Our Youth Must Live Nature’s Story

When our central organizing priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us is the recovery of our world.”

-Joanna Macy – Active Hope

I fear for the future of my class of high school students who are finishing their final year before going to college. We adults are leaving these fine young people a real ecological mess. Many of you who are reading this essay know the grim reality, created by humans, that will come over the next 30 years and beyond. In addition to climate change, food shortages are expected and the air that all of Earth’s creatures need to survive will become more polluted.

The culprits appear to be that part of Earth’s adult human population over 25 years of age who are separated from Nature, who believe that they can control Nature, have excessively consumed Earth’s limited resources, and have been assured by some errant conservation groups that human ingenuity and technology can fix all of the ills that we adults have created. Add to this the apparent unlimited economic and political power wielded by global corporations as their executives line the pockets of politicians with gold so that environmental regulations can be overlooked. As a result, our mother Earth becomes further hampered in Her role of providing life support for all earthly creatures including we humans.

I am very cautious when I define the adult human population over age 25 because there is a large group of people in this category who are good stewards of our Earth. These people include teachers (particularly environmental educators), scientists, and humans who embrace Nature as being the provider of life for all of Earth’s creatures.

Our Stories Define Who We Are And How We Conduct Our Lives

Charles Eisenstein, in his book “Ascent of Humanity” says:

“Like other cultures before us, we have created a mythology, a constellation of stories to explain The Way of the World. It includes the forces of nature, the forces of human nature, the story of our origins, and an account of our role and function in the universe. Like those of all cultures, our mythology is not wholly fabricated but a window on the truth. It is seen through the distorting lens of our culture’s prejudices. Our stories are mostly unconscious. A story paints a particular picture of how life is or should be and directly shapes our lives and our world, often without our even being aware of its influence.”

Another word for “story” is “worldview”. Worldview is commonly defined as a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.

Our problem is not climate change, or overconsumption, or population growth. Our problem is the story that we humans have chosen to guide us.

The story of a large part of modern humans is believing ourselves as separate from Nature, from each other, and from the community of life. This is commonly called “The Story of Separation”. This story portrays humanity as being able to control and predict Nature. The separation story leads to human behaviors of exploitation, excessive economic growth, extremes of wealth and inequality, and the misuse of Nature’s resources which result in the effects of climate change, consumerism, and overpopulation. The key is to change the stories by which we define ourselves.

Author and thought leader David Korten suggests that a more viable story for human beings is the Living Earth story where we are living beings born of a living earth itself born of a living universe. We are part of an environment where everything on Earth is interconnected and interdependent. In order for Earth’s human population survive,this pattern of interdependence must become a powerful part of our consciousness. In the Living Earth story, we believe in the power of community, and not separation. We believe that our health and well-being depend upon Nature because we are part of Nature.

The truth is that we humans are experiencing the environmental effects of the Story of Separation. We need to change our Story of Separation to the Living Earth Story. And we have some 20 or 30 years to make, implement, and practice this change before bad things really happen. How do we do this?

I have had a lot of experience talking with adults whose personal story is the Story of Separation. These folks are not going to change !!!! I respectfully submit that many of the papers that have been written about “A Great Turning” have been unable to suggest effective ways to change the worldview of many of these older adults over 25. Yet, it is these people who have caused the ecological damage that our younger adults under age 25 will have to clean up in order to survive. It will be our youth who will need to create Joanna Macy’s “Ecological Civilization”: – a civilization “... that brings people and planet into balance, nurtures innovation and creative expression, and provides to all an opportunity for material sufficiency and spiritual abundance.

The formation of Joanna Macy’s Ecological Civilization must start with our youth in their classrooms and outdoors being led by environmental educators. It is here that the Living Earth story becomes a worldview. It is here that a consciousness for Mother Earth becomes a reality in the minds and hearts of students that will be carried beyond graduation and into adulthood. It is here that the power of influence begins its journey.

Maybe our young people will be able to influence a few of those who have the Story of Separation within their worldview. But more important, a large part of the adults over 25 at this point in time will be dead in 20 or 30 years. And the Story of Separation should die with them.

David W. Orr wrote a popular essay entitled “What Is Education For ??

Reading the entire paper is well worth your time. But in part, he says:

“Measured against the agenda of human survival, how might we rethink education? First, all education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded we teach students that they are part of or apart from the natural world. To teach economics, for example, without reference to the laws of thermodynamics or those of ecology is to teach a fundamentally important ecological lesson: that physics and ecology have nothing to do with the economy. That just happens to be dead wrong. The same is true throughout all of the curriculum.”

Our youth must be guided by the Living Earth Story

Orr’s important comment is that, done correctly, we educators can teach all students that they are part of the natural world. A curriculum that is not “compartmentalized”, and shows the relationships between everything that is taught, will help create a consciousness that “everything on Earth is interconnected and interdependent”. This is the basis for the Living Earth story.

David Korten says:

“The transition to an Ecological Civilization depends on the actions of We the People to embrace our interdependence with one another and Earth. We must change the defining stories of the mainstream culture. Every great transformational social movement begins with a conversation about a new idea that challenges and ultimately changes a prevailing cultural story. The civil rights movement changed the story on race. The environmental movement changed the story about the human relationship to nature. Our current task is to change the prevailing stories by which we understand our relationship to a living Earth,..”

It will be through our youth and our educators that we make this transition over the next 20 years.

For Your Further Consideration

This essay, and other essays in this web site, present ideas to environmental educators, their students, and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   The emphasis is on two key ideas:
  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy. The key to an active ecoliteracy that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity, This worldview includes the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must be hands-on and place-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the the passing of this consciousness to future generation.

Please Comment

The purpose of this web site is to build a dialog between myself and my readers. I invite you to offer your comments, your critique, and to share your ideas with all of my readers in the comment space provided below.

 

Interbeing – No Man Is An Island

 

No man is an island. Instead, his “interbeing” is shared with the plants and animals he eats, the people who make his clothes and food, the people who populate his home, country and the very world he perceives, the insects that pollinate the trees that yield his fruit, shade him from the sun, and provide lumber or his house.”                                                                                                     Buddhist Monk and scholar Thich Nhat Hanh

There is something about the world “interbeing” that tugs at my soul leaving a joyous and very comfortable feeling. In one word, “Interbeing”  describes all of the processes that drive our planet because it describes the processes of inter-dependence and co-existence among all things. Without interbeing, Nature would fail to function. In human terms, interbeing recognizes the dependence of any one person on all other people and objects. Interbeing is the process that describes Nature as a living system as well as a well-functioning human society.

One of my favorite environmental writers is Dr. Scott Sampson who is a  dinosaur paleontologist, science communicator, and author of the book  How To Raise A Wild Child. In a 2011 essay at edge.org, Scott does a great job of describing the absurd mindset of a very large group of human adults over the age of 25.

Arguably the most cherished and deeply ingrained notion in the Western mindset is the separateness of our skin-encapsulated selves — the belief that we can be likened to isolated, static machines. Having externalized the world beyond our bodies, we are consumed with thoughts of furthering our own ends and protecting ourselves. Yet this deeply rooted notion of isolation is illusory, as evidenced by our constant exchange of matter and energy with the “outside” world. At what point did your last breath of air, sip of water, or bite of food cease to be part of the outside world and become you? Precisely when did your exhalations and wastes cease being you? Our skin is as much permeable membrane as barrier, so much so that, like a whirlpool, it is difficult to discern where “you” end and the remainder of the world begins. Energized by sunlight, life converts inanimate rock into nutrients, which then pass through plants, herbivores, and carnivores before being decomposed and returned to the inanimate Earth, beginning the cycle anew. Our internal metabolisms are intimately interwoven with this Earthly metabolism; one result is the replacement of every atom in our bodies every seven years or so.”

The idea that we humans are separate from Nature and can control Nature is blatantly false. The truth is that we humans are totally dependent on Nature and each other in order to live. Like every other creature on Earth, we are in a state of “interbeing” — this highly interconnected state of dependency on Nature. We humans must embrace the fact that we are not outside or above Nature, but fully enmeshed within it!!! As a result, every act that we do can affect everything else. But most of the time we have no idea what the consequence of that act might be. WHY?? Because we have no way of predicting what Nature will do.

The tragedy is that we adults are blindly consuming and abusing Nature at a rate that destroys or alters Nature’s ecosystems in addition to leaving little or nothing for our children, our grandchildren, future generations, and life in general.

Scott Sampson goes on to then pose the question, “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” His response to his question is that humanity “would greatly benefit by embracing and practicing the concept of interbeing”.

The idea of interbeing comes from Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who says:

“If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in a sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either.”

‘Interbeing’   is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, inter-be. Without a cloud, we cannot have a paper, so we can say that the cloud and the sheet of paper inter-are. . . . ‘To be’ is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is.

We must learn to see ourselves not as isolated but as permeable and interwoven — selves within larger selves, including the species self (humanity) and the biospheric self (life). The interbeing perspective encourages us to view other life forms as fellow travelers in the current of this ancient river. On a still more profound level, it enables us to envision ourselves and other organisms not as static “things” at all, but as processes deeply and inextricably embedded in the background flow.

Interbeing, an expression of ancient wisdom backed by science, can help us comprehend this radical ecology, fostering a much-needed transformation in mindset.”

The solution to climate change problems, human over-population, and over-consumption rests with those humans who have embraced a consciousness for the “interbeing” of everything on our Earth. When our central organizing priority becomes the interbeing of all life, we then experience the recovery of our world. When a person is gifted with a consciousness of interbeing and acts upon an ecosystem in some way, that action is always accompanied by the question:

If I do this here, what might happen over there? 

Here is a famous example. If I kill all the wolves at Yellowstone  National Park, what will happen to the ecosystem where those wolves lived? (Hint: Look at the video “Lords of Nature).  The killing of all the wolves at Yellowstone in the early 1900s by ranchers and hunters resulted in major, unexpected changes in the Yellowstone ecosystem. In the later 1900s, scientists recognized the negative ecological impact of the wolf killings and wolf reintroduction began. This recovery effort demonstrated the power of interbeing. This is a video worth watching !!!

It is a sad fact that the development of consciousness for interbeing will not come from the current generations of human adults who are separated from Nature, are focused on near term financial “growth”, and who choose not to consider the welfare of Earth’s creatures or the well-being of future human generations. This group of adult humans has left a mess for future human generations.

However, in all good stories, there are heroes that come to the rescue. These heroes are environmental educators, other specialists in education, scientists, college students, and those other folks who are angry about what is going on. What is essential for the long-term survival of the human race is a strong sense of interbeing with Earth and all life on Earth. Interbeing exists as a profoundly important tool in the arsenal of those who, through education, direct action, or example, will help define a new and positive future for all life on earth.

For Your Further Consideration

Video:  The Story of Interbeing   (8:44 minutes) Charles Eisenstein

In this video on interbeing, Charles Eisenstein explains how the real power we have to create change comes from alignment with the web of being.

Video: If We Don’t Protect Nature We Can’t Protect Ourselves  (5:34 minutes) Harrison Ford

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. The key to an active group of eco literate humans 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 – particularly our youth. 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 for the future, 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 include the acts of passing a worldview of a living Mother Earth on to humanity. Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become conscious in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Nature’s Stewards”. ‎ The book offers educational methodology and content for creating Nature’s “Living Earth Story” within our youth and all stewards of Nature. To download this book, follow the instructions when you click the “Empowering Nature’s Stewards ” menu item from the menu list. 
  • 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

 

Climate Change Is A Moral Issue

Treat the Earth well. It was not given to you by your parents. It was loaned to you by your children”

— North American Proverb

I am privileged to be mentoring an environmental education program at a local high school. As I began preparing for another school year, five of my new students approached me and asked that I focus some of my classes on issues involving climate change. I was overwhelmed with delight by this spontaneous and unsolicited request from our youth. I regarded it as a precious responsibility that I must develop with great care.

As I focused on how I might describe the reality of climate change to my students, I knew I had to think about two things:

  • We adults have left a horrible ecological mess for our young people to clean up.
  • Without much positive guidance from we adults, we have left our young people to define how to take action to clean up the mess.

It would be easy for me to write a few lectures about human induced climate change impact on our planet. After all, there are large collections of online information and books available for that task. But, the real problem with human induced climate change is not the technical facts. The real problem rests with the reasons for decisions that we adults have made. Our youth cannot find viable solutions to the climate change issue until they first understand the erroneous worldview of the adults who shaped the problem in the first place. For, in understanding the adult worldview, our youth have the potential of forming new moral guidelines that will reverse the current deadly trends.

Why did we humans allow this mess to happen in the first place? What factors drove us to choose the  directions that we decided to take?

Author Jeremy Lent suggests that humans have been trapped in an erroneous worldview about Nature for a long time.  He says:

“Each culture tends to construct its worldview on a root metaphor of the universe, which in turn defines people’s relationship to nature and each other, ultimately leading to a set of values that directs how that culture behaves. It’s those culturally derived values that have shaped history.

The Scientific Revolution was built on metaphors such as ‘nature as a machine’ and ‘conquering nature’ which have shaped the values and behaviors of the modern age.., many of which we accept implicitly even though they are based on flawed assumptions.

Continued growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is seen as the basis for economic and political success, even though GDP measures nothing more than the rate at which we are transforming Nature and human activities into the monetary economy, no matter how beneficial or harmful it may be. The world’s financial markets are based on the belief that  the global economy will keep growing indefinitely even though that is impossible on a finite planet. ‘No problem,’ we are told, since technology will always find a new solution.

These underlying flaws in our global operating system stem ultimately from a sense of human disconnection. In our minds and bodies, reason and emotion are seen as split parts within ourselves. Human beings are understood as individuals separated from each other, and humanity as a whole is perceived as separate from Nature. At the deepest level, it is this sense of separation that is inexorably leading human civilization to potential disaster.”

This Western world view has led mankind to the extremely flawed idea that humanity can control Nature. Indeed, the Bible gives humanity the mandate to have “dominion” over Nature.  However, the truth is that Nature is our home upon which we humans completely depend in order for our life to be sustained. Furthermore, systems science has taught us that any human impact upon Nature’s ecosystems (like human population growth, fossil fuels, agricultural emissions, and human over-consumption of our Earth’s resources) can lead to unexpected and far reaching results that cannot easily be changed. Add to all of this the human-created fallacy that our intelligence and our future technology will save us. These impacts caused by human beings are what have created the climate crisis — a crisis that may not be reversible.

The late Rachel Carson offered a powerful, message as a precursor to a major paradigm shift in Western science that took place around 1960.  Her message is also the answer to curing our current environmental ills about climate change by changing mankind’s incorrect and misguided current view of control over Nature to one of interdependence of all living and nonliving things in Nature. 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.”

Because ecological relationships are a fundamental necessity for all forms of life, the idea of conserving Nature’s relationships becomes a moral issue. Philosopher’s like Kathleen Dean Moore look upon climate change as a moral issue. Morals are ethical guidelines that help us decide what pathway to follow when action is required. Dr. Moore says:

“Many times, the American people have created dramatic and rapid social change — the War of Independence, the emancipation of the slaves, the mobilization during World War II, the civil rights movement. In every case, while economic and political considerations were undeniably at play, the change itself was powered by widespread public affirmation of great moral principles of justice and human decency. Action on the greatest of our challenges — climate change — will require the same moral resolve. The essential questions are not what is politically feasible or what is profitable, but what is right and what is deeply, devastatingly wrong.”

Moral guidelines for climate change action are particularly important at this juncture in human history because we adults have left our young people with the huge problem of resolving the climate crisis. The current trends of political expediency and economic growth will destroy the human habitat. Our youth must create a new moral foundation based on interdependence between and within all creatures on our Earth including ourselves. It is the responsibility of environmental educators to help our youth develop a consciousness about Nature that embraces the rules by which Nature operates rather than the invented rules of previous human generations where control and predictability were prevalent erroneous concepts. Eco-philosopher Joanna Macy suggests that a “great turning is required where our consciousness must shift from valuing individualism to humbly embracing interdependence on a vast scale”.  As a minimum, this great turning must contain these moral guidelines :

  • We live in a world of nested systems. All living things are created by and are dependent upon their interdependent relationships to others and to the environment,
  • We humans are completely embedded within a more-than-human world where many other forms of Nature such as animals, plants, and landforms are at least as necessary as humans for the ongoing flourishing of the biosphere. We are most human when we are moved in a humble relationship to these things around us.
  • Nature does not need humans. But, humans need Nature. Humility is an essential quality for adapting to change. Philosopher Mary Midgley suggests that acknowledging our own littleness does not easily fit our current image of human status. While humility is not a fashionable virtue, this sense of our own inadequacy is surely something our ancestors must always have had because it is an essential element in adapting to change. If we ask how those hard-pressed ancestors managed to survive so many disasters, so many shocking changes of place, food, and climate, we can see that they certainly did not do it by having superior scientific knowledge. Nor did they have the encouragement of believing that they were exceptionally powerful. They survived by using qualities of humility that actually lie at the root of science itself—open-mindedness, versatility, realism, the willingness to learn.
  • With all of this, and above all,  we need to have a passion for Nature. We need to be in love with Nature. Love implies a close interrelationship and interdependence. Like our predecessors, we need to look upon Earth as our mother. We must be grateful to her for our very being. With this kind of love, we become capable of caring for her and for all of her creatures, including our fellow human beings. As a result, climate change issues disappear.

 

In addition to basic ethics, Kathleen Dean Moore suggests some ideas for human adaption to a changing Earth:

“As global warming forces a fundamental re-imagining of how we live on Earth, we have the chance to choose adaptive strategies that create justice and honor life, and refuse those that protect and perpetuate injustice and destruction. To that end, I offer five essentially moral questions that I believe we should ask of every plan for adaptation to climate change:

1. Does the adaptation effort take urgency or resources away from the immediate, overriding moral necessity of stopping the fossil fuel-based destabilization of the climate?

2. Does the adaptation plan impose unjustified costs on future generations?

3. Does the adaptation effort privilege the wealthy and powerful, at unjustified cost to the poor and dispossessed?

4. Does the adaptation effort protect and honor species other than human?

5. What does Earth ask of us?”

You are strongly encouraged to add your own moral guidelines in the comments space below.

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.

 

Download Your Free Book Here

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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

A Systems Thinking Reference List

The Systems View of Life Is A Unifying Vision

Author Jeremy Lent suggests that we must understand Nature as a networked system: 
 

“The systems perspective offers important insights into the nature of reality that upend many assumptions forming the basis of the predominant worldview. It tells us that the relationship between things is frequently more important than the things themselves. It emphasizes that everything in the natural world is dynamic rather than static, and that biological phenomena can’t be predicted with precision: instead of fixed laws, we therefore need to search for the underlying organizing principles of nature.”

 
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. But in other cases, the decimation of one species may have destroy a working ecosystem.
 
All of this invites the ethical side of systems thinking.
 
This essay is a list of references about systems thinking that I have found useful in my teaching and my research.
 

Systems Literacy

 
Peter Senge: “Systems Thinking for a Better World” – Aalto Systems Forum 2014
 

Systems Thinking with Dr David Orr, Oberlin College
 
David Orr – 2011 Systems Symposium
 
David Orr – Seminar at Schumaker College
 
PBS Systems literacy
 
Systems Literacy Network Web Site
 
The Systems Thinker – A huge systems thinking web site reference list 
 

Systems Education

 
David Orr – Ecoliteracy and Ecological Education
 
Systems Thinking in Biology Education
 
How To Practice Systems Thinking In The Classroom
 
Linda Booth Sweeney —  Learning to Connect the Dots: Developing Children’s Systems Literacy
 
Linda Booth Sweeney’s systems resource room
 

Interbeing and Interdependence

 
Creating An Interdependence Map
 
Interbeing – No Man Is An Island
 

Ethics

 
A wonderful collection of talks (videos) by Kathleen Dean Moore.There is great wisdom in her world views. Her wisdom suggests solutions to humanity’s growing crisis on Earth.
 
If your time is limited, I recommend this one by Kathleen Dean Moore: on climate change, moral integrity, needed four virtues, moral integrity, wholeness and hope.
 

Climate Change

 

 

 

It has been said that climate change is no longer a technical problem because we already know how to overcome the effects of climate change. Climate change is a moral problem where much of humanity is not motivated to action despite the strong potential for a disaster for humanity. Dr. Kathleen Dean Moore, is a philosopher, writer, and environmental activist from Oregon State University. Her early creative nonfiction writing focused on the cultural and spiritual values of the natural world. Her more recent work is about the moral issues of climate change. 

 

Here are two videos where Kathleen Moore discusses how and why climate change is a moral issue.

 

 

 

In this passionate call to action, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg explains why, in August 2018, she walked out of school and organized a strike to raise awareness of global warming, protesting outside the Swedish parliament and grabbing the world’s attention. “The climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions,” Thunberg says. “All we have to do is to wake up and change.”

 

 

 

 

 

 
Using Systems Thinking To Understand Climate Change
 

For Your Further Consideration

 

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

 

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

 

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An Environmental Educator’s Check List

This essay offers environmental educators and other stewards of Nature nine items that I consider vitally important when I am working with my young students. I urge you to offer your comments in the space provided at the end of this essay. 

Prepare Our Youth For  A Changing World

Many things in our world will be changing soon. Our world will become an uncertain and very different place for all life on Earth including our young people, their children, and their grandchildren. Here are four examples of what is predicted by many scientists and sociologists :

  • By the year 2050, the effects of climate change will start redefining how we live. Locally, climate change will cause rising sea levels that will flood many coastal regions worldwide.
  • We humans are over-consuming the resources of the Earth at a rate that will not sustain human life after the year 2100. As a result of these and other human-caused changes in our planet, the ethics of a civilized society will be gradually displaced by the ethics of a hostile society that is competing for limited resources.
  • The human population could increase from the present 7.6 billion people to an environmentally unsustainable population of 10 billion people by 2100 but perhaps as soon as 2050. With a population of 10 billion people, there will be no more land available to grow food.
  • Economic inequality among humans will continue to increase. Only a small percentage of the human population will own a huge percentage of the economic wealth. This trend will promote the uncontrolled expansion of multi-national corporations which will result in a negative impact on our environment.

These and other environmental and social crises are caused by human adults, mostly older than age 25, who have a very inaccurate worldview of how Nature operates.  Most of our adult population does not believe that we humans are totally dependent on Nature for our life’s energy. They erroneously believe that we humans have dominion over Nature and are able to control and predict Nature and its environment. Our disconnected elders erroneously believe that our technology will save us if anything bad, like climate change, takes place. The result is the growing crisis that we humans are now facing.  Indeed, the destructive worldviews of our elders are leaving a horrible mess for our young people. No matter what career students choose, these young people will be forced to plan their lives based on political instability, economic instability, and environmental instability in the years to come.

In the face of this crisis, what can educators do to offer our youth a chance for a productive, sustainable, and happy life? The answer lies with educators because educators have the capability to empower our youth with a worldview that is compatible with the way Nature and society do operate.

The fact is that all of Nature, including we humans and human society, is interconnected and interdependent. Life on Earth depends upon the flow of life’s energy from our sun to our Earth. This energy is then transported and transformed from one organism to another organism. These processes are both ecological and social. They form networks of interconnection and interdependence. The greatest gift that we can offer our youth is the power of a worldview that sees everything on Earth, including Nature and our human society, as interconnected and interdependent. With this way of thinking, called “systems thinking”, our young people and future generations will be empowered to understand and resolve current environmental and social crises.

About 50% of all humans on earth are 25 years old or younger. For the most part, these young people have fresh minds that have not been corrupted by the disconnected worldviews of their elders. The relationship between our educators and our youth is a critical connection if our teachers are able to offer their students an education that stresses systems thinking in every subject including biology/ecology, history, social studies, and mathematics. In doing so, our youth can acquire the wisdom of interdependence and systems thinking. This form of education stresses that human society, like Nature’s ecosystems in which we humans live, are intimately interconnected where the connections between each part in a system are more important than the parts. In other words, we must first understand how the connections are made between things before we can understand the whole system.  Education of our youth must be based on the premise that each person find identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace.

However, there is one characteristic of modern education that may stand in the way of achieving a meaningful holistic education. In order to understand our world, young people and adults must be able to see life as a collection of systems and elements that interact and are dependent upon one another. But in school, many of us are taught subjects in a compartmentalized way, with history in one class, natural science in another, social studies in yet another, and so on. In other words, we are taught to understand Nature and society in parts. We are not taught how these parts are connected. We are not taught how and why things in life are interdependent. Yet most real-world issues, like climate change, terrorism, and water use, are understood by connecting disciplines such as politics, geography, history, and biology. The current compartmentalized approach in most schools reinforces the incorrect idea in the minds of our students that knowledge is made up of many unrelated parts that are not connected. This lack of systems thinking provides little opportunity for students to see recurring patterns of behavior across subjects and disciplines in their real world.  Our students need to find identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to humanitarian values such as compassion and peace. Indeed, with an understanding of living systems like ecosystems, climate change, and other ecological challenges, we humans will be able to assess what we are doing wrong that causes bad things to happen.

In summary, a system of education that teaches how all of life interrelates and is interdependent should be a fundamental part of 21st-century education and anyone’s lifelong learning plan. It will be this revised system of education that will give our youth a worldview of connection and interdependence in our moral philosophy, our society, and in Nature. It will be this revised worldview that replaces the destructive worldview of our elders. It will be this worldview of interdependence that equips our youth to solve our problems of over-population, unsustainable consumption, climate change, and other issues.

Educators are a critically important influence in making this change. What follows is a preliminary list of important things that our educators must do to begin the process.

A Curriculum Must Be An Interrelated Collection Of Subjects

If educators are going to emphasize relationships and interdependence in the hearts and minds of our students, these concepts must be reflected in the curriculum. We must stop teaching such subjects as mathematics, history, or literature as separate subjects. In addition to teaching facts in each class, we must now emphasize how the material relates to the other subjects we are teaching. For example, a history class must now explore the interrelationships between human actions and historical events including what might have happened if the human actions were different. A math class should now emphasize applied mathematics where the student uses new math/statistical skills and network diagrams to calculate events and relationships in Nature. A religion or ethics class should conduct seminars with case studies about how religion and ethics can be applied to social systems. All of these classes should now employ an inquiry-based (Socratic) seminar approach (described in the next section) where students participate in seminar discussions rather than listen to lectures.

Use Inquiry-Based Learning (Socratic Learning)

Imagine, for a moment, teaching and learning that looks like this:

  • Picture a seminar-style setting where the teacher is a facilitator and the students consider assigned questions and do their own research to provide answers in front of their peers and their teachers.
  • Young people who continually question why things look and function the way that they do.
  • Their natural sense of wonder is at the center of their learning and drives the direction that learning will take.
  • Knowledge is dynamic, collectively constructed, and provided by many sources instead of being contained in a single textbook or classroom lectures.
  • Information is investigated, analyzed, and negotiated between students and their teachers.

This is process is called “Inquiry-Based Learning”.

Education is much more than force-feeding information to students and measuring how well they regurgitate that information back to the teacher on command or through testing. With the facilitator asking questions instead of lecturing, the student is required to think and probe. This process of critical thinking embeds knowledge and creates curiosity and a yearning to learn more. Critical thinking encourages the exploration, adventure, and discovery that we see in outdoor education.

When I was a student, one of my truly great life experiences was two years working on a Master’s degree at Harvard University.  In this program, we used no text books. There were no lectures. Classes were totally inquiry-based where the professor played the role of facilitator by continually posing difficult questions. We students would prepare for a class by doing research and gathering facts to support conclusions. That preparation was vital to building a knowledge base for a given class session. We learned the value of good research. We gained the ability to think about and defend our ideas. Most importantly, we built critical thinking skills as we defended our ideas in front of our peers and our professor. This Harvard experience became the model for my role as an educator. I was amazed to find that the inquiry-based approach to learning worked well with my university graduate students as well as my primary (5th grade and up), secondary, and high school students.

Benefits of Inquiry-Based learning include:

  • Honoring students’ questions increases their motivation, leading to higher levels of engagement, improved understanding, and a love of learning.
  • Inquiry stimulates students’ curiosity, leading to progressively deeper questions and habitual critical thinking.
  • Inquiry builds lifelong learning skills that become greater than simply learning facts, listening to lectures, and taking tests.

Eliminate Exams. Use project-based learning.  Grade each student based on preparation and participation

What is needed are tools to help the student explore relationships in our world. Exams do not accomplish this. However, a student project provides the opportunity for the student to learn about relationships, exercise that knowledge in a practical way, and to be evaluated.

While both projects and exams will get a student to memorize new information, the skill that is needed is applying the information.  Project-based learning will teach the material, and then guide the student to seek out information, then apply the new knowledge to explore real world examples, and encourage working in groups to reinforce the new knowledge.

When we eliminate the compartmentalized idea of exams in the curriculum, how are we able to evaluate student progress? Inquiry-Based learning provides an automatic tool for evaluating progress. That tool is to grade students at each class or seminar session according to their participation and preparation. When the facilitator calls upon a student to explore a certain issue in class, it will become quickly apparent whether the student has prepared for the class. In addition, active and voluntary, meaningful participation should be rewarded with a higher grade.

I start each school year by giving each student a grade of 10.0. This grade can be reduced if a student fails to prepare or participate. In addition, a student can receive a restored good grade if the student demonstrates improvement in participation and preparation.

Hospitality – People Learn From People/Things That They Love

The metaphor of hospitality is an extremely important part of education that is often forgotten by educators. Henri J.M. Nouwen was a Catholic priest, author, professor, and pastor who wrote over 40 books about the spiritual life. One of his books, “Reaching Out” uses the metaphor of hospitality – a gracious host serving the needs of a guest – to describe many different human relationships. One of the relationships that Fr. Nouwen examines is the relationship between a teacher and a student. He does so in a very profound and effective way that becomes a guide for any teacher who cares to challenge his/her students to reach new horizons.

In his book, Fr Nouwen said:

“One of the greatest tragedies of modern education is that millions of young people spend many hours, days, weeks, and years listening to lectures, reading books and writing papers with a constantly increasing resistance. Students perceive their education as a long endless row of obligations to be fulfilled. They are considered as poor needy, ignorant beggars who come to a man or woman of knowledge. Teachers are perceived more as demanding bosses than as guides in the search for knowledge and understanding.

While the ability to think critically and the opportunity to develop one’s talents are far more career-defining than any subject matter that is taught, educators continue to define themselves by offering memorized and regurgitated knowledge. The teacher is trained to offer solutions without the existence of a question. Consequently, critical thinking skills are never developed and talents are never encouraged because the student rarely gets the opportunity to argue a question.

Hospitality is the creation of a friendly empty space by a host where a guest can fearlessly reach out to fellow human beings and invite them to explore new relationships. Hospitality is much like gardening. We cannot force a plant to grow but we can take away the weeds and stones which prevent its development.

Hospitality can take place on many levels and in many kinds of relationships. One such relationship is that between a teacher and a student where the student is treated like a guest who honors the host’s house with his/her presence and will not leave it without having made a unique contribution.

The good host (the teacher) is the one who not only helps guests (the students) see that they have hidden talents, but who also is able to help them develop and deepen those talents so they can continue their way on their own with new self-confidence. “

This journey of discovery can be accomplished through inquiry-based  (Socratic) learning that is described earlier in this document.

Add seminars in systems thinking to the curriculum

All of life in our world, from a molecule to the entire earth can be defined as systems of relationships that permit energy or social interaction to flow from one organism to another organism. The study of these relationships has matured over the years into a discipline known as “systems science” or “systems thinking”.

Systems thinking is the study of the causes and effects of relationships. Systems thinking allows us to visually portray what is happening as we study a particular system. It allows us to see and analyze our world in simpler terms. Systems thinking focuses on the characteristics of the connections in a system. Systems thinking helps us define what is going on in our world.

On the Internet, there is a huge wealth of information about systems thinking and the teaching of systems thinking. Many lesson plans are offered. Here, I provide an essay that I wrote  about systems thinking so that you can get more detail.

In my view, an excellent way to introduce systems thinking to students is through biology or ecology classes because these subjects introduce interconnected and interdependent energy flow in Nature. In my program, systems thinking is introduced to primary (4th grade and older)  secondary, and high school students. Both in-class inquiry-based learning and field trip experiences are offered with the primary goal being to develop a love relationship between a student and the student’s world.

Integrate Ethics Development In All Classes

One must love something in order to protect it. If we are to succeed in helping our students live in the world that they face, the faculty must cause a love relationship between each student and the world as it is today. This love must include a growing passion to protect what we love.

Ethics is a set of guidelines that we must exercise regularly if we are to protect our world. Ethical guidelines lead us as we apply what we have learned in biology, mathematics, history and all of the other subjects that are taught in school. A suggested list of ethical principles might be:

  • Everything in Nature, including we humans, is interdependent.
  • The actions of one can affect the whole.
  • Nature is always changing.
  • Conservation is a necessary part of human morality.
  • Compassion means that we humans cannot assign a greater value to one person or species over another.

Ethics development should take place in every class. Ethics development should not be compartmentalized into a single subject or class. Through inquiry-based learning, teachers should regularly ask their students to discuss “what if” scenarios that relate to the ethics of the subject matter being taught.

Empower Our Students To Change The World

An important part of the education that schools and teachers offer students is in guiding them to act upon that which they have learned. In particular, with the climate crisis, educators need to help students act in a way that might help them cope with what they might be facing after they graduate.

Here is my suggestion:

Students should be working with student groups in their local community, their state, their nation and around the world to bring awareness and to protest to the adults who have allowed the climate crisis to happen. One possibility might be to join with students from other schools to work with their government to lower our carbon footprint. As successes become a reality, our students will then have the opportunity to set an example for the world.

There are a number of youth groups forming worldwide. Students would have the opportunity to communicate with these groups by way of the Internet, seek their advice and learn from their experience, and join forces with these groups.

Below are three Internet references that talk about the power of youth to act and to resolve current environmental issues:

The Climate Kids Are All Right

Youth around the world are rising to the climate challenge — and they don’t care what the trolls have to say about it.

Youth Activists Are Building A Climate Justice Movement

Youth are building new models for social movements. Young people are no longer sitting back and waiting for older generations to make the change we know needs to happen.

Greta Thunberg gives a speech at UN Climate Change COP24 Conference

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist, has become very famous and has developed a strong following all over the world. You can Google her name to see many of her activities concerning climate change and the power of young people. Your students can communicate with her.

For Your Further Consideration

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. The key to an active group of ecoliterate humans 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 – particularly our youth. 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 for the future, 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 include the acts of passing a worldview of a Mother Earth on to Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons From The Web of Life”. The book offers education methodology and content for creating Nature’s “Living Earth Story” within our youth and all stewards of Nature.. To download this book, follow the instructions on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book. 
  • 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  Below

 

The Architecture of Biodiversity

 

What Does Biodiversity Mean?

Biodiversity is an interesting word so commonly used that it is beginning to sound like “motherhood” and “hot apple pie”. Said another way, many people, especially students, learn the word and are told that it is good. They are told that we must preserve biodiversity. So they agree with it. But, without further help from an environmental educator, they are not sure how or why. They are told that:

  • Biological diversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic systems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.
  • Biodiversity is important because It boosts the ecosystem’s productivity where each species, no matter how small, has an important role to play.
  • Biodiversity within an ecosystem helps create resilience from the effects of external environmental events that interact with an ecosystem
  • Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms

The word “biodiversity” is not an action word. It is a descriptive word. Biodiversity is a desirable state of being  in Nature. The word does not tell us how that state of being is achieved even though we are told that we must achieve some form of biodiversity. This is a paradox both in the field of environmental education and in scientific research.

Harper and Hawksworth, in their 1994 paper, Biodiversity: measurement and estimation,  address this paradox:

Within six years the word ‘biodiversity’ has exploded into the vocabulary of the popular press, governmental and intergovernmental reports, scientific papers and meetings. In the scientific literature the growth in usage of the term has been dramatic. It seems reasonable to ask of a word that is so widely used, just what is it supposed to mean. Is it just a new linguistic bottle for the wine of old ideas – a changed fashion label designed to attract funding – or does it refer to new and fundamental questions in science? Most especially, it seems sensible to ask whether ‘biodiversity’ is a property that can be measured and if so what is the most appropriate form that such measurement should take. We may wish to ask such questions as: ‘Does biodiversity confer stability?’; ‘Does biodiversity confer productivity?’; ‘Does biodiversity reflect sustainability?’; ‘Does biodiversity reflect the evolutionary time elapsed without major disturbance?’; alternatively, ‘Does biodiversity reflect the frequency of major disturbance in ecological or evolutionary history?’* We might reasonably expect to have some measure of this thing that we call biodiversity that we might use in a graphic plot or statistical analysis designed to answer these questions. In particular, we may wish to ask whether one species (or population, or community) is more or less diverse than another. Until we have decided how to measure ‘biodiversity’ we cannot begin to mobilize serious science into answering these questions and others posed in the research.”

The authors go on to raise the following questions:

Is biodiversity just the number of species in an area? If biodiversity is more than the number of species how can it be measured? Are all species of equal weight? Should biodiversity measures include genetic variance? Do some species contribute more than others to the biodiversity of an area? Are there useful indicators of areas where biodiversity is high? And can the extent of biodiversity in taxonomic groups be estimated by extrapolation? ‘How do we best measure organismal biodiversity? … The word ‘biodiversity’ may mean quite different things to different people….it is easier to identify the issues than to provide scientifically sound and testable answers

If one is willing to accept the findings of this scientific paper, it appears that the scientific community, conservation workers, and environmental educators, while regularly using the word “biodiversity”, are unable to provide concrete ways to define and then measure biodiversity. This severely limits the usefulness of the idea of biodiversity in developing conservation programs. It also causes environmental educators to ask “How do I teach biodiversity?”

This is not to say that the idea of biodiversity is not useful. After all, in many cases we can physically observe biodiversity in an ecosystem and we can sometimes count the number of plants and animals in an ecosystem. But the questions of “how” and “why” elude us without more tools.

This problem has concerned Kevin McCann, a researcher at the University of Guelph. In his 2017 paper, Protecting Biostructure,  he states (parapharased) that:

“Biodiversity researchers ( and environmental educators) have focused on biological diversity at the cost of ignoring the networks of interactions between organisms that characterize ecosystems…. That biodiversity is in sharp decline is no longer in question, but scientists still heatedly debate the functional consequences of this loss. Attempts to tackle this problem have mainly involved trying to establish a direct link between species diversity and the sustainability of ecosystems. But in taking this approach, scientists have concentrated on diversity at the expense of ignoring the biological structure that maintains ecosystems….But it is the network of interactions between organisms, not diversity, that breathes life into ecosystems. To understand the implications of biodiversity loss, it is crucial to monitor changes in the underlying biostructure. “

The point is that when we address issues of biodiversity, we really should be focusing on the underlying basis for biodiversity which is the structure of energy flow networks that unites all of the flora and fauna in a given ecosystem. In other words, we need to be talking about energy flow networks that  describe the energy flow relationships between all organisms in an ecosystem. We need to employ the scientific principles of “systems thinking” to describe biodiversity.

The transportation and transformation of energy is a fundamental and essential process of life that is carried out by every plant and animal on Earth. Life cannot exist without this process. The process can only take place when there are energy flow conduits between life forms. This network of energy flow interconnections is called an ecosystem. Fortunately, the application of systems science to the quantification of ecosystems sits in the wings waiting for our attention. With systems science, we have an avenue for quantifying biodiversity and identifying the diversity of a given ecosystem in more specific terms. Systems literacy and systems consciousness is a skill that people who do conservation work must acquire because it is the flow of life’s energy that must be protected. A consciousness for the energy flow networks of Nature’s living systems should be a priority goal of every environmental education program. Systems science has a history of quantifying networks. Systems literacy is something that environmental educators need to be teaching and demonstrating to their students.

In this essay, I offer some detail about the usefulness of applying systems thinking to the definition of biodiversity.

All organisms connect and interact with other organisms and the environment within an ecosystem that Kevin McCann calls “biostructure”, This biostructure is what contains life’s energy flow networks and defines the biodiversity of an ecosystem. It follows that, to understand the biodiversity of an ecosystem, one must first understand its biostructure. Generally, one portrays biostructure by portraying energy flow through the construction of food web diagrams.which give a picture of how the ecosystem operates. With this energy flow diagram, one can hypothesize the effect of adding or removing a component in the ecosystem under study. These diagrams are also wonderful teaching tools for environmental educators.

As an example, I provide a food web diagram for an estuary that borders the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

Food webs, such as the one displayed here, are methods for visualizing biodiversity. The food web is an important conceptual tool for illustrating the feeding relationships among species within a community. They reveal species interactions and community structure. They provide an understanding of the dynamics of energy transfer in an ecosystem. They show how plants and animals are connected in many ways to help them all survive. They provide a framework to link community structure with the flow of energy and material. In doing so, food web diagrams help reconcile biodiversity with ecosystem function. Food web studies explore how energy flow (feeding) relationships influence the stability of communities. Food web studies help predict how species losses propagate through communities as well as influence community stability and the functioning of an ecosystem.

By visualizing biodiversity and merging biodiversity research with food-web theory, new and important avenues for ecological research emerge with implications for biodiversity conservation. In particular, these studies help define the negative impact of eliminating highly connected species within an ecological community.

You don’t have to be a scientist to define what would happen to the estuary depicted by this food web diagram if certain organisms were removed from the lagoon. The most obvious is the mangrove trees. These trees, that bring energy to the lagoon from the sun are so vital to the flow of the lagoon’s energy that their removal would have a highly significant negative impact on the flow of energy. Take another look at the food web diagram and mentally remove the mangroves from the picture. Which species would be affected? Yet, it was once suggested that this lagoon be developed into a marina.

Another tool for portraying biodiversity of complex ecosystems is a network diagram which is a schematic diagram portraying how things are connected as well as the dynamic relationships. Nature’s complex systems contain special networks that facilitate the flow of energy. These networks have a physical architecture and associated organizing principles that control and connect the components within the system. Understanding these systems can come from looking at both the routes for energy flow (called network architecture) and the dynamic relationships within these networks. The objective  of the diagram is to  understand the organization of energy flow relationships between species which are a system’s connecting points (called nodes) in a complex system. A network diagram, shown below, is a schematic diagram of how nodes are connected. Nodes are usually represented by heavy dots, circles, or iconic representations of natural objects.

The most successful of Nature’s network patterns have a high connectivity within their systems. They are said to be “complex networks” because they have a structure that doesn’t exist in simple network models. Instead, their structure is somewhere in between totally regular and totally random. It is important for the naturalist to understand the energy flow networks within an ecosystem under study and how certain phenomena or human interference might adversely affect those energy transportation and transformation pathways.

The complex network model portrays much of the complexity in Nature’s energy transportation and transformation networks. Scientists have identified two key characteristics of Nature’s complex networks. They are:

• Complex networks are self-organizing. Energy networks are dynamically formed by the continuous addition of new nodes.

• New nodes are very specific about which existing nodes they will attach to. They are said to employ “preferential attachment”.

To illustrate the characteristics of a complex network model, we examine an airline route map which is probably familiar to many airline travelers.

Here, there are very few highly clustered hub cities, where flights connect with many small towns. Atlanta and Salt Lake City are hubs on this map. But, there are many small town airports whose airline routes are connected to only one or very few hubs. The airline hubs contribute heavily to the overall connectivity and resilience of the network. Small town airports contribute very little to the network’s connectivity. If a snowstorm hits the region of a small airport, there would be little or no effect on travel within the route network. But, if the Atlanta or Salt Lake City hubs have severe weather, the entire airline travel network will be adversely affected.

The architecture of the airline route network map is an example of a complex network much like the complex energy distribution networks we find in Nature. The contribution of the highly clustered hubs to the overall connectivity of the network is very high. The connectivity contribution of the nodes with fewer links is much lower.

The airline route map is a complex network that is similar to a system in Nature that is biodiverse. A “hub” in an airline route system is the same as a keystone species that has energy flow connections to numerous other species. If one species that is remotely connected to the energy flow of a keystone species goes extinct or is severely disturbed by humans, the keystone species is probably not affected. But, if the keystone species is killed off, many species will also die because they depend upon energy flow from the keystone species. This, by definition, is a measure of resilience.

The Antarctic food web shown above is a good portrayal of the idea of biodiversity and resilience. Krill is a keystone species in the Antarctic and the Southern Atlantic Ocean because it is a primary food (energy) source for many creatures. The krill population is considered a “hub” in the diagram of the ecosystem shown here. If the krill were to die off, there would be a major crash in the ecosystem because the food for many species would no longer be available. But if only the penguins were to die off, the ecosystem would probably survive.

Systems Thinking Is A Important Skill That Is Necessary To Understand Biodiversity

This discussion suggests that what is needed to understand biodiversity and resilience is a systems network consciousness. Systems thinking must be taught in schools wherever and whenever  biodiversity is taught.   This includes the practice of identifying energy flow conduits and the construction and analysis of visualizations much like those that have just been discussed.

There is a wonderful video entitled “Biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecological networks produced by the California Academy of Sciences. The video describes much of what has been discussed in this essay. In a special note to environmental educators, I strongly suggest that this video be part of any instruction about biodiversity because it emphasizes the need for the development of a network consciousness when one studies biodiversity.

For Your Further Consideration

This essay is part of a series of essays that present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.  The emphasis is on two key ideas:

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

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy on Earth, 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 receivingregular Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

Ecoliteracy : The Poverty of Human Insight

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 non-negotiable 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”.

Indeed, Western humanity sees itself as separate from Nature and having dominion and control over Nature. We do not accept the idea that we are interdependent creatures who need Nature to survive. We have an arrogance about us that may destroy our race.

I live in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico where we have a community known as San Carlos. In addition to the Mexican community, San Carlos has a permanent expatriate Anglo community and a sizable group of Anglo visitors during the winter season. Our community is adjacent to a beautiful estuary, called “Estero Soldado”, which empties into the Sea of Cortez. Estuaries in the Sea of Cortez are called “nurseries of the sea” because they provide both nutrients and new life to the adjoining sea.In addition, this estuary hosts a group of migrating birds who spend the winter feeding and giving birth. The estuary is a federally protected and internationally recognized bird sanctuary. There are signs in English and Spanish prohibiting the presence of dogs. Yet, the Anglo community walks their dogs in the protected area every day. Since, due to budgetary constraints,  there is little enforcement.  The Anglo community views the presence of their dogs in the protected zone as an “entitled right”.despite environmental education programs that emphasize the ecological risk created by dogs. As a result, some birds have been injured by dogs biting at their legs. Since the birds view all dogs as predators, the bird’s feeding processes are interrupted which affects the storage of energy that is needed for their migration to the north. There are many local areas where one can walk a dog without affecting wildlife. Yet, this group of Anglos chooses to ignore the rules and walk in an environmentally protected area.

The Estero Soldado story is a classic example of mankind’s disconnection from Nature. It is a sad story of the unwillingness of many people to accept scientific findings because it results in an inconvenience. These attitudes are an ingrained part of the adult human Western worldview about Nature. Fortunately, this worldview is not generally embraced by people 25 years old and younger.

An online article entitled “Systems Biology: A systems approach to understanding the complexity of biology talks about how modern science has embraced the same idea of separation from Nature that is portrayed in the example noted above.

Scientists base their research on a principle hypothesis that complex systems can be understood by seeking out its most fundamental constituents. In other words, the complex problems are resolved by dividing them into smaller, simpler, and more tractable units. Hence, physicists search for the basic particles and forces; chemists seek to understand chemical bonds, and biologists explore DNA sequences and molecular structures focusing on a particular gene or a protein in their efforts to understand organisms. This approach of “divide and conquer” is termed “reductionism.

A biologist’s reductionist approach is a science of convenience and complacency. Complacency, however, does not imply correctness. This is best illustrated by John Godfrey Saxe’s poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant”. The poem is based on a story originating from India. The story is about six blind men who want to know what an elephant is like. Each blind man describes the Elephant to something different (side=wall; tusk=spear; trunk=snake; knee=tree; ear=fan; tail=rope,) because each one assumes the whole elephant is like the part he touched (Wikisource). In a similar way, the Reductionist biologists investigate individual molecules to understand the complex life processes. Further, they extrapolate dogmas from their observations and claim that is the true account of the complex process.

In the last 50 years, the reductionist approach of analyzing individual constituents of biological systems has been successful in revealing the chemical basis of numerous living processes. It has had a profound influence and still impacts on the biological and biomedical research of today. However, due to this level of success, the holders of the reductionist point of view assume that the reductionism, by itself, is sufficient and they can be likened to a parent generation who want their children to walk the same path of success as they did. The reductionist view fails to notice that their approach does not account for the big picture of complexity and robustness of life and similarly the parents seem to be unaware that the world has changed and nothing is the same.

The reductionist thinking of biology has encompassed clinical medicine to an extent where the clinicians focus on individual parts to explain the whole. They focus on the disease rather than the state of the person contributing to the disease. They emphasize homeostasis and restore it back by correcting the deviations. They look for one risk factor-one disease because of their inability to work with multiple factors and comprehend their collective influences. They treat each disease individually assuming minimal effects on the treatment of other or additive response of the individual treatment.”

Our education system is a classic example of reductionism inappropriately applied where systems thinking is far more appropriate.

In school, many of us were taught subjects in a compartmentalized way, with history in one class, natural science in another, social studies in yet another, and so on. Yet most real-world issues, like climate change, terrorism, and water use, cross disciplines such as politics, geography, history, and biology. This approach reinforces the notion that knowledge is made up of many unrelated parts and provides little opportunity for students to see recurring patterns of behavior across subjects and disciplines. Young people and adults must be able to see such important issues as systems, elements interacting, and affecting one another.

To understand the nature of life, an organism cannot be treated similarly to machines, a mere collection of components. An organism is a complex system with dynamic relationships and interactions between the components leading to a behavioral system. In order to have a better understanding of the system-wide behavior, three factors need to be considered: (1) context – the inclusion of all components involved in a process. (2) time- to consider the changing characteristics of each component; and (3) space- to account for the topographic relationships between and among components.

As Linda Booth Sweeney explains , “the systems approach with its focus on interactions and interrelationships of the components explains the behavior of the system.”

A new systems literacy by members of the human race is essential if we are to take our place in the Earth’s community and assure our survival. This need for systems literacy is discussed further in a companion blog post.

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

For Your Further Consideration

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

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

Please Comment 

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

Ecoliteracy : Interdependence Is Life

Interdependence is a defining feature of all life

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

We humans need to embrace a systems view of life

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

Life is a collection of living systems

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

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

For Your Further Consideration

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

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

Please Comment 

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

Nature’s Relationships: We Are Imperiled From Within

“It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants. — David W. Orr.”

 

A conflict rages between two groups of conservation scientists.  That conflict centers on how we humans must conserve our Earth. As far as I know, no one within these two groups disagrees that humanity is facing a terrible crisis that could affect our very existence. That crisis centers on our inability, as humans, to identify, take seriously, and act upon  a set of environmental problems that have been created by ourselves. These problems include climate change, the voracious unsustainable consumption of limited natural resources, and running out of agricultural space to grow more food because of human population growth. Both groups believe that their point of view can lead to a solution to the crisis. But, in reality, these groups are “putting their cart before their horse” and failing to address the real problem.

 

Both of these groups argue and theorize about what to do while forgetting about a fundamental driving force that continues untouched.That driving force is humanity’s negative worldview about Nature. worldview is a collection of commonly shared values. Pointless and unsustainable consumption is an example of one destructive worldview held by modern humans.

 

Human strategies for conserving our Earth will fail unless we first deal with mankind’s destructive worldviews about Nature.

 

These worldviews include the idea that man is separate from Nature, that man can control Nature,  and that man can redesign Nature to fit infinite human desires. We fail to understand that as a living system, Planet Earth is not going to be under our control. 

 

Jeremy Lent suggests that humans need a culture shift that  redirects humanity’s path to a flourishing  future. He says:
“Each culture tends to construct its worldview on a root metaphor of the universe, which in turn defines people’s relationship to nature and each other, ultimately leading to a set of values that directs how that culture behaves. It’s those culturally derived values that have shaped history.

 

The Scientific Revolution was built on metaphors such as ‘nature as a machine’ and ‘conquering nature’ which have shaped the values and behaviors of the modern age.., many of which we accept implicitly even though they are based on flawed assumptions.
Continued growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is seen as the basis for economic and political success, even though GDP measures nothing more than the rate at which we are transforming Nature and human activities into the monetary economy, no matter how beneficial or harmful it may be. The world’s financial markets are based on the belief that  the global economy will keep growing indefinitely even though that is impossible on a finite planet. ‘No problem,’ we are told, since technology will always find a new solution.
These underlying flaws in our global operating system stem ultimately from a sense of human disconnection. In our minds and bodies, reason and emotion are seen as split parts within ourselves. Human beings are understood as individuals separated from each other, and humanity as a whole is perceived as separate from Nature. At the deepest level, it is this sense of separation that is inexorably leading human civilization to potential disaster.”
This crisis of human separation from Nature is being totally ignored by conservation scientists. As a result, their individual strategies will fail because they lack the support of modern humanity. Indeed, we must first resolve the crisis of human separation from Nature.  But, how do we accomplish this much needed unity?  According to David W. Orr:

 

It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants. …. It is not education, but education of a certain kind, that will save us….we routinely produce economists who lack the most rudimentary understanding of ecology or thermodynamics. This explains why our national accounting systems do not subtract the costs of biotic impoverishment, soil erosion, poisons in our air and water, and resource depletion from gross national product. We add the price of the sale of a bushel of wheat to the gross national product while forgetting to subtract the three bushel of topsoil lost to grow it.”

 

The answer lies with our youth and environmental educators. The greatest gift that we can give our own children and our world’s youth is a safe and sustainable Earth. This is not the case right now because we adults of the “me generation” are incapable of modifying our worldview that is focused on economics and  consumerism. We are using using up the finite resources of our planet. We are leaving nothing for future human generations.The hopes of  a sustainable future for humans on earth may cease to exist by 2050 — only some 30 years away. The power to change this trend must come from our youth and from the environmental educators who guide our youth. 

Many people and groups are beginning to realize that building a new environmental awareness can happen only in our children and in our youth. The main message that we must present to our youth is:
  • Nothing on this earth exists solely on its own. Everything is dependent upon everything else.
Understanding this fundamental idea of interdependence in Nature is a crucial first step to effectively conserving our planet. Through the legacy created by hands-on, place-based education and guided by environmental educators, we can help our youth develop a consciousness for the interdependency of all forms of Nature. Legacy building means empowering our youth to become environmental stewards. And through this new consciousness, corrections can be made to the current Western worldview. Only when we are able to revise the current unsustainable  adult worldview about Nature are we ready to think about the possible value of conservation methods such as those proposed by conservation scientists.

This essay is the first in a series about Nature’s interdependence and the need for systems thinking if we are to understand Nature’s relationships.

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.