, forest
a conversation not an argument,
a beauty gathering such clarity and force
it breaks the mind’s fearful hold on its
little moment steeping it in a more dense
Intelligibility, within which centuries
and distances answer each other
and speak at last with one and the same voice.
Principle #2: Ecosystem Health Depends Upon Biodiversity
As noted in the essay on living systems, Nature is propelled towards a state of increasing complexity and diversity. This phenomenon is called biodiversity.  It is only with diversity in Nature that we are able to arrive at our current state of biodiversity. Biodiversity contributes to ecologic structure and function. Ecosystems as we know them would not exist without biodiversity.


The value of biodiversity is far-reaching. A greater diversity of species boosts ecosystem productivity, prevents the loss of natural resources, and contributes to nutrient storage while enhancing the breakdown of pollutants. Biodiversity is the basis for ecosystem resilience because it improves the recovery  of an ecosystem from a variety unpredictable events and natural disasters. Biodiversity ensures that enough species remain so as to prevent ecosystem collapse and further loss.


The two scientifically proven principles of biodiversity and interdependence suggest an ethic that we humans need to live in harmony with each other and with the natural world. These two principles are moral guidelines that call upon us to protect and preserve the flow of energy in Nature.


 Principle #3: The Actions of One Can Affect the Whole


Every human is part of an ecosystem. Because we are all born into Nature’s complex and interconnected system, each of us contains within us the capacity to influence others. Any human action, good or bad, can affect the entire ecosystem.


As we are mutually interdependent, each human is mutually influential. Not only does this principle place increased importance on individual life, it also suggests that within each of us is a greater potential than we may have previously conceived. This principle has important implications for conservation and long-term sustainability because it necessitates an ethic of responsibility on the part of the individual. As intelligent beings capable of reflecting on our innate influence over Nature, it is essential that we act and behave with awareness of the consequences of every action we undertake . It requires some degree of conscientiousness and accountability. Every footstep, every smile, every piece of trash discarded has an effect. As Jane Goodall suggested, “What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”


Principle #4: Nature Is Always Changing


We find ourselves in a cosmos of perpetual flux. Continuous change is a fundamental characteristic of all natural systems. This state of flux is indispensable to the operation and productivity of Nature because it involves the vital flow of Nature’s energy.


It is in this change that new opportunities are created in Nature. As organisms are driven by changing environments and selective pressures at the species level, they find themselves in a constant state of change. Birth, death, stagnation, movement, action, cellular aging, oxidation, growth, degeneration, sleeping, waking, memory, consciousness, the transformation of thoughts and emotions, decomposition, fertilization, evolution; these are but a few of the examples of the pervasive principle of change in Nature. At a global level, weather systems, ocean currents, and climate offer further evidence that Nature is always changing.  It is a paradox that, because Nature is always changing, life is capable of existence.


Principle #5: The Conservation of Nature Is a Necessary Part Of Human Morality


Whether it is for the betterment of our children and grandchildren, the long-term survival and perpetuation of our species, or responsibility to other species within the global ecosystem, we are ethically obligated to engage in conservation practices where possible. Conservation practices, based on scientific fact, become a positive interaction between Nature and humanity because priority is placed on the preservation of Nature on which we depend. Conservation practices are necessary because human presence has an impact on Nature. Conservation practices enhance the awareness of the ways in which we are changing the global ecosystem. Conservation practices help us build a perpetual consciousness of Nature and how we depend upon Her.


Principle #6: Compassion and Humility – One Cannot Assign Greater Value To One Species Over Another.


Compassion is the ability to understand and share the nature of all life on Earth. A productive global ecology is not possible with such an intelligent and dominant species as mankind if we do not exhibit compassion towards other humans and non-humans. Compassion is expressed when we feel spontaneously inclined to defend the integrity of the world where it is threatened. In line with the principle of interdependence, one cannot assign greater value to one species over another. We humans must prioritize species survival over human value.


Compassion requires humility. If we are a compassionate race, we must accept the idea that we humans are neither the center of the universe nor the determiner of value. This requires humility. Humility means purging out our hubris and desire to control Nature. Instead, we take our place among the other animals while living as part of an ecosystem without being its master. This is a true biocentric ethic which will serve to restore harmony to Nature’s living systems.


Human compassion and humility toward Nature are the virtues that fuel the conservation strategy of passive restoration where Nature is allowed to make the decisions for her own welfare. In basic terms, passive restoration means “Let Nature take her own course“. This means simply allowing natural succession to occur in an ecosystem.  We will discuss in the chapter on conservation practices.


Taking Action


How should we move from the subject of environmental ethics to environmental action? There are three issues that must be considered if we are to apply the six principles of environmental ethics that we just described. First, we must make sure that our principles connect our ethics to scientific fact. Second, we must consider what motivates the current and future human populations, And third, we need to find ways to transform an environmental ethic into environmental awareness in the mind and soul of human beings.


Employing environmental ethics are that based on scientific fact


The earlier essay on living systems describes the whys and hows of modern systems science. The prevalent theme of living systems science is that nothing in Nature lives in isolation. Everything is connected, in some way, to everything else. This theme is prevalent because life is defined as the transportation and transformation of the energy that starts with the sun. There has been a huge amount of food web research that backs up the scientific findings of energy flow between species at all levels in the hierarchy of ecosystems.


An ethic that identifies, protects, and preserves all energy flow conduits in Nature is consistent with principle #1. Principles #2 through #6 follow from principle #1. An ethics statement such as:


Conservation is the act, by humans, of identifying, understanding, preserving, and protecting Nature’s energy flow .


is all encompassing because, if applied correctly, will preserve and protect all ecosystems on Earth. We will address this ethics statement in detail in the next essay.


Motivating current and future human populations


As it stands, motivating humanity to honor and respect the ethics statement ” Conservation is the act, by humans, of identifying, understanding, preserving, and protecting Nature’s energy flow ” is the problem!!! Given the hugely complex web of moral worldviews that work against preservation of the environment, the task of motivating the current human population is probably impossible. However, there are two key centers of influence that are receptive to this keystone conservation ethic.


The first group is our children and young people.  More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 25. Here lies a large population under the age of 25 who can be influenced and who are receptive to Nature’s wonder.  This large group has the power to influence the adult population.  The first group is our children and young people.  More than half of the world’s population is under the age of 25. Here lies a large population under the age of 25 who can be influenced and who are receptive to Nature’s wonder.  This large group has the power to influence the adult population. There is a crying need, and opportunity, to engage young people with a Nature that lies beyond the asphalt, glass, and glowing LCD screens which hem us in on all sides.


The second group of influential people is environmental educators and educators in general. This very important group consists of the legacy builders of future generations.


Transforming an environmental ethic into environmental awareness in the mind and soul of human beings


The answer lies in building environmental awareness, and encouraging active engagement in Nature. Environmental awareness is how people think about their relationship with Nature.  Environmental awareness involves environmental education. Environmental education must include a direct engagement with Nature where there is direct human involvement, both physically and spiritually.


Environmental ethics is a biocentric worldview that forms the root of environmental education. This worldview is grounded on the premise that we can restore and maintain a healthy balance between humans and all other life within Earth’s living systems. The biocentric worldview joins together the ideas that Nature is a living system and that our legacy, our world’s youth, are the implementers of a new consciousness within the human race.


Based on the subject of environmental ethics that has been discussed in this essay, we now move on to examine actual conservation practices in the next essay. From there, we move on to identify methods for building a legacy of environmental consciousness and effective conservation practices.


Worth Your Extra Attention :


Thanks for reading this blog essay. This essay is accompanied by a resource list that focuses on the subject of the essay. You can find the resource list for this essay here.


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This blog essay is a draft chapter in a book that I will publish in January of 2018. Your comments and your suggestions regarding this chapter would be greatly appreciated.
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Energy Is The Force That Drives Nature

This blog essay is the third in a six part series that is based on the premise that:

  • A crisis within the human population could destroy our race by the year 2050.
  • We humans are engaging in a behavior of infinite growth on a planet with limited resources.
  • Our children and their children have the power to save the human race from destruction.

The six blog essays are:


“Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. … The circuit is not closed; some energy is dissipated in decay, some is added by absorption from the air, some is stored in soils, peats, and long-lived forests; but it is a sustained circuit, like a slowly augmented revolving fund of life.”   — Aldo Leopold


In the previous blog essay, we explored the idea of Nature being a “living system” that is composed of a network of interconnected, hierarchal ecosystems. These networks perform a critically important role in Nature’s scheme of things. They participate in the transportation and transformation of energy. In this essay, we focus on defining energy and how it flows within living systems.


Energy Is The Dynamic Currency Of Nature



Energy is the force that drives Nature. Nothing in our Universe can happen without the existence of energy or the pathways by which that energy flows. Energy is the dynamic currency of Nature. As we will see, without energy, Nature would never be able to function. But, energy must come from somewhere and be directed to some place else in order to be a useful force. It is the hierarchal network of Nature’s living systems that direct that flow of energy. To be more accurate, the term “living system” describes the combination of ecological networks serving as conduits for the transportation and transformation of Nature’s flow of energy. A destruction or hindrance of energy pathways, whether by mankind or by Nature, can bring ecological disaster because Nature’s energy will be directed elsewhere. As we will see later on in this book, good conservation practices by human beings within Nature are defined as the preservation of Nature’s energy flow.


Author Paul R. Fleischman, in his book entitled “Wonder” , provides an excellent background for our discussion about energy and energy flow.


“Every person consists of atoms that have been sorted and arranged. The energy for this task explodes out of other atoms as they are being melted inside of suns, and then rippled down to us as sunlight. In the black space between the sun and us, the waves of sunlight convey energy that can be used on Earth to bond, communicate, create, and transform. Energy has bathed the Earth, and due to this glow, the Earth has had the power to rearrange atoms in uncountable magnitudes, over eons, until the atomic world has been reshaped into whales and women, astronomers and novelists. Everything we see and touch consists of matter rearranged by information and energy. ”


A physicist will tell you that energy is the ability to do work. Energy is not definable with any more precision. So, we humans tend to describe energy in terms of how its operates. All of Nature, living and non-living, are receivers, storehouses, and transformers of energy. Living systems contain the essential conduits for the lifeblood of energy that is vital to the functioning of Nature at all levels. Energy needs to flow for Nature to function. There are smaller flow patterns inside larger flow patterns. Electrons and protons  beget atoms. Atoms beget molecules. Molecules join to form our body organs, mountains, and oceans.   In the course of this journey, energy changes into different useful forms.


Energy, as the operating currency of Nature, requires two equally important activities in order to become a vital force in the process of life on our planet. First, in order to be an available force,  energy must be transported within and between entities in Nature. The network structures within and between living systems are conduits that are capable of transporting energy. The movement of our sun’s energy photons from the sun’s atomic furnace to a plant leaf on Earth is an example of energy transportation.


The second essential process is that energy must be capable of transforming itself from one form to another in a way that will release useful energy and produce useful action within an organism such as a plant leaf. Western science has confirmed that matter can be transformed into energy and energy can be transformed into matter. Physics teaches us that energy is neither created nor destroyed. But, it can change from one form to another.

All of Nature on and in our Earth comes, directly or indirectly, from sunlight. Within our sun’s nuclear furnace, two hydrogen nuclei are fused together to form one helium nucleus. The energy left over from this nuclear fusion process within the sun reaches the sun’s surface. Here some of that energy is converted into electromagnetic photons of light which are radiated and reach our Earth. In this basic solar process, we see matter being transformed into energy that is used by all plants and animals on our earth. The release of energy from our sun’s photons to produce carbohydrates (sugars) from the chemicals within the leaf is an example of energy transformation where the photon’s energy participates in the production of stored chemical energy that is useful to creatures who eat the leaves. In the process of transforming energy, the chemical reaction in the photosynthetic process absorbs and uses atmospheric carbon dioxide and expels oxygen into the atmosphere. In carrying out this chemical process, photosynthesis maintains atmospheric oxygen levels and supplies all of the organic compounds and most of the energy necessary for life on Earth.


All 400,000 species of plants and a few species of bacteria use sunlight and the process of photosynthesis to obtain and store their energy. Some organisms obtain their energy by consuming other organisms. These organisms include most types of bacteria and all of the animal and fungi species. In all of these forms, life transforms and transports the basic energy received from the sun. Paul Fleishman notes:


A small plant, say an African violet, in a little pot on my windowsill, is capable of catching sunlight, taking electromagnetic energy out of the sky, civilizing it, controlling it, and thereby sliding it into the bonds between chemicals in living green cells. Because of this skill of plants, our own bodies can eventually be made. All green plants are our ancestors and our maker… Life’s two simultaneous tasks are building large complex structures of precise and skillful molecules; and moving energy, by making and breaking chemical bonds, to build, rebuild and maintain life…Every blade of grass is touched by the light of heaven which it turns into the sugar of life. Green photosynthesizers transform the Universe because they are skillful traffic directors for the flow of electrons, by which we move energy into chemical bonds…We humans are pure energy in the form of matter. Life is structure, formed by atomic placement, and life is the flow of energy within those structures.


Like the photosynthetic organisms, we humans and other animals also transform and store energy. We inhale the oxygen produced by plants to facilitate the transformation of our food into chemical compounds that hold energy for later use. The cells in our body parts, organs such as our lungs, blood, and liver, perform these energy transformations and store the byproducts. Because of these processes, we humans are containers of transformed energy that originated from the energy in the universe.


Energy Defines Physical Structure



From this brief description of energy flow  from our sun, into our Earth, and into our bodies, we can see that energy is a flowing currency that results in life through its processes of transportation and transformation. In addition, Nature’s energy transformation processes are also the means by w
hich Her structures are defined and fabricated. These structures are self-organized by energy. They define a living system. From great rivers to the minuscule molecular bonds that form the cells in our bodies, physical structure is a product of Nature’s energy flow processes. Recently, modern science has found that energy is the creator and transformer of physical forms and shapes. The “Constructal Theory” states that Nature’s forms and shapes are created to accommodate the flow of energy.


The rippled sandy beach pattern, familiar to all beach combers, is created by the energy of the water that flows over the sand. The water molecules become flowing streams. The water’s kinetic energy pushes the sand around to create evolving physical patterns. These patterns are created because the sand accommodates the kinetic energy that causes water to flow. Without energy, there would be no rivulets or streams. Even the rivulet’s raw materials, sand and rock, would not exist without the energy that is needed for the breaking, decomposition, and erosion of mountains into sand.


Visualizing Nature’s Energy Flow In A Real World


In this chapter and the previous chapter, we have been using the worldview of modern systems science to describe Nature, her interdependencies, and her energy flow. We’ve portrayed Nature as a series of hierarchal complex systems. Hopefully, this approach has provided you with some important detail about characteristics of ecosystems that are useful to educators, conservationists, and students. Perhaps you are beginning to see why the conservation methods that we humans employ must identify, preserve, and protect the energy flow conduits in Nature’s living systems.


We now take these system concepts and portray them in terms that describe actual creatures in Nature and the habitats in which they live. Here we will classify creatures in terms of how they transfer and transform energy. We will then visualize the actual relationships each creature has with other creatures in Nature. These ideas will help us when we employ conservation methods that identify and preserve energy flow conduits in Nature. The actual conservation methods will be discussed in the chapter on conservation practices. The information presented in this section of our text is readily available on the Internet in greater detail. Try using search words such as “food chain, “food web”, or the classifications of creatures noted below. It is gratifying to find that many environmental educators are now presenting their subject (and hosting field trips into Nature) using the concepts of energy flow in Nature.


As we have noted, all of our energy comes from the sun in the form of photons of light. The energy from these photons, when they strike Earth, is transformed into forms useful to the organisms that occupy our planet. These organisms are classified below.


Producers: Plants and other photosynthetic organisms are called producers because they take a form of energy (sunlight) that most organisms can’t use (sunlight) and produce a form of energy that most organisms can use (glucose).


Consumers: Organisms that cannot transform sunlight into usable energy must eat or consume other organisms to get energy. These types of organisms are called consumers. In an estuary (wetland), consumers include fish, birds, oysters, crabs, and many forms of zooplankton. Consumers can be divided into three groups based on what they eat:


  • Herbivores, such as fish and deer, eat plants and other producers.
  • Carnivores, such as lions and wolves, eat other consumers.
  • Omnivores, such as humans, eat both producers and consumers.


Detritivores: Organisms that get their energy by feeding on dead organisms and then excreting their wastes, detritivores break down dead organisms into smaller pieces. Common detritivores in an estuary include crabs, worms and many aquatic insects.


Decomposers: Also feed on dead organisms, but they break the organisms down even further. Decomposers take the large molecules found in the tissues of an organism (such as carbohydrates, lipids and proteins) and break them down into simpler molecules (such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorus). In doing so, decomposers create molecules that can be reused by producers during photosynthesis. Bacteria and fungi are often decomposers. Because every organism eventually dies, every organism in a food web can also be connected with one or more decomposers or detritivores.


food chain diagram portrays the sequence of organisms eating and being eaten within an ecosystem. The diagram shows the links through which nutrients and energy are transported and transformed within the ecosystem. A simple food chain diagram is shown below. The sun’s energy is transferred to the grass (a producer). A herbivore consumer ( the elk ) eats the grass. The lion, a carnivore consumer (eats the elk).



Food web diagrams show how food chains are interconnected.  Food web diagrams are schematic portrayals of living systems. They are complex illustrations of interconnected food chains where all the possible energy pathways are displayed. The illustration shown below is a food web for an estuary. Starting with the sun, a mangrove plant is the producer. We then see various types of consumers as well as the detritovores and decomposers. Estuaries, by definition, connect to both fresh water and salt water sources. The small creatures and the decomposed material from the estuary can move to a large body of salt water ( such as a sea ) through tidal flow action. If we were to include this action in a food web diagram, we would be illustrating the impact of  energy flow from the estuary to the sea. In effect, we would be illustrating the ecological importance of the estuary beyond its own geographic location. Everything is connected.

Ecologists use food web diagrams to summarize energy flow in a community. Food web diagrams are powerful conservation tools because they illustrate, in real-life terms, the potential ecological impact of the alteration of energy flow by some human action. For example, if one were to remove the mangroves from the estuary to build a marina, the food web diagram would illustrate, through the alteration of energy flow, the negative ecological impact on the entire sea to which the estuary is connected. As noted in the previous chapter, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


To use a food web diagram to develop a conservation program for a specific ecological threat:


1) Identify an ecological threat within some ecosystem.
2) Describe why it is a threat.
3) Define all components of that ecosystem by developing a list of all flora and fauna.
4) Build a food web diagram that defines the energy transportation and transformation between components in the ecosystem.
5) Define which energy links are threatened and explain why.
6) Create, present and defend your solution for preserving and protecting each threatened energy link.


This essay and the previous essay in this essay series has hopefully given you some perspective about how living systems operate and the vital importance of our Earth’s energy flow in your life. We’ve seen that, to be useful,  energy needs movement from one component to another. Energy also needs to undergo transformation in order to release itself to other processes. And, energy is capable of creating physical structures.


Nature has a way of teaching us valuable lessons if only we would listen. Her lessons on energy flow start with spectacular displays like rainbows, a night sky, a fierce storm, or a sunrise. These lessons continue as we engage Nature. Perhaps walking through a forest, relaxing at a beach, climbing a mountain, or just sitting in solitude as Nature approaches us. The fundamental lesson that Nature always teaches is that She is defined by her dynamic interrelationships between everything and anything in the Universe. Within these interrelationships, Her vital flow of energy gives us, and every other creature, life. For those of you who are stewards of Nature, the dynamic flow of energy may suggest some ways that you can do your part in evangelizing and conserving our planet for future generations of humanity.


In this essay on energy flow, we have established the following important ideas:
  • The sun is our primary source of energy.
  • Energy is the operating currency which connects and drives all animate and inanimate objects in the Universe.
  • Energy is the unifying force that defines living systems.
  • Nature’s living systems are the conduits for energy flow and transformation between and within Nature’s systems.
  • The job of the conservationist is to define, preserve, and protect Nature’s energy flow.


The facts are that mankind’s alteration of Nature’s living systems can impair or destroy Nature’s energy flow. The elimination of keystone predators, gaseous emissions that impair the flow of our sun’s energy,  the alteration of river systems, and the destruction of forests are examples of how human beings have  affected important connections in Nature that have resulted in altered energy flow. Nature’s connections that transport and transform energy can be destroyed by man resulting in his extinction and the eradication of all life as we know it. We have it within our power to avoid this destruction. Those who warn about our emissions moving into the atmosphere are not simply crazy environmentalists or doomsday fanatics. The destruction could become real. What all of this means is that any human activity within Nature needs to be done with a consciousness of how things are connected and how relationships are affected. Destroying a link within the hierarchy of an ecosystem results in the destruction of energy flow between entities within that system. Part of any consideration of a human activity within Nature should include a careful definition of all the interconnections within the subject ecosystem and an impact assessment study of those connections.


Please take some time to review the material in the resource lists for the essay on living systems as well as this essay.


In the next essay, we will use the scientific facts that we have explored to form ethical guidelines that might influence and change mankind’s current treacherous path that could lead to the ultimate destruction of the human race.

Worth Your Extra Attention :

Here is a resource list for further study of energy flow in Nature that is introduced in this essay.


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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Our Earth Is A Living System

This blog essay is the second in a six part series that is based on the premise that:

  • A crisis within the human population could destroy our race by the year 2050.
  • We humans are engaging in a behavior of infinite growth on a planet with limited resources.
  • Our children and their children have the power to save the human race from destruction.

The six blog essays are:


Everything within Nature is interconnected and interdependent.

 Everything that happens is connected to something else that happens. Interdependence is an important word that refers to the tendency of all creatures in Nature  to be linked and mutually dependent upon each other.  If we were to draw a diagram of this interdependence, we would see a massive network of living creatures, including ourselves, either directly or indirectly connected. This network of life is commonly called a “living system”. 

Interdependence is a defining feature of all of Nature because Interdependence is necessary for the transportation and the transformation of life’s vital flow of energy. Earth’s connectedness with the sun’s energy is of primary importance because that energy drives all life. Throughout our Earth’s  living systems, this energy from the sun is transported and then transformed into forms of energy that are useful to plants and animals.

While we may not realize it, we humans encounter and connect with living systems every moment of our lives. Our bodies are interconnected, self-maintaining systems. Every person we meet, every organization we work with, every animal, every tree, and every ecosystem is a living system that transports and transforms energy.

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.

This essay and its accompanying resource list focuses on the characteristics of living systems. We will discuss Nature’s energy flow within living systems in greater detail in the next essay in this blog essay series.

Nature is composed of hierarchal, interconnecting living systems.  The terms “ecosystems”, “complex systems”, and “living systems” have the same meaning. Living systems are the vehicles  by which Nature’s energy, the operating currency of Nature, is transported and transformed. Ecosytems cycle energy and nutrients obtained from external sources. By understanding where and how energy flows within an ecosystem, we can understand how an environment operates. We can build this understanding by first studying what modern science has to say about systems.

Simply stated, a system is a collection of objects that somehow interrelate with each other to function as a whole and produce some effect that no single object within the system could do on its own.

Earlier in the 20th century, the modern scientific worldview chose to explore and describe both man-made systems and Nature’s living systems using a worldview known as “reductionism”. Reductionism is the theory that any system, simple or complex, can be described by analyzing its parts. The reductionist worldview holds that the behavior of a system is nothing more than the sum of the behaviors of its parts. For example, the idea of reductionism is that you can describe how an entire automobile operates by disassembling it, laying the parts on the garage floor, and calculating how each part functions.

As twentieth century biologists realized with increasing frustration, reductionism cannot explain the self-renewing processes of life. And equally important, reductionism cannot predict what Nature’s living systems will do. A familiar example is government biologists who set annual quotas on the number of elk that can be killed by hunters. Their reasoning is that these calculated quotas will result in an ecological balance between elk and their environment. These calculated quotas erroneously focus on Nature’s building blocks as independent entities and not Nature as a system of interdependent entities. Furthermore, it has been erroneously assumed that these government scientists had the power to predict how Nature would respond. We will note further in this chapter that the behaviors of living systems are not predictable by mankind

David Suzuki, in his book “Legacy” notes that Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring:

“..taught me that in focusing on parts of Nature, in examining them in controlled conditions in flasks and growth chambers, we study artifacts, grotesque simplifications of the real world, scrubbed of the context of weather, climate, and seasons, devoid of variations in temperature, humidity, and light….while studying bits of Nature under controlled conditions can provide powerful insights, we had to be very cautious in extrapolating those tests to the real world”.

Even though The logic of reductionism has been shown to be incomplete, the reductionist process is still used by many biologists to design and implement real world conservation programs. However, those who have embraced systems thinking look at the processes of Nature instead of Her components. They see Nature as a highly interconnected group of systems.  Processes such as the cells of organisms, human bodies, a forest, or an entire planet, are not just a heap of disjointed parts.  They are dynamically organized “systems”. These processes all involve the transportation and the transformation of the energy necessary for life. Modern systems science has realized that each element in a system is part of a larger interconnected pattern that connects and evolves by discernible principles.  This fresh worldview has spread throughout much of the natural and social sciences. But somehow, it has escaped the attention of many individuals and groups who work and teach in the life sciences.

What follows are descriptions of the characteristics of living systems.

Nature’s Living Systems Are Self Organizing and Leaderless

By shifting their focus to relationships instead of separate entities, scientists made an amazing discovery that was new to the western mind.  They discovered that Nature is capable of organizing Herself. Scientists set out to discern the principles by which this phenomenon occurs.  They found these principles are simple and constant throughout the observable universe including sub-organic, biological, and ecological systems. Human-based mental and social systems are also self organizing.

One way of looking at a group in Nature is to observe and study the complex collective behavior of the group. We can can easily view complex collective behavior in bird flocks, animal herds, and fish schools where each individual creature follows relatively simple rules of movement with no central control or leader. This ability of a system of organisms to make its own structure more complex is called “self-organization”. Self-organization produces unpredictability. No amount of information at the level of the individual component can reveal the organizational pattern of the system. Yet, paradoxically, it is the combined behaviors and interactions of individual components that define behaviors at a system level. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This “whole” is the “emergent behavior” of the system. Bird flocks, fish schools, and animal herds are examples of emergent behavior.  Within complex collective behavior, energy and information are passed between individuals in a group.

Nature’s Living Systems Are “Complex Systems”

The study of Nature is the study of her living systems and how energy flows within these systems. Using the terminology of Western Science, a living system is a “complex system”.  The terms “complex systems”, “living systems”, and “ecosystems” are synonymous.

By definition, a complex system has a large number of members capable of interacting with each other and adapting to their environment without a leader or a blueprint.

The interaction between members may occur with immediate neighbors or distant ones. The members can be all identical or different. They may move in space or occupy fixed positions. They can be in one of two states or have multiple states.

Ant colonies are complex systems that are sometimes described as living “super-organisms”. They are extremely complex, leaderless, and unpredictable. Yet these colonies exhibit systematic order. The ant colony is the result of many tiny individual ants working in a community of ants to create and sustain an entire colony. The colony possesses characteristics that none of its individual ants possess.

Different complex systems in Nature, such as bird flocks, immune systems, brains, and human social systems have much in common. These commonalities include complex collective behavior, the ability to pass information and energy, resilience using feedback mechanisms, and hierarchal structures. We can easily view complex collective behavior in bird flocks, animal herds, and fish schools where each individual creature follows relatively simple rules with no central control or leader. It is the collective actions of vast numbers of these individuals that give rise to the complex and changing patterns of group behavior. Complex collective behavior is very difficult or impossible for humans to predict or control. This lack of predictability is a fundamental reason why some conservation programs are ineffective.

In the course of contributing to the group’s collective behavior, every individual in a complex system both transports energy and transforms energy. Connectivity between an individual fish (or a bird, or a human in a crowd) and its nearest neighbors is essential if a living system is to exist. In the case of fish schools, the connection between individual fish is the effects of each individual’s sensory organs that define proximity. The phenomena of this emergent behavior in groups is one form of proof that connections in Nature are absolutely essential if a systems like fish schools, bird flocks, or human crowds are to exist.

Nature’s Living Systems Are “Open” Systems

Nature’s living systems are defined as  “open systems” because they permit the inward and outward flow of energy and matter. Any open system can interact with systems or components external to itself. In the course of these interactions, energy can be both transported and transformed within and between systems. These processes permit the variety and intelligence of life forms to arise from interactive currents of matter, energy, and information.  Human beings are open systems.

The Whole of Nature’s Systems Is Greater Than The Sum of Its Parts

Each system, whether it be a tiny atom or a huge galaxy, is a whole.  That means that it is not reducible to its components.  Its distinctive nature and capacities derive from the dynamic relationships of its parts.  This interplay is synergistic (two plus two equals five), generating emergent behavior and new possibilities, which are not predictable from the character of the separate parts.  For example, the forward motion of a car cannot be predicted from the explosive combination of oxygen and and gasoline in the car’s engine before that combination occurred.

Nature’s Living Systems Can Self-Stabilize And Maintain Their Own Equilibrium

Thanks to the continual flow of matter, energy, and information, living systems are able to self-stabilize and maintain their equilibrium.   This self stabilization enables living systems to self-regulate amidst changing conditions in their environment.  This process, known as feedback, monitors the effects of their own behavior and realigns their behavior with pre-established norms, much like a like a thermostat. Feedback processes are how living systems learn and evolve.  If this feedback process is blocked or ignored, by human or other activity, there is a risk of system collapse.

Every object or organism within a system is influenced by its own actions as well as its surrounding environment.  One example of feedback is thermoregulation in warm-blooded animals. Cooling of the blood stimulates certain centers in the brain which “turn on” heat-producing mechanisms in the body. Through certain physiological processes, the body temperature is then brought back to the normal level.

Nature’s systems are not predictable because the effect of Nature’s feedback loops is non-linear. A nonlinear relationship is one in which the cause does not produce a proportional effect.  These non-linear relationships result from the systems feedback mechanisms which are, in turn, usually driven by unpredictable influences external to the organism being affected.  The sudden appearance of a predator is an unpredictable event which will cause an organism’s feedback system to respond in a non-linear fashion. Feedback systems that respond to a number of different unpredictable influences result in the complexity and unpredictability that we see in Nature’s living systems and their organisms.

Nature’s Living Systems Evolve In Complexity With Time

Living systems not only maintain their balance amidst the flux of energy and matter, but also evolve in complexity.  When challenges from their environment persist, living systems can fall apart or adapt themselves into new and more functional states using the feedback phenomenon.

Complexity in Nature is universal. You cannot describe any living system such as an ecosystem by doing mathematical equations, by simply using your logic, by soliciting the consensus of the public, or by chatting with government naturalists sitting around the table at a meeting called to decide on what to do about an ecological situation. The only way to find out how any living system will behave and what will happen is to actually run the system – something that is usually impossible to do.

Nature’s Living Systems Are Nested Hierarchies

Living Systems are hierarchal. Systems are nested within systems. A given subsystem becomes part of a larger system. With this hierarchal structure comes the connectivity necessary for energy and information flow between systems. The cells in our bodies become organs which operate to serve the entire body. Our body is connected to the energy and oxygen producing systems provided by our environment. And so on.

Every living system is a whole in its own right. It is comprised of subsystems, and simultaneously is an integral part of larger systems.  This results in “nested hierarchies” which are systems within systems, processes within processes.

Each new hierarchal level – say from atom to molecule, cell to organ, person to family – generates new emergent properties that are not reducible to the properties of the separate parts.  In nested hierarchies,  order tends to arise from below, as well as summoned or inspired by its environment..

Living Systems Are Sensitive To Initial Conditions

One of the most important characteristics of living systems is their sensitivity to initial conditions. In ecological terms, a small change in how one cares for an ecosystem may ultimately result in unpredictable and catastrophic events later in time.

A Summary of Living Systems Characteristics

Here is a summary of the characteristics of living systems:

  • Highly connected – created through the irreversible exchange of energy, mass, and information between intedependent elements and systems. 
  • Hierarchal – little systems make up bigger systems.
  • Highly complex – where new behavior can emerge and small events can result in huge effects.
  • Partly ordered and partly disordered.
  • Self organizing – with leaderless emergent behavior where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
  • The system is not reducible to the original elements. Instead, there are new emergent properties that are not predictable by examinuing the original elements.

Most Conventional Practices For Conserving Living Systems Will Not Work 

Our scientists in their ivory towers as well as ecologists in the field continue to debate about the best way to conserve our earth. The two popular and competing conservation strategies either prohibit people from occupying “protected” land areas or permit and encourage human involvement in land use. Both strategies have a fatal flaw. The flaw is that it is impossible for humans to predict or control the future activities of Nature.  These key facts are ignored by many workers in the field of conservation when they try to develop conservation programs.

This raises the question: If we impose our reasoned action on a system that has neither a leader nor predictable results, how can we expect a given outcome? The answer is that we can’t! The idea that man can control Nature is one of the most misguided illusions of those who profess to be stewards of Nature.

The systems worldview of life fails to resonate with current conservation practices which assume that human input will achieve a predictable result. Conservation managers set reference points and targets based on the assumption that equilibrium or a steady state will be achieved. This idea is blatantly false. Indeed, Nature’s living systems are dynamic. They are always moving. Equilibrium shifts as Nature’s feedback systems adjust. Human predictability is impossible. Consequently, current conservation practices will ultimately be ineffective. Later in this essay series, we will discuss conservation policies that are more appropriate for our Earth’s living systems.

Ecological literacy – The Path To Human Survival

In June of 2009, ecoliteracy.org  published an important  essay that offered a basis for how we humans must develop a relationship with Mother Earth in order to survive as a race. The essay was based upon ideas first proposed by  Fritjof Capra, the father of modern systems thinking. The essay brings together the living systems ideas presented in this chapter as well as the material in the previous chapter on the current unsustainable pathways of the human race. We end this chapter with a paraphrased summary of the ecological ecoliteracy essay.

What is Life?

The difference between a living organism and a dead organism lies in the basic process of life which is called “metabolism.” Metabolism is the ceaseless flow of energy and matter through a network of chemical reactions. This enables a living organism to continually generate, repair, and perpetuate itself through the intake, digestion, and transformation of food. Metabolism is the central characteristic of biological life. Said another way, life is the transportation and transformation of energy.

The fundamental facts of life are that:

  • No individual organism can exist in isolation. Nature sustains life by creating and nurturing communities. 
  • Life, from its beginning more than three billion years ago, did not take over the planet by combat but by networking. Diversity assures resilience and survival.
  • Energy driving the ecological cycles flows from the sun.
  • Matter cycles continually through the web of life.
  • One species’ waste is another species’ food.

Animals depend on the photosynthesis of plants for their energy needs. Plants depend on the carbon dioxide produced by animals, as well as on the nitrogen fixed by bacteria at their roots; Together plants, animals, and microorganisms regulate the entire biosphere and maintain the conditions conducive to life.

Human Beings Depend On Ecological literacy

We need to “understand how Nature sustains life because sustained life is a property of an entire ecosystem rather than a single organism or species. Over billions of years of evolution, the Earth’s ecosystems have evolved certain principles of organization to sustain the web of life. Knowledge of these principles of organization is what we mean by ‘ecological literacy’.”

The survival of humanity depends upon our ecological literacy – our ability to understand the basic principles of a connected Nature and how to live accordingly. This means that ecological literacy must become a critical skill for all humans to embrace if we are to remain on Earth.

Systems Thinking

In order to become ecologically literate and to survive on this Planet, we need to learn how to think in terms of relationships among the various members of the Earth Household. A living system – organism, ecosystem, or social system – is an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller parts. These “systemic” properties are properties of the whole, which none of its parts have. Consequently, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

Systems thinking  means that understanding life requires a shift of focus from objects to relationships. Each species in an ecosystem helps to sustain the entire food web. If one species is decimated by some natural catastrophe, the ecosystem may still be resilient enough to survive if there are other species that can fulfill similar functions. In other words, the stability of an ecosystem depends on its biodiversity. Biodiversity is a popular word that describes the complexity of Nature’s network of relationships. Nature’s ecosystems


Sustainability is not an individual property but a property of an entire web of relationships. It always involves a whole community. This is the profound lesson we need to learn from Nature. The way to sustain life is to build and nurture community. A sustainable human community interacts with other communities – human and nonhuman – in ways that enable them to live and develop according to their nature. Sustainability does not mean that things do not change. It is a dynamic process of co-evolution rather than a static state.

Current world problems

Once we become ecologically literate, we can understand the processes and patterns of relationships that enable ecosystems to sustain life. We can then understand that the major problems of our time cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems. This means that they are all interconnected and interdependent. Virtually all our environmental problems are threats to our food security. The vicious circle of humanity’s population growth  pressure and poverty leads to the depletion of resources. This means falling water tables, wells going dry, shrinking forests, collapsing fisheries, eroding soils, grasslands turning into desert, and so on. The depletion of resources, aggravated by human triggered climate change, produces failing governments that can no longer provide security for their citizens. Terrorism then becomes a means for temporary human survival.

All of these problems must be seen as different facets of one single crisis — a lack of ecological literacy. It derives from the fact that most people in our society, and especially our political and corporate leaders, subscribe to the concepts of an outdated worldview, a perception of reality inadequate for dealing with our overpopulated, globally interconnected world.

There are solutions to the major problems of our time. Systems thinking and ecological literacy are two key world views that must be part of a new paradigm that portrays the vital interconnections between food, health, and the environment. This profound transformation in the global thinking of all humans is needed for humanity to survive.

With the ideas that are presented in this essay, we now move on to talk about energy flow within Nature’s living systems. 

Worth Your Extra Attention

Here is a resource list for further study of the systems worldview that is introduced in this essay.


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.


Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.


You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.


The Fantasy Of Infinite Growth On A Finite Planet

You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.


This blog essay is the first in a six part series that is based on the premise that:

  • A crisis within the human population could destroy our race by the year 2050.
  • We humans are engaging in a behavior of infinite growth on a planet with limited resources.
  • Our children and their children have the power to save the human race from destruction.

The six blog essays are:


The true source and analogue of our economic life is the economy of plants, which never exceeds natural limits, never grows beyond the power of its place to support it, produces no waste, and enriches and preserves itself by death and decay. We must learn to grow like a tree, not like a fire
– Wendell Berry 


There is a growing consensus that the future of human race is in deep trouble because of unsustainable human population growth and an uninformed and irresponsible worldview about Nature. You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.  Indeed, it is the unsustainable human population growth and human apathy and arrogance about Nature that has prompted the writing of this blog essay.

The overview of author Kerryn Higgs’  book titled Collision Course :  Endless Growth on a Finite Planet (MIT Press) summarizes the problem:

The notion of ever-expanding economic growth has been promoted so relentlessly that “growth” is now entrenched as the natural objective of collective human effort. The public has been convinced that growth is the natural solution to virtually all social problems—poverty, debt, unemployment, and even the environmental degradation caused by the determined pursuit of growth. Meanwhile, warnings by scientists that we live on a finite planet that cannot sustain infinite economic expansion are ignored or even scornedThe idea that growth is essential continues to hold sway, despite the mounting evidence of its costs—climate destabilization, pollution, intensification of gross global inequalities, and depletion of the resources on which the modern economic edifice depends.”
Unless you live in the most remote and inhospitable reaches of this planet, I challenge you to find land or sea areas where there is no sign of mankind. Much is written about mankind’s huge negative impact on this planet. As noted in the prologue:


“By 2050, the human population will have grown from the present 6 billion people to 9 or 10 billion people. To feed 9 billion people, every acre of agricultural land in the world will be used to produce food. Wars will break out over the control of land. The structure of human societies will need to be altered. Survival strategies will replace the ethics of a civilized society.


Human population growth is not sustainable on a planet with finite resources. Scientist Joe Hutto, in his book “The Light In High Places“, offers his perspective:


It is not the greed of multinational corporations with their vicious bulldozers, chain saws, and oil rigs that consume resources, but rather individuals like you and me creating these insatiable demands. The real problem is our many nonnegotiable needs for fuel, transportation, our modest twelve-hundred-square-foot houses, and worse, the incessant demand for industrially grown food that requires the proliferation of strip mines, chemical companies, and the mind boggling complexity of the energy and transportation networks. Each of us standing on the brink of our own individual crisis fuels these insatiable demands


In addition to ignoring an exponential and unsustainable human population growth, humans have come to believe that they can predict and control Nature. With this belief comes the false idea that humans are not dependent upon anything. Sustainability guru Justin Mog says:


It may be that we live in an age of hyper-connectivity and “big data,” but I contend that the fundamental reason why we’ve managed to construct the most highly unsustainable culture the Earth has ever seen is precisely because we have not been taught to see the connections“.


In this essay, we will show the how and the why of the vital energy connections between all creatures on our planet. It is true that Nature can survive without humans, but humans cannot survive without Nature. The take-home message of this essay is :


Nothing In Nature Exists In Isolation !!!


The momentum of this unsustainable human population growth and a political will and human apathy that ignores Nature has produced an uninformed and irresponsible worldview about Nature. With time and despite our technology, this worldview could result in the destruction of our race. We must ask ourselves the question:


How do we prepare and protect ourselves, our families, and generations to come? In this first major section of this essay series, I offer some background information that defines man’s massive negative impact on Nature’s connections. These facts, and other facts that you will find during your research, offer justification for you being concerned about man’s negative impact on Earth.


One must first recognize that the perpetrators, the current population of adult humans, will not solve the problem. One contributing factor is the so-called “me” generation of humans who are disconnected from Nature and fail to look beyond their own problems and pleasures. In addition, modern conservation practices contribute to the problem because:
  • Current conservation practices are based upon outdated scientific information.
  • There is a failure to view Nature as a living system and an energy engine.
  • Conservation workers cannot predict or control Nature even though they think that they can.
  • There are many disagreements within the conservation community. There is no single consensus.


Here is a partial list of man’s negative impact on our planet that was extracted from the book Ten Billion, by Stephen Emmott:


  • In the last 100 years, the human population has increased from 1 billion people to 7 billion people. We are now the most numerous mammal species on Earth. As the population grows, we are taking more and more land to live and using more of the world’s natural resources. Many human activities also produce pollution, which is damaging the Earth’s environment.
  • Human cleverness and inventiveness have modified almost every part of our planet. Our cleverness, our inventiveness and our activities are now the drivers of every global problem we face. And every one of these problems is accelerating as we continue to grow towards a global population of 10 billion.
  • We currently have no known means of being able to feed a 10 billion human population at our current rate of consumption and with our current agricultural system. Simply to feed ourselves in the next 40 years, we will need to produce more food than the entire agricultural output of the past 10,000 years combined. Yet food productivity is set to decline, possibly very sharply, over the coming decades due to climate change, soil degradation, and desertification – all of which are increasing rapidly in many parts of the world. By the end of this century, large parts of the planet will not have any usable water.
  • Demand for land for food is going to double by 2050, and triple by the end of this century. This means that pressure to clear many of the world’s remaining tropical rainforests for human use is going to intensify every decade, because this is predominantly the only available land that is left for expanding agriculture at scale. But, trees are necessary for our survival. Through photosynthesis trees produce the gas that we cannot live without: oxygen. As we breathe in, our bodies take in oxygen and when we breathe out, we release carbon dioxide. Trees do the opposite. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This cleans the air by removing harmful carbon dioxide so that people and animals can breathe.
  • 29% of our Earth is land mass. Of that 29%, humans physically occupy less than 1% of that area in mostly cities and towns. Of the remaining 28% about 40% is pure wilderness. 14% is true desert and 15% has desert like characteristics. 9% is Antarctica. Most of the remaining 22% are agricultural areas used by mankind and are subject to environmental degradation noted in the next item.
  •  Raising animals for human consumption accounts for approximately 40% of the total amount of agricultural output in industrialized countries. Grazing occupies 26% of the earth’s ice-free terrestrial surface, and feed crop production uses about one third of all arable land. Free-range animal production requires land for grazing. Deforestation, caused by ranching, is one of the main reason for the loss of some unique plant and animal species in the Earth’s forests as well as carbon release into the atmosphere. Land quality decline, including desertification, is caused by overgrazing. It is now known that farm animals are a major source of both land and air pollution.
  •  In the 1700s, the dawn of the industrial age revolutionized methods of manufacturing and made them more efficient. Since then, factories have been built all over the world. Factories consume huge amounts of natural resources and energy, and many give off chemical waste, which creates problems such as air and water pollution, and global warming.
  •  We are going to have to triple energy production by the end of this century to meet expected energy needs of humanity. To meet that demand, we will need to build 1,800 of the world’s largest dams, or 23,000 nuclear power stations, 14 million wind turbines, 36 billion solar panels, or just keep going with predominantly oil, coal and gas and build 36,000 new power stations.
  •  Global warming will melt some of the polar ice caps, bringing greater risk of floods to low-lying and coastal regions worldwide. Heat waves, droughts, hurricanes, and torrential rain will become more common.


In addition to this partial list, you might be interested in this video – Human Impact On This Earth 


One factor that is ignored in most discussions about mankind’s uncontrolled impact on Earth’s environment is the political will of mankind at various levels of human organization. No matter what science may reveal about care of our planet and our fate as humans, there are huge and powerful groups of people who will resist any change because the changes might affect their near term comfort or economic stability. One of the most powerful examples of political will versus the good of the environment is the agricultural community. Many agricultural practices, such as overgrazing or the eradication of key predators, are harmful to the environment. Yet, both overgrazing and predator culling are permitted by government bureaucracies like the US Department of Agriculture. In addition, these practices generate government subsidies to the farmer or rancher at the expense of the taxpayer. With economic growth and well-being as an important political priority, achieving ecological stability is pushed to the side as a secondary goal. Contained within the idea of an anthropocentric worldview, scientific fact is not the only issue to consider. One must include mankind’s political and economic motives.


In the end, sadly, political and economic motives may be the deciding factors in defining the future of mankind on this planet. That is, unless we take a closer examination of :


  • Nature as a living system.
  • The vital role of Nature’s energy flow in Her ecosystems.
  • Environmental ethics that are used as a guide to survival and are are based on good science .
  • Conservation practices that employ current scientific knowledge.
  • Embedding a strong and active consciousness for Nature within our  legacy through the teaching of our children.


Each one of these ideas is discussed in separate sections of this blog essay series.


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.


Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.


You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar . With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.


Book Description – Lessons From The Web of Life

By 2050, the human population will have grown from the present 6 billion people to about 9  billion people. To feed 9 billion people, every acre of agricultural land in the world will be used to produce food.  Wars will break out over the control of land. The structure of human societies will be altered. Survival strategies will replace the ethics of a civilized society.


The premise of this book is that the fundamental reason why we are the most highly unsustainable race the Earth has ever known is because we do not see ourselves as creatures who are dependent upon Nature.


The most important question for this generation of humans is:

How do we prepare and protect ourselves, our families, and future generations from unsustainable human population growth and the employment of some conservation practices that are not consistent with modern scientific knowledge?:


You will be living in dangerous times unless:

  • You and many other humans can influence the size of the human population, 
  • Change some of the current conservation practices that are employed by practitioners of conservation science.
  • Through effective environmental education, significantly modify humanity’s current apathy towards Nature,

It is these three interrelated issues that this book addresses.


The book uses the growing field of systems science to more fully describe Nature and ways to care for Her. The book examines current scientific fact as the basis for creating an ecological ethic that is needed for mankind to survive in Nature. The book focuses on conservation practices that identify and preserve the pathways of energy flow in Nature. By identifying and conserving energy flow networks, mankind does not get involved in trying to predict what an unpredictable Nature will do. Instead, Nature, makes the decisions that best serve Her and Her creatures.


This book:

  • Identifies and describes unsustainable human population growth on a planet with limited resources.
  • Uses modern systems science to define our planet as a living interdependent system.
  • Evangelizes the deep dependency of humans on Nature’s energy flow within Her ecosystems.
  • Suggests ethical practices that will guide humans toward a sustainable harmony with Nature.
  • Explores the use of modern systems science and environmental ethics to create effective conservation practices. These conservation practices include environmental education.
  • Through the processes of environmental education, emphasizes the importance of building a legacy of human generations that contains a consciousness of interdependence as a means of creating a sustainable human population.


Who should read this book.


This book is designed to be read by anyone who is interested in and deeply cares for Nature. The ideas in this book will be useful to students and teachers of the environmental sciences, resource planners and managers within environmental organizations, government services of all countries,  and anyone who loves be outdoors engaging Nature.


It is hoped that this book will provide new and useful knowledge to  ecological decision makers and those who carry out the plans created by these decision makers. Equally important, whether you be a park ranger, a docent, a tour guide, or a classroom teacher, it is also hoped that this book’s consistent theme that “everything in Nature is connected” will be passed on to your legacy — the youth and adults who receive your message. A new consciousness for Nature, that of interconnectivity to facilitate energy flow, is vital to the welfare and harmony of humanity on this Earth. You are the messenger.



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