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Empowering Stewards of Nature (Free Study Guides)

Empowering Stewards of Nature

Lessons From the Web of Life

 


For Nature at all levels to exist, everything in our universe, in our world, and in our local communities must be connected because Nature’s fuel is energy which must flow between all plants and animals. Everything is connected. Nothing is self sufficient. Every rock, bird, beast, plant, and human being is dependent on each other in some way that is important. Without interconnectivity, Nature would not be here on Earth.

 

Everything lives within this web of life. A plant is connected to our sun because the plant needs the sun’s energy to live. An animal, such as ourselves, needs the plant because the plant gives us the energy that we need to live. And so on. The conservation of our natural environment is the identification, understanding, and protection of these vital connections in Nature.

 

I am pleased to offer this series of lesson guides that focus on the theme that “Nothing In Nature Exists In Isolation”. The material is in the form of a PDF eBook which is provided, free of charge.

 

The objective of this book is to help environmental educators instill the need to preserve an interconnected Nature in the consciousness of our young people. The strategy of the material is to demonstrate the vital importance of identifying, understanding, and protecting connections in Nature. Equipped with this consciousness and new knowledge, a young person is in a position to influence his generation and future generations about how the conservation of connections in Nature will preserve the Earth’s environment for ourselves and for other creatures.

 

This book is written for environmental educators and their students. The material and methodology has been successfully used in environmental education programs in junior and senior high school levels. Modified and simplified material has been used from fourth grade up to sixth grade. I’ve found that all students, no matter what grade level, love the question and answer approach. I have also trained my high school students to become the mentors for sessions given in the lower grades. Young students seem to follow the lead of other students better than the lead of adults.

 

The material in this book is a collection of lesson modules that focus on our interconnected world of Nature. Individual lessons may be used separately or the complete lesson set may be used in the sequence provided as activities that focus on connections in Nature. Each module can be printed as a handout to your students.

 

The methodology sets aside the formal presentation of facts in favor of individual exploration and discovery. Instead of being a purveyor of facts, the “teacher” acts as a mentor who only asks questions. The research and the answers must come from the students.. Through Socratic style seminars and discussion groups accompanied by hands-on place-based education, this material will assist a student in engaging, exploring, and discovering Nature’s interconnected world. The Socratic approach is used because it builds critical thinking skills and strongly encourages students to do their own Internet research.

 

An important part of this book is the process of regularly providing updated editions. New material and ideas are openly welcomed and will be incorporated into new editions. Those who download a copy of this book will be asked for an email address so that new editions can be sent automatically. In effect, the book is a community project where, with time, the expertise of many environmental educators will be represented.

 

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Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments – List Of Collaborators
  • Who Should Read And Use This Book?
  • Welcome
  • Suggestions For Using The Material in This eBook
  • Student Instructions For Participating In Seminar Sessions
  • Seminar Material On Connections In Nature
  • What Is Nature?
  • What Does “Engaging Nature” Mean?
  • What Are Connections In Nature?
  • What Is Energy?
  • What Are Ecosystems?
  • What Are Habitats?
  • What Are Food Webs?
  • Why are Wildlife Corridors Important ?
  • How Are You The Same As Rocks, Birds, Animals, and Rivers?
  • How Are Plants And The Sun Connected?
  • How Are Plants, Animals, And Humans Connected?
  • Why Are Sounds In Nature Important?
  • Why Are Forests Important In Our Lives?
  • How Can I Identify Connections In Nature ?
  • How Can I Protect Connections In Nature?
  • Case Studies
  • Our Sun’s Energy
  • Our Moon
  • Air
  • Water
  • Ice Bergs
  • Log Beaches
  • Winds
  • Storms
  • From Raindrops To Rivers
  • The San Pedro River
  • Estuaries
  • Fiddler Crabs
  • Forests
  • Lichens
  • Cow Pies
  • Grasslands
  • Fire
  • Deserts
  • Sand Dunes
  • Nursery Plants
  • Insects
  • Bugs And Flowers
  • Spines
  • Spider Webs
  • Emergent Behavior
  • Gray Whale Migration
  • Salmon Migration
  • Ant Colonies
  • Ants and Eggshells
  • Penguin Colonies
  • Elephant Seal Mother And Her Pup
  • Bull Elephant Seals
  • Salmon And Bears
  • Gentoo Penguin And Chicks
  • Albatross Predators
  • Pelicans And Seals
  • Turkey Vultures
  • The Baby Dies Too
  • Coyotes
  • Wandering Albatross
  • Frigate Birds
  • Bison
  • Beavers
  • Soundscapes
  • Fractals
  • Case Studies – Connections Broken By Man
  • Whale Catcher Boats
  • ATVs And Turtles
  • Fences
  • The Killing Of Wolves And Other Great Predators
  • Activity Sets In Nature
  • Using Students As Teachers
  • Engaging Nature With Photography
  • Identifying Sounds In Nature
  • Identifying Connections In Nature – The String Game
  • Applied Connection Identification Activities
  • Developing A Conservation Plan
  • A Final Note – Gifts Of Wisdom Passed On To You

Stewart Udall – an environmental hero

The earth needs your devotion and tender care

 

Recently, I spent some time visiting Canyonlands National Park in Utah.  I was particularly moved by the magnificent vista that surrounded and included the convergence of the Colorado River and the Green River. “Awesome” is an understatement. Later, I was deeply inspired by the story on a plaque that described the vision of the newly appointed Secretary of the Interior,  Stewart Udall’s vision for this new park.  On a flight over this area in the early 1960s, then Bureau of Reclamation Chief Floyd Dominy showed Udall where he wanted to build a big dam: just below the Confluence of the Colorado and Green rivers. But where Dominy saw a reservoir, Stewart Udall saw a national park. Driven by Udall’s vision, Canyonlands ultimately became a national park.

 

This story has a deep significance in my mind and soul because, in 2018 as I write this essay, we live in the era of Donald Trump and his highly unqualified political appointee, Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke. While Stewart Udall and Ryan Zinke may have similar backgrounds as elected officials, Stewart Udall can be characterized by what he has said to his children and grandchildren:

 

Whether you are a person of faith who believes the Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, whether you are an individual who has had mystical experiences that link you to the network of eternity, or whether you are a fervent conservationist who wants to leave a legacy for your progeny, the earth needs your devotion and tender care. Go well, do well, my children! Support all endeavors that promise a better life for the inhabitants of our planet. Cherish sunsets, wild creations, and wild places. Have a love affair with the wonder and beauty of the earth!”

 

We have a moral duty to leave a legacy

 

Udall went on to say:

 

“We have a moral duty to leave a legacy. Keeping Earth a home not only for humans but for animals and birds and other creatures that share this planet with us.”

 

 

Ryan Zinke spent his first year in office selling off rights to our public lands. Donald Trump’s Interior secretary is taking extraordinary steps to put public lands in private hands. Vox  reports that :

” Since he (Ryan Zinke) was sworn in on March 1, 2017, to lead the $12 billion agency in charge of federal lands and natural resources, he’s made unprecedented changes that could leave a lasting mark on America’s wilderness and its environment. From his recent proposal to open almost all of America’s coast to offshore drilling to rolling back federal protections on national monuments, Zinke has taken extraordinary steps to make public lands more accessible to fossil fuel companies and other industries. Part of what he’s doing is selling mineral and energy rights to our public lands through leases — and potentially lowering royalties for industries in the process. In line with Trump’s interest in expanding mining on federal lands, Zinke has made critical mineral production a top priority.”

 

Stewart Udall’s vision of building a legacy of environmental consciousness within our children and youth has also been the vision of environmental educators worldwide. It is this vision that will change the environmentally destructive worldview of western civilization . This vision has the potential of reversing the current pathway to human misery that threatens to be a reality starting about 2050.

 

Humanity cannot afford to advocate the destructive culture of creatures like Ryan Zinke or his boss. We desperately need another Stewart Udall in Washington as well as the strength of environmental educators as they create a constructive and sustainable legacy through their students and with their elected representatives. Read more:

 

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 Web of Life – A Resource List

Explore extensive Internet resource lists for 22 subjects about Nature and Her interdependent web of life .

 

 

The lists are categorized by topic. These lists will be useful to environmental educators, students, and anyone who wishes to do further research on the material provided in this web site.

To go to an individual resource list, simply click on its title in the list provided below. You can also view the list by clicking on the “Online Resource Lists” menu item on the main menu for this web site. To return to this list from a selected resource list, simply use the back button.

 

Biodiversity

Climate Change

Conservation Practices

Energy Flow In Nature’s Ecosystems

Environmental Education

Environmental Ethics

Forests and Subterrainean Ecosystems

Intelligence, Behavior, and Social Patterns

Man’s Impact On Nature

Miscellaneous Web of Life Subjects

Nature’s Living Systems

Nature Videos

Patterns In Nature

Predators

Self Similarity – Fractals

SIze and Scaling

Soundscape Ecology

The Spiritual Voice of Nature

Superorganisms and Self-Organization

Symmetry In Nature

Synchrony and Time Patterns

Wildlife Issues

 

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.

 

Earth’s Web of Life

If you have been a regular reader of my blog site, you may have noticed a recent subtle change. You now rarely see the words “Connections in Nature”. Increasingly, I use the the expression “Web of Life” to portray what this web site is all about. In truth, I have struggled to find a good way to describe the interconnectedness of Nature in my writing. For me the term “Connections in Nature” has always seemed too technical and vague. It doesn’t tell me much of anything unless I accompany these words with some sort of explanation.

Our Earth Is Our Web of Life

“Web of Life” paints a metaphorical picture. It suggests a vision. weboflife-3486One can almost see lots of living interconnected  organisms as the words roll off your tongue.  If you like to see dictionary definitions, “Web of Life” is described as a succession of organisms in an ecological community that are linked to each other through the transfer of energy and nutrients.

 

In 1997, Fritjof Capra published a book that described the changing worldview of modern science. The book was titled “The Web of Life: A New Scientific Understanding of Living Systems“. Earlier, modern science had looked upon Nature as a collection of parts. By studying the parts, scientists erroneously claimed that they could understand the whole. This process was called “reductionism”. But, a major paradigm shift in scientific thinking took place during the first half of the 20th century. Nature became viewed as a system of interrelated parts where the actions of a natural system are greater than the sum of the parts. It was recognized that simply studying the parts of a system could not define a system.

 

The bookseller, Amazon, offers a description of Capra’s “The Web of Life” book that gives us some perspective on this major shift in modern scientific thinking.

 

weboflife-2964“In The Web of Life, Capra takes yet another giant step, setting forth a new scientific language to describe interrelationships and interdependence of psychological, biological, physical, social, and cultural phenomena–the “web of life.” During the past twenty-five years, scientists have challenged conventional views of evolution and the organization of living systems and have developed new theories with revolutionary philosophical and social implications. Fritjof Capra has been at the forefront of this revolution. In The Web of Life, Capra offers a brilliant synthesis of such recent scientific breakthroughs as the theory of complexity, Gaia theory, chaos theory, and other explanations of the properties of organisms, social systems, and ecosystems. Capra’s surprising findings stand in stark contrast to accepted paradigms of mechanism and Darwinism and provide an extraordinary new foundation for ecological policies that will allow us to build and sustain communities without diminishing the opportunities for future generations.”

 

In its metaphoric beauty, the term “Web of Life” portrays NatureResilience_1 as an interdependent collection of systems that, starting with the sun’s energy, transports and transforms the energy that drives Nature. One small part of this complex web includes we humans. But, Nature’s systems can easily survive without humans. The notion of an interconnected web of life does not facilitate the human dominance that the Earth is now experiencing. Canadian academic, science broadcaster and environmental activist, Dr. David Suzuki, suggests that we are one brief generation in the long march of time. The future of the Earth  is not ours to erase. All that we know and believe about the “Web of Life” must now become the foundation of the way we live. He says that :

 

  • We must work from dominance to partnership.
  • From fragmentation to connection.
  • From insecurity to interdependence.

 

Suzuki goes on to note that economic activities that benefit the few while shrinking the ecological inheritance of many are ethically wrong.

Wrapped up within the beautiful and simple words, “Web of Life”, there lies a both a description of Earth’s complex and interdependent systems as well as a pathway to our survival on this Planet.  It elegantly summarizes the truth of who we are and what we must do. And, “Web of Life” describes what this web site is all about.

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.

 

Humans Killing Animals Alters The Flow Of Nature’s Energy

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. … When a change occurs in one part of the circuit, many other parts must adjust themselves to it. Change does not necessarily obstruct or divert the flow of energy; evolution is a long series of self-induced changes, the net result of which has been to elaborate the flow mechanism and to lengthen the circuit. Evolutionary changes, though, are usually slow and local. Man’s invention of tools has enabled him to make changes of unprecedented violence, rapidity, and scope.”   — Aldo Leopold

 

Grey_wolf_killI find it interesting that when I write about wolf killings or other emotionally charged environmental issues, my readership increases significantly and then sustains itself for some time. My blog post about Bison, Cattle, and Wolves was no exception. What I find interesting is that the high emotions that seem to run when one writes about creatures like wolves, whales, or dolphins usually masquerades some very important underlying ecological issue. Human fear and emotion tends to win — leaving important ecological messages in the dust.

In this blog post, I want to examine the core ecological issue that lurks behind many of the emotional pleadings of both stewards of Nature and those who hate environmentalism. What is missing in all of the emotional stuff is the idea of energy flow and energy conservation in Nature.

 

In today’s society, we think of the word “energy ” as relating to the prudent use of electricity, the elimination of fossil fuels, the use of wind machines, or the like. Rarely does one think about energy at an ecological level. Yet, as I hope to convince you, energy flow and energy conservation within all ecosystems is probably the most vital of all the issues when we talk about preserving the Planet for future generations.

 

Energy is the operating currency for all of Nature. While we cannot touch it, we can feel it. Energy is not just some philosophical or spiritual concept. It is tangible, it is real, it is an essential and basic component in Nature’s equation. Energy is the force that drives all of Nature.

 

The Sun is our key source of energy. Our Sun’s light photons that arrive on Earth drive our basic Recent-9and essential biochemical processes. Plant leaves receive these photons. A leaf’s chlorophyll takes in the Sun’s photons and, through a chemical process known as photosynthesis, transforms the solar energy into a form that is usable by a wide variety of plant eaters (herbivores) from microbes all the way up to grazers like elk and deer. Through their metabolic processes, these creatures chemically transform the stored plant energy into a form that is useful to them. Meat eaters, also called carnivores, then  eat the plant eating creatures and transform the stored energy once more.

 

What we have is a highly interconnected system of energy transportation and transformation. We call this system an “ecosystem”. The reason we humans need to respect and protect ecosystems is because these systems contain vital energy transportation links and energy transformation processes. The basic reason that an ecosystem forms and exists is to facilitate energy flow between and among the members of that system.

 

So what does all of this have to do with wolves? Watch the “Lords of Nature”  video. The scientists in this video do a great job of explaining and demonstrating what happened to the ecosystem at Yellowstone National Park when humans  killed off the wolves.  The evidence was very clear because they were able to observe what happened when the wolves were reintroduced over a half century later. When the wolves died, the elk and the deer populations exploded and ate off a lot of the plant life. In energy terms, the elk and the deer excessively consumed the plants that transported and transformed the photons from the sun into useful energy for plant eating animals. The excessive elk and the deer populations altered the flow of energy in the ecosystem.

 

DynamicTension-8681The energy of stream beds at Yellowstone was also altered. The eating of stream side tree saplings by the excessive elk and deer population resulted in the erosion of stream banks and the altering of water flow. In turn, this affected the fish in the stream and the beaver. So, the killing of wolves by humanity resulted in the alteration of energy flow which caused stream bed alteration and its side effects just as if humanity had picked up a shovel and physically changed the stream flow.

 

When the wolves were reintroduced into Nature, a route of passive restoration was wisely chosen by the overseers of the program. Without the intervention of mankind, Nature restored its own original energy flow. Here is a great explanation of a wolf’s role in the ecosystem from Mission:Wolf .

 

Since wild wolves have returned to Yellowstone, the elk and deer are stronger, the aspens and willows are healthier and the grasses taller.  For example, when wolves chase elk during the hunt, the elk are forced to run faster and farther.  As the elk run, their hooves aerate the soil, allowing more grasses to grow.  Since the elk cannot remain stationary for too long, aspens and willows in one area are not heavily grazed, and therefore can fully recover between migrations.  As with the rest of the country, coyote populations were nearly out of control in Yellowstone before the wolves returned.  Now, the coyotes have been out-competed and essentially reduced by 80 percent in areas occupied by wolves.  The coyotes that do remain are more skittish and wary.  With fewer coyotes hunting small rodents, raptors like the eagle and osprey have more prey and are making a comeback.  The endangered grizzly bears successfully steal wolf kills more often than not, thus having more food to feed their cubs.   In essence, we have learned that by starting recovery at the top with predators like wolves, the whole system benefits.  A wild wolf population actually makes for a stronger, healthier and more balanced ecosystem.  From plant, to insect, to people… we all stand to benefit from wolves.”

 

“With only 5% of our nation’s wilderness left, people are recognizing the important roles complete ecosystems play in keeping all of us healthy. With new knowledge of the trophic cascade (Nature’s energy flow), we can now begin to focus wilderness recovery efforts on a wider variety of ecosystems. Using Yellowstone as an example, we can teach the world about the wolf’s positive and vital role in the wild.

 

The lesson we can learn from this is that many of our actions as human beings can alter the energy flow in our ecosystems. We are deeply connected not just to each other but to all of life. Here are the  important ideas:
  • Nature is defined by her dynamic interrelationships between everything and anything in the Universe.
  • Energy is the unifying force that defines these relationships. Energy is the operating currency which connects and drives all animate and inanimate objects in the Universe.
  • Nature’s interconnections are the conduits for energy flow between and within Nature’s systems.
  • Ecosystems are collections of Nature’s energy conduits. The organizing principles under which ecosystems are organized define our Earth.
  • The job of the conservationist is to define and preserve Nature’s energy conduits.
 
Worth Your Extra Attention :

 

I have an ongoing section in my blog entitled “My Musings”. This area contains my growing list of posts that list web material that I have found interesting. You might stop by an take a look. You can reach it by clicking on the  “Blog Posts” menu tab near the top of my blog site. One of the sub-menus is entitled “My Musings”. 

 

Please Comment and Subscribe

 

Thanks for reading this blog post. The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers. You are encouraged to offer your comments in the space provided below.

 

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 twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

Powerful Voices In The Midst Of Ecological Instability

I wish to share with you the wisdom of three people who will inspire you and help you think about the impact of an interconnected Nature on your life and the lives of all other human beings. I have mentioned each of these people separately in other posts. But, their messages have much more power when presented as a whole.

 

Rachel Carson was an early pioneer in advancing the idea that everything in Nature is interconnected. In her 1962 book, Silent Spring, she sounded a warning siren that was heard around the world.

 

Two influential men received their early university education as scientists. Barry Commoner became famous as “the Paul Revere of Ecology”. The other gained his fame and respect as “Pope Francis”.

 

The wisdom of Rachael Carson, Barry Commoner, and Pope Francis offers a strategy of restoration to a Nature that has been warped, twisted, separated, and forgotten by mankind.

 

Rachel Carson told the story of a chemical death caused by man’s ignorance as he attempted to rachel-carsoncontrol his environment, free himself from pests, artificially enhance the growth of his food supply, and “manage” the ecology of other living creatures on this planet. By describing relationships between various living species and their environment, Rachel started a campaign to abolish the use of harmful chemicals in agriculture and by the consumer. Her book became a harbinger of change to come which included the modern environmental movement. Recently, Discover Magazine named Silent Spring as one of the 25 greatest scientific books of all time.

 

Rachel Carson’s most powerful message came through many examples that portrayed the importance of connections in Nature. She skillfully defined the connections between various living creatures and their environment. Then she recorded man’s ignorance of these crucial connections.  Some 50 years later, this idea has begun to take hold in the new science of Systems Biology. The importance of Rachel Carson’s message concerning connections in Nature is reflected in a quote by her biographer, Linda Lear.

 

I don’t think Rachel should be or would want to be credited with starting the environmental movement or banning pesticides. I think what she was hoping to do is raise the American consciousness about the natural world and our interconnection to it, instead of thinking we can control nature.

 

Carson’s powerful, message was a precursor to a major paradigm shift in Western science.   In her “Essay on the Biological Sciences” written in 1958 she said:

 

Only within the 20th Century has biological thought been focused on ecology, or the relation of the living creature to its environment. Awareness of ecological relationships  is — or should be — the basis of modern conservation programs, for it is useless to attempt to preserve a living species unless the kind of land or water it requires is also preserved. So delicately interwoven are the relationships that when we disturb one thread of the community fabric we alter it all — perhaps almost imperceptibly, perhaps so drastically that destruction follows.

 

Rachel Carson started modern ecological thinking with Silent Spring by exposing the ignorance and the disastrous assumptions that biologists made about ecological interrelationships. She laid the foundation for an awareness of interrelationships in Nature. Her legacy is the new and more productive ways in which we can now holistically view Nature.

 

Barry-CommonerChances are that you may not have heard of Barry Commoner. He offers inspiring and powerful ideas about connections in Nature. In reading Barry Commoner’s work, I learned a new word. It is “holocenosis”. A real mouthful. But, a very important word that describes an essential fact about how Nature operates on Earth.

 

Holocenosis means that everything on Earth influences and is influenced by everything else. Within a holocenotic environment, it is impossible to imagine only a single change in the environment.  Every component, living and non-living, interacts with every other component. In addition to physical relationships, these components include the social, cultural, and economic activities of humanity which impact Nature. Our world is “holocoenotic” because it is a network of relationships in which all factors act together and where the whole is more than a simple sum of it’s parts.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

4. There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Exploitation of Nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.

 

Barry Commoner’s four laws of ecology define the conservation of Nature using terms that can easily be adapted to any environmental education program at any level. And, these four laws of ecology can be used in any “hands-on” outdoors teaching experience. For example, in the simple act of picking up garbage, Commoner’s second law becomes a teaching opportunity.

 

Like Barry Commoner, Pope Francis emphasizes holocenosis – but on a wider scale that includes PopeFrancisthe interconnectivity of all parts of human life with Nature. This includes mankind’s social, cultural, and economic activities. He looks upon environmental education as a connection in Nature because it passes a positive and active consciousness for Nature from one generation to the next. It offers a connectivity between generations.

 

He calls on us to stop trying to control and change Nature and “accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary,”

 

He looks upon all of us as an integral part of Nature’s ecosystems when he says that “the world is a gift we have freely received and must share with others. The world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us. The environment is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next. What kind of world do we want to leave to those who will come after us, to children who are now growing up?”

 

These words of Pope Francis describe the challenge to all environmental educators and stewards of Nature. You have the power to affect the future of Nature’s environment by sharing yourself with the current generation and helping this generation influence future generations. You are helping to define the future of humanity and our Planet.

 

What is astounding about the voices of Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner, and Pope Francis is that, within the words of each person, there exists a central holistic theme of an interconnectedness in Nature that includes mankind and his effects on Nature. In their individual writings and together, the popular cartoon portraying the truth of no dominance and strong interconnectedness is described.

 

manvsnature

 

Worth Your Extra Attention :

 

Thanks for reading this blog post.

 

I have an ongoing section in my blog entitled “My Musings”. This area contains my growing list of posts that list web material that I have found interesting. You might stop by an take a look. You can reach it by clicking on the  “Blog Posts” menu tab near the top of my blog site. One of the sub-menus is entitled “My Musings”.

 

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The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers.

 

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In Praise Of Prairies

Each summer, I take a break from a structured life and roam in Nature throughout the United States. I have a special fondness for visiting tall-grass prairies where vast expanses of grasslands speak to me in the soft voice of moving grasses, gentle winds, and the sounds of birds. It is here that I experience a profound solitude and a deep connection with Nature. The prairie is also where I experience what has been lost and what is being lost.

Prairies-9393This blog is a meditation on what tall-grass prairies once were. It is also a lament on what prairies are today. Tall-grass prairies hold for us an important story of man’s interconnections with Nature both good and bad. It is a story where man’s reverence toward Nature contrasts with man’s senseless ignorance about his environment. 

The word “prairie” comes from the French language and means “meadow”. The US National Park Service has done a nice job of describing tall-grass prairies  ,parts of which are paraphrased here:

“…tall-grass prairies are an extremely complicated web of life. They began appearing in the mid-continent of the United States from 8,000 to 10,000 years ago and have developed into one of the most complicated and diverse ecosystems in the world, surpassed only by the rainforest of Brazil. Prairie plants have evolved on a landscape that can be difficult to survive on. Climates on the prairie range from extreme heat and drought in August to bitter cold winters locked in ice and frigid winds.

At first sight, one sees a vast landscape dominated by grasses — some 40 to 60 different species. The other 20% of the primary vegetation is made up of over 300 species of forbs or flowers. The prairie also has over 100 species of lichens and liverworts as well as numerous species of woody trees and shrubs along creeks and protected areas. Prairie landscapes vary in soil types and depth, moisture, and slope. This creates many different situations and niches for specific plant communities to fit into.

The secret to the survival of the prairie plants is that 75-80% of the plant material is underground. The visible plants seen on the landscape are merely the photosynthetic leaves gathering sunlight for a much larger community underground. Just beneath the surface lies the main stems or rhizomes, running horizontally. Here they lie protected from drying, grazing, trampling, fire, and frost. Tough fibrous roots descend from these rhizomes deep into the ground. Roots of some plants have been reported to go 10 to 15 feet deep. On these roots, are microscopic “rootlets” numbering in the billions and utilized by the plant. Even smaller than rootlets are mycorrhizae that support plant growth by drawing in nutrients too little for even rootlets to obtain. The roots of plants are so numerous, that were one plant’s roots placed end to end they would stretch for miles. The competition for nutrients and resources is fierce, so thickly interwoven are plant roots that early settlers were able to cut bricks out of the sod to build homes and schools.”

My wonderful solitude while I connect with Nature in these prairies starkly contrasts with the sometimes destructive hand of mankind. While prairies are a living demonstration of highly interconnected, biodiverse, and resilient ecosystems,  mankind has succeeded in altering or destroying much of what Nature has taken millenia to develop. Man’s impact has resulted in the fencing of these vast stretches of land so as to fragment the habitat of many creatures. This has resulted in animal migration corridors being destroyed. With the introduction of domestic species such as cattle, largePrairies-5749 areas of plant biomass have been altered due to the specialized and destructive grazing habits of the cattle species. The image to the right portrays land that has been grazed by cattle ( left side of the fence). The protected area to the right side of the fence prohibits grazing.

The plowing of prairie land has damaged or destroyed the topsoil resulting in events such as the historic “dust bowl” removal of  topsoil by the winds. It is estimated that tall-grass prairies once covered about 40% of the United States. Only about 1% of these North American tall-grass prairies still exist.

Prairies-2755The story of the American Bison’s connection with Nature is also the story of America’s Midwestern Great Plains tall-grass tall-grass prairies.  The American Bison was a keystone species that was inextricably interconnected to these complex tall-grass ecosystems . These connections to the prairie ecosystems produced a unique ecology that has deep effects on mixed-prairie ecosystems. If you knew the bison, you knew the prairie.

It is estimated that over 30 million bison once inhabited the North American from Alaska to Mexico. Human slaughter of these creatures reduced the population to a few thousand. Because of subsequent conservation efforts, the bison population has rebounded to a revitalized North American population of about 500,000. Most of these animals are constrained by fences in mixed-grass prairie preserves and private ranches. Those bison that are part of conservation herds and considered to be truly wild, number only 20,000.

Research has shown the American Bison to play a keystone role in the health of the remaining tall-grass prairies. Unlike cattle, bison selectively graze in patches, leaving broad-leaved herbs (called forbs) and woody plants untouched. The resulting patchiness promotes plant species diversity by allowing the forbs to grow unharmed.

Spatial and seasonal bison grazing with the ongoing presence of forbs enhances density and plant cover above ground as well as gas exchange below ground. With parts of the prairie grazed, photosynthesis rates are enhanced because more light is made available.

In addition, bison grazing increases animal diversity. Prairies-9303Herds of grazing bison shape grasslands and create habitat. Prairie Dog foraging capabilities are enhanced. In turn, these Prairie Dogs are prey for ferrets, foxes, hawks, and eagles. Prairie Dog tunnels are homes for the Burrowing Owl, small mammals, and reptiles.

Bison cause nutrient recycling in prairie ecosystems. By consuming plants, the bison return nitrogen to the soils in the form of urine. This form of nitrogen is far more effective than that formed from plant litter. There is less plant litter because of bison grazing.

Fire is a natural and healthy phenomenon in prairie ecosystems. Bison grazing limits the loss of nitrogen through fire by reducing the amount of plant litter. Through grazing in patches, the bison helps produce patchiness in fire.

During my summer meditations while camping in prairies, I was deeply saddened by what has happened over the years. Highly complex, resilient, and biodiverse ecosystems have given way to the perceived needs of one species — human beings.

Some of you may remember Kevin Costner’s highly symbolic film, “Dances With Wolves”. Here, a lone union solder sought solace in the prairie where he met up with peaceful and conservation-minded Indians who had a deep reverence for Nature. He befriended a wolf named “Two Socks”. He witnessed the greed of the white man MexWolfOrg_1as he viewed a herd of slaughtered bison stripped of their fur but with their meat left to rot. In the end, the union soldiers symbolized an ignorance and a lack of passion for Nature as they shot “Two Socks”, and tried to kill off a culture of conservation-minded people. I confess that this movie caused tears to roll out of my eyes when Two Socks was shot. Then a fierce anger grew in my heart for the greed and ignorance of those who were wantonly killing off the prairie and other great ecosystems.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t stopped. The grim statistics about the destruction of prairies teach this to us. And those like me who want to give Nature the opportunity to restore herself are stopped by those who refuse to remove their fences and want to continue the killing. I can only hope that my legacy, the youth who will follow, can somehow pick up the torch and carry on to restore and protect the prairies and the forests and all of the other good things Nature once was able to offer to caring people.

Worth Your Extra Attention :

Thanks for reading this blog post.

I have an ongoing section in my blog entitled “My Musings”. This area contains my growing list of posts that list web material that I have found interesting. You might stop by and take a look. You can reach this material by clicking on the  “Blog Posts” menu tab near the top of my blog site. One of the sub-menus is entitled “My Musings”.

Please Comment and Subscribe

The purpose for these blogs is to develop a dialog between myself and my readers.

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 twice-monthly announcements of new blogs that I post. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.

 

Nature’s Resilience Deals With Change

In a recent post , I emphasized the idea that Nature is dynamic and changing even when humans are not impacting the environment. But yet, we see humans see resilience where Nature’s changes appear to be pretty stable and predictable. The sun rises and sets every day. The four seasons of the year each have generally predictable climates. The forests, meadows, and lakes that we visit appear to be pretty much the same from year to year. And so on.

There seems to be an inconsistency between what science tells us about changes incloughjordan-eco-village Nature and what we observe. This paradox, in part, is a matter of scale. Nature’s changes usually happen slowly over long time periods that exceed the life span of humans. So, in most cases, we do not see long term changes in Nature. We only see clearly the seasonal or cyclical changes. But, change at one level can influence other levels, cascade down or up levels, reinvigorate, or destroy. 

So, how can we resolve the idea that Nature changes even though our own observations may not be able to see changes? How is it that we humans can do horrible things to our planet but fail to see (at least in the near term) any negative impact on Nature? The answer comes from Nature’s inherent ability to adapt to change. This quality is called “resilience”.

Resilience in Nature is the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and still retain its basic function, structure, and feedback systems.

 Resilience usually works within limits. If a disturbance is too great, the effect of that impact will overcome the ability of Nature to make corrections.

image_230gcThe process of resilience involves a phenomenon known as feedback. A feedback loop is a mechanism by which change in some environmental variables result in either an amplification  or a dampening of some behavior within the ecosystem.

A familiar example of feedback is the cruise control in our automobiles. After we set the control to govern a given speed of the car, the feedback mechanism increases the throttle if the car is going slower than the set speed. Likewise, the feedback mechanism backs off on the throttle if the car exceeds the selected speed. In our cruise control, the next action is defined by the state of the current condition which is the speed of the vehicle.

Another familiar example is how we humans, and other animals, thermo-regulate body temperature. If we get cold, we shiver. If we get too hot, we sweat. The temperature sensor in our body sends signals to shiver, sweat, or do nothing.

Our car’s cruise control and our body’s thermo-regulation mechanism are examples of linear feedback controls. A single event drives an expected response.  But linear feedback rarely happens in Nature. Far more often, a feedback mechanism responds to combinations of  varying and unpredictable inputs and environmental factors that change over time. The results are non-linear, highly unpredictable, and chaotic behavior.

Think about a population of rabbits that live in a farmer’s field. The current size of theimages (4) rabbit population depends on external factors such as weather, food supply, and predator activity. Each one of these controlling factors is highly variable and usually unpredictable. Consequently, the resulting population trend is highly variable and unpredictable.  Feedback systems that respond to the combination of a number of different unpredictable influences result in the complexity and unpredictability that we see in Nature’s ecosystems and their organisms. This is a classic scenario for Nature’s ecosystems. Science calls this chaos. Chaos describes a system that has apparent randomness but, when more closely observed, order is seen.

While producing some chaos, Nature’s feedback systems also produce ordered resilience in ecosystems. Resilience arises from a rich structure of many feedback loops that can work in different ways to restore a system even after a large perturbation. Ecosystems with much biodiversity are resilient because they contain many complex feedback systems that serve to correct for outside perturbations.

Grey_wolf_killAt Yellowstone National Park, when the wolf was reintroduced, Nature’s feedback mechanisms restored her ecosystems to an approximate earlier state or equilibrium. But, it is important to note that equilibrium in Nature is dynamic. It is rarely a fixed state. For example, equilibrium could be cyclical or complex. It is also important to note that Nature’s resilience mechanisms do not necessarily act to restore ecosystems to a previous state. Nature does not predefine equilibrium. Equilibrium exists only in the minds of we humans who vainly try to “manage” Nature in some state of equilibrium. Unlike Nature, our current environmental and resource management policies seek to restore a fixed balance when we seek to control Nature. It won’t work.

The basic framework underpinning our approach to environmental management has been based on a false assumption of stability or equilibrium. Regulations, such as fishing or hunting quotas, are crafted to create a static equilibrium. These steps are all needed, but there is one catch: they won’t solve the problem.

We have assumed that we can manage individual components of an ecological images (3)system independently, find an optimal balance between the components, and assume that other attributes of the system would stay largely constant. But, ecological systems are extremely dynamic, their behavior much more like the analogy of a boat at sea. They are constantly confronted with “surprise” events such as storms, pest outbreaks, or droughts. What is optimal for one year is unlikely to be optimal the next year. The structure and function of the ecosystems continually change through time. They will change even more rapidly in the future as global warming becomes an ever-stronger driver of change. We have not understood well enough the functioning of the ecosystems involved. It isn’t just the amount of knowledge – the details about species and ecosystems – it’s also the kind of knowledge. We have yet to fully comprehend the impact of thinking at a systems level. We don’t have a clear idea of how resilience works to deal with change.

Resilience_1The systems we live in and depend on are usually configured and reconfigured by extreme events, not average conditions. While minor changes are often incremental and linear, the really significant ones are usually lurching and nonlinear-like mouse plagues in Australian wheat crops, insect pest outbreaks in forests in North America, and the sudden change from a clean, clear lake to one dominated by an algal bloom. 

Ecology, economics, and sociology is full of examples showing that the systems around us, the systems we are a part of, are much more complex than our assumptions permit.  What it all adds up to is that there is no sustainable “optimal” state of an ecosystem, a social system, or the world. It is an illusion, a product of the way we look at and model the world. It is unattainable, and yet it is a widely pursued goal. It is little wonder, then, that problems arise. And when they do, rather than question the validity of the model being applied, the response has been to attempt to exert even greater control over the system. In most cases this exacerbates the problem or leaves us with a solution that comes with too high a cost to be sustained. 


Resilience, in reality, is the act of adapting to change. Change and resilience go hand-in-hand. Resilience thinking is about understanding and engaging with a changing world. By understanding how and why the system as a whole is changing, we are better able to build a capacity to work with change, as opposed to being a victim of it. 

The reality of resilience in Nature is that social and ecological systems are complex adaptive systems. Resilience does not act in a predictable, linear, incremental fashion. Resilience can exist in more than one kind of regime in which function, structure, and feedbacks are different. Shocks and disturbances to these systems (like fires, floods, wars, and market changes) can drive a system across a threshold into a different regime, frequently with unwelcome surprises. The realities of change and resilience are facts of Nature over which we humans have little control.

Things that we humans can do to respect and foster resilience thinking

Here are some suggestions from the Stockholm Resilience Center.

Maintain diversity and redundancySystems with many different components, be they species, actors or sources of knowledge, are generally more resilient than systems with few components. This leads to  redundancy which provides ‘insurance’ by allowing some components to compensate for the loss or failure of others. In other words: “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

Manage connectivity. Well-connected systems can more easily recover from disturbances.Perhaps the most positive effect of landscape connectivity is that it can contribute to the maintenance of biodiversity. This means building wildlife corridors and encouraging connected habitats rather than permitting habitat destruction.

Foster systems thinking.A systems approach means accepting that within a social or ecological system, several connections are occurring at the same time on different levels. It also means accepting unpredictability and uncertainty, and acknowledging a multitude of perspectives. This means adopting the idea that man cannot control Nature.

Encourage learning. The most powerful conservation tool is environmental education with both our young people and adults. By including studies about connections in Nature,  a “connectivity consciousness” gradually becomes a part of our Nature consciousness. With a “connectivity consciousness”, the ideas of biodiversity, change, and resilience in Nature become part of conservation thinking within humans.

 

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.

 

Change Is Normal In Nature

My two foodwebprevious posts, Visualizing Connections In Nature and The Architecture of Biodiversity, described Nature as a highly interconnected network of life where the energy that is necessary to live is passed from one organism to the next. These networks, called food webs, imply an equilibrium that could be disturbed by change resulting from mankind’s uninformed interference.

Nature can change all by herself without the hand of man.

While this picture is true, it is incomplete. The fact is that Nature undergoes many changes all by herself without the hand of man.  For Nature, change is a normal thing !! These natural changes can affect food webs.  But, for mankind to try to change Nature, either intentionally or in error, is destructive. In this blog post, I will describe why change is normal in Nature but destructive by man. 

Change in Nature can come from species activities or interactions within a food web or from environmental changes that impact the functioning of a food web. For example, a storm can wreak all sorts of havoc in an ecosystem. 

Organisms eating each other are only one of many important interactions among
species. Other types of  interaction between species include habitat modification and predator interference induced by fear of being eaten. These “other” types of interactions are called “non-trophic” interactions. Non-trophic means that creature interactions are not directly related to food energy flow between species. Instead they evolve from the impact of one or more species on the environment or the impact of the environment on species within an ecosystem.

ChangesInNature-9497Ecosystems are in a constant dance as their components compete, react, evolve, migrate, and form new communities. Geological upheaval, evolution, climatic cycles, fires, storms, and population dynamics see to it that Nature is always changing. On Hawaii, volcanic activity wipes the slate clean on any given slope every few hundred years. Occasional new arrivals to the islands, washed ashore or drifting in on the wind, adapt to their new home and find space for themselves within existing ecosystems.

In a scientific paper titled “More Than A Meal – Integrating Non-Feeding Interactions Into Food Webs, the authors do a good job in describing natural changes in Nature that do not involve mankind. Here is a paraphrased description:   

” there is a great diversity of non-trophic interactions observed in nature. Kelp forests ChangesInNature-5255provide habitat for the survival of many species, desert shrubs buffer environmental stress and facilitate the persistence of other plant species  and many species engage in antagonistic interactions to defend their territories . Some non-trophic interactions are closely associated with feeding activities but affect species that are neither the trophic consumer nor the resource. For instance, whales, rays, sea otters, birds and many other large consumers dig, burrow, turn rocks or sieve sediment while feeding, negatively or ChangesInNature-2260245positively affecting many other species. Other interactions inherently involve a trophic and a non-trophic component between the same pair of species, such as pollination and fruit eating. A functionally important class of non-trophic interactions is ecosystem engineering by earthworms or beavers which directly or indirectly control the availability of resources to other organisms by causing physical state changes in living or non-living materials .  This activity determines the structure ChangesInNature-2403and fate of entire communities . The consequences of these non-trophic interactions are as diverse as affecting the ability and efficiency of feeding, survival, behavior, recruitment success and reproduction. In ecosystems, the entangled bank of species involves feeding as well as a myriad of non-trophic interactions which have long been recognised, but yet have hardly been studied in concert with trophic interactions in multi-species systems.”

All of the non-trophic factors just described affect and change the food web interactions that appear to be in equilibrium when one examines a static food web diagram. These non-trophic factors contribute to the chaotic states that exist in Nature’s ecosystems. These non-trophic influences help explain why ecosystems are complex, chaotic, and unpredictable. This means that any activities or changes imposed by mankind are folly because their outcomes are unpredictable.

Changes made by Nature prevent any successful predictIons made by mankind.

So, one can say that the normal, but random, changes that Nature imposes upon herself prevent any predictable success from changes made by mankind. Therefore, man cannot control Nature. For example, the culling of wildlife, such as predators, based on “calculations” of ideal population levels is a practice that doesn’t work. There are too many non-trophic factors at play to permit a predictable result. The Bee_Pesticidehuman induced application of pesticides (a change imposed by man’s “logic”) has severely affected the bee populations who are important plant pollinators. Again, results were not predictable even though man thought that he could successfully make a change to Nature.

Letting Nature take her own course, including the changes that she makes, may not suit some of we humans, but it is the only option that we have. 

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.

 

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