Your Interdependence With Nature Is Your Legacy

 

We humans have the power to define the future of humanity and our Planet.

As I write this blog post, I am sitting in a beautiful forest in the Chiricahua Mountains in Southeastern Arizona. The sun is beaming through the trees. Its light gives energy and life to everything around me, including myself. The gentle wind that rustles through the pine and oak forest reminds me of the gift of invisible energy that our sun has provided to our Earth. Everything around me is interconnected and is transformed. The air that I breathe is a vital part of my link to the forest. Branches and leaves reach into the atmosphere to receive and transform the sun’s energy. I am connected to these leaves and branches because these leaves absorb the carbon emissions from my breath. These leaves then emit oxygen into the atmosphere to be used by much of life. 

I am reminded of the wonderful video by Dr. Suzanne Simard  who describes the fascinating subterranean energy and communication networks that bind the trees, the plants, the soil, and the creatures together into a cohesive ecosystem.  These networks transport and transform Nature’s energy to all flora and fauna.

Since its inception, the theme of this blog  is “everything is connected“. This phrase can be interpreted in many ways depending on the worldview of the speaker or listener. “Everything is connected” is a spiritual statement. It also describes the aesthetic beauty of many things in Nature. This phrase recently achieved the status of scientific fact when the field of systems biology defined Nature’s connections in scientific terms. It is safe to say that connectivity and interdependence in Nature is the very core of our existence.

I am not simply an observer of all that is going on. I am an integral part of it. My life energy completely depends upon those things in Nature that I see and feel. I am dependent upon the energy bearing nutrition that plants and animals offer to me.

being connected Streams-9905As human beings, this highly complex network of interrelationships is beyond our full comprehension. The field of systems biology tells us that these complex networks are beyond our control. Modern science has proven that the deliberate or casual breaking of any connection in Nature can produce unexpected and unpredictable results.

Wildlife “managers” give lip service to the idea of an interconnected Nature and then try to “control” Nature. Our arrogance begs to differ with the facts of Nature despite having been proven wrong many times. We read about the effects of the killing of top predators such as wolves, the deforestation of the lungs of our earth, the culling of wildlife in an attempt to control Nature, and our own uncontrolled population growth.

Despite our inability to control Nature, The one thing that we humans do know is that the highly complex interconnections in Nature that we call “biodiversity” are central to ecosystem functioning and, hence, the existence and maintenance of all life on earth.

We are unable to comprehend all of the relationships between living things within an ecosystem. Yet, the conservation of biodiversity is very important because biodiversity is connectivity. This is why it is so very important to identify, to understand, and to protect any connection in Nature before we attempt to change or remove anything within an ecosystem. If we can’t identify, understand, and protect, we should do nothing.

Let’s examine the connections in a simple plant or tree leaf which you have found and are holding in interconnected leafyour hand. The leaf is obviously a physical pattern as we can see from its shape. But, we quickly see a second pattern – the veins in the leaf. These veins are shaped in a tree-like structure that we call a fractal pattern. These veins serve a purpose. They transport energy to the plant and transport waste gases to the leaf for release into the atmosphere. The leaf is also constructed from plant tissue called cells. These cells are directly or indirectly connected to the veins. They contain chloroplasts which convert the sun’s energy into useful energy for the plant. These cells also bring in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.

So, through the processes of observation and understanding, we’ve been able to identify two kinds of connections within this leaf. We can continue by asking ourselves the same kind of questions about how the leaf is connected to the trees, how the tree is interconnected with the entire forest and with Earth. As we think things out carefully, we will ultimately see that the leaves, the trees, and the forests are the lungs of the earth that both supply life-giving oxygen and food energy to all creatures including ourselves. Our analysis results in describing a complex web of life in Nature.

We can then take our leaf and ask how each of we humans is connected to this leaf, how we are each connected to the forest and how each of us is connected to Nature and dependent on Nature.

There is a beautiful paragraph from a book called “The Still Voice” that I’d like to share with you.

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

The word “consciousness” is not just a philosophical, spiritual, “hippie”, or “tree hugger” idea. A consciousness about connections in Nature is essential to the survival of humanity on this earth. Consciousness means being aware of something. Consciousness means the humility of stewardship instead of the prevalent arrogant attitude of many humans (and government agencies) who wish to control and manage Nature.

A consciousness about interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself the question of how one creature, plant, or natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. In developing this kind of consciousness, you are automatically becoming a steward of your environment by becoming aware. You are then prepared to take your own appropriate action.

The secret to resolving our environmental crises is to develop a consciousness for connections in Nature within the ranks of young people. Many environmental organizations now realize that sustainability education is a powerful means to correct the ecological mistakes of the past. Instead of offering the common doomsday approach, environmental education uses stewardship to build a basic consciousness toward connections in Nature that will serve as a foundation for sound ecological decisions in the future.

being connected Pope FrancisPope Francis says that “the world is a gift we have freely received and must share with others. The world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.” The environment “ is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.

His question is: What kind of world do we want to leave to those who will come after us, to children who are now growing up?”

Pope Francis is suggesting that, like the sun or a forest, you are an important connection in Nature who is passing your knowledge, your value system, and your energy to future generations.

The words of Pope Francis describe the challenge to all environmental educators and young people. You are an important connection in Nature because you have the power to affect the future of Nature’s environment by sharing yourself with the current generation of humans and helping this generation influence future generations.

You have the power to define the future of humanity and our Planet.

To each of you I say that this is your challenge and your legacy.

 

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

 

 

Nothing In Nature Exists In Isolation

Nothing exists solely on its own. From the most minuscule atomic particle to the grandest galaxies, the past, the present, and the future of every animate and inanimate being in our universe, including human beings, is defined by its interconnection to everything else. If any of these links are broken, Nature at any scale will change or simply not operate.

 

 

We human beings are interdependent organisms with a legacy that is represented in both living organisms and non-living natural objects.  Like the rocks, mountains, lions, and ants, we are all made from the same basic atomic materials. We are equal partners with everything else in the Universe. The  health of both our interconnected bodies and our interconnected surroundings is essential to our existence.

The single greatest obstacle to ecological sustainability on Earth is the outdated world view that places humanity external and superior to Nature. Nonetheless, everything in Nature is interconnected. This idea has been very familiar in both the spiritual and aesthetic worldviews for a very long time. More recently, interconnectivity and interdependence in Nature have become scientific fact. We now know that life on Earth would cease to function if interconnectivity did not exist. We now know that humanity is not external or superior to Nature. Indeed, humanity is an integral part of Nature just like every other creature on this planet.

EsteroSoldado-9738Patterns In Nature conjure up images like the spiral horns in sheep, ocean waves, sand dunes, and other regular or irregular shapes for us to enjoy, to meditate upon, and to study. However, Nature’s patterns also represent something much deeper. All of Nature’s patterns are physical manifestations of interconnected, interdependent networks of conduits that transform and transport our sun’s energy to all living and non-living things on our planet. Without these networks of energy flow, all objects and creatures on Earth would cease to exist because they could not receive the energy necessary to function.

Each energy network interacts with energy conduits in larger and smaller networks. A human being, a tree, a mountain stream, a maturing ecosystem, and Earth’s evolving biosphere are all interconnected and dynamic networks that direct energy flow in Nature. Each segment in a network performs similar fundamental functions of energy usage, energy transformation, and energy transportation despite the different physical structures that contains these networks. Said another way, a river and a human being don’t look alike. Yet, their energy transportation networks do look alike and perform similar functions.

One such energy containing pattern that is familiar to all of us is the tree. The twigs in a tree support leavesClip_3-6 that capture the sun’s energy. The green chlorophyll in a leaf’s energy transforms and stores that captured energy. Some of that energy is transported to the rest of the tree through twigs, branches, and trunks. Look carefully at a tree’s structure. Twigs are connected to branches in similar ways. Branches are connected to truncks in much the same way. In a very approximate way, each branch or twig in the tree’s structural hierarchy is a magnified or reduced version of its immediate neighbor. Clip_4-31Mathematicians call this phenomenon “self similarity” because each structure  looks similar to other structures in the tree. The structures are called “fractals”. It has been shown that many different energy transportation and transformation systems in Nature are fractal. A tree’s root system captures nutrients and other energy forms from the Earth. Roots look much like fractal collections of twigs and branches. These roots intertwine with root systems from other trees as well as various subterranean ecosystems. Our lungs and our blood transportation systems are fractal structures that fractalcirculationinterrelate with each other. Our systems of nerves are fractal. River systems are fractal. Indeed, much of the energy in Nature is transported and transformed by networks that have the same fractal structure that we see in trees.

Looking at these interconnected “self similar” systems of energy flow gives us a fractal riverssense that some kind of unity exists. Modern systems science has searched for more solid proof of unity in our interconnected world. As it turns out, all self similar fractal patterns can be mathematically described using a single characteristic number. If this characteristic number were the same value for a variety of different energy transportation and transformation flow networks, that would be very strong evidence that a unity among these systems exist. As it turns out, many energy networks can be described by a characteristic number whose value is about 1/4. A group of scientists at the Santa Fe Institute have been working on this issue for a number of years. They examined a famous relationship where the mass of many very different animals, from mice, to humans, to elephants were compared with their metabolism. Metabolism is a measure of energy utilization. It is astounding to find that the relationship between body mass and metabolism varies by a multiple of about 1/4 for all animals whether it be a mouse, a human, or an elephant. This phenomenon has been named “Quarter Power Scaling”.  It has been proposed that the reason behind this phenomenon is that this characteristic number does describe the underlying fractal energy transportation structures for life on Earth. For those of you who wish to dig deeper, you can read any number of papers written by the group. Simply Google “Geoffrey West”, and/or “Quarter Power Scaling”. Or you might care to read the scientific paper entitled ” The Predominance of Quarter-power Scaling in Biology”  or  “The Origin of the 3/4 Scaling Law.

What all of this suggests is is that there is growing scientific proof that there is a unity among all living creatures in how they process the currency of Nature – energy. Science is now beginning to show what the spiritual and aesthetic worldviews have known for a long time.  Nature does have a common thread. We are all connected! And, we are now able to describe more precisely the patterns of these interconnections that are so vital to life in Earth.

The idea of connectivity and interdependence in Nature is no longer just the creative whim of an artist or the scribblings from an ancient Chinese text. Modern science is now quantifying Nature’s connectivity and defining the importance of why Her interdependencies exist. The seemingly ubiquitous phenomenon of Quarter Power Scaling amplifies the notion that connections in Nature are very common and vitally important. By conserving Nature’s energy flow we preserve life on this planet.

It is now fair to say that conservation can be defined as the identification and protection of connections in Nature. Any act by you to preserve a connection in Nature is an act of conservation. These acts might be as simple as picking up garbage. You would also be conserving Nature’s connections by doing what you can to stop the air pollution that diminishes the energy flow from our sun. You could be helping stop the deforestation that slows down the flow of oxygen from a tree’s leaves into the atmosphere. Or you might be helping stop the killing of a key predator like the wolf who preserves a healthy diversity of both plants and animals in ecosystems. You could also evangelize the need to protect connections in nature by becoming a volunteer or a professional environmental education teacher.  Your acts of conserving Nature’s interconnectivity help build a future and a legacy for all of Nature, including mankind.

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  Here

 

The Pattern In Nature That Connects

 

“What is the pattern that connects? What pattern connects the crab to the lobster and the orchid to the primrose and all four of them to me? And me to you? What is the pattern that connects all living creatures? “

                                                     – Gregory Bateson – “Mind and Nature”

Pause for a moment and consider Gregory Bateson’s famous question quoted above. As you ponder the question. consider how the atoms created by stars are the same atoms in our bodies as well as in rocks. Consider that all living matter has a common genetic heritage. Observe a flock of birds and consider how and why they fly together in much the same way as fish schools, animal herds and human crowds.

Bateson was a philosopher who made his point by posing a question. Like many philosophers, Bateson rarely tendered an answer. But, his question characterized a major change in how people were beginning to think about Nature’s patterns.  A little history will add some context.

In 1953, Watson and Crick discovered that genetic material, DNA, was shaped like a double helix. This finding gave a structural explanation to Darwin’s theory of evolution and prompted the field of Molecular Biology to search for precise relationships between genes within an organism and its physical characteristics. It seemed that everyone was studying fruit flies as they attempted to precisely relate a given gene to a structural characteristic such as eye color or wing shape. This was “reductionist” thinking in its heyday where it was believed that the understanding of an entire object could be gained simply by analyzing its component parts.

By the 1960’s, a few scientists were quietly creating a revolution of their own. They were seeing that non-living and living groups, such as ecosystems, behaved in ways that reflected much more than the behaviors of the individual components within a group. A system is a group of interacting parts that function as a whole. Scientists began to realize that a system can show unexpected features and behavior that cannot be gleaned  from the features and behaviors of the individual parts. Ant colonies, beehives, and ecosystems were shown to be super-organisms whose behavior could not be deduced from the behavior of individual ants, bees, or the members of a system. Theories about the characteristics of systematic behavior were emerging.

By 1980, systems research scientists coined words like “complex systems” and “chaos”. With the advent of the PC computer, systems were being simulated in laboratories and a paradigm shift in thinking from reductionism to a systematic world view was taking place. Reductionism was not considered bad. It is simply incomplete. One needs to view an entire system as well as its parts.

One of these early pioneers in systems thinking was Gregory Bateson (1904 – 1980). Like Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner  , and others, Bateson  was a modern thinker who was convinced that everything in this world is connected in some way. According to Stephen Nachmanovitch, one of Bateson’s students:

“..Bateson was part of a long tradition of thinkers who have had a preference for seeing patterns which connect rather than things and forces…William Bateson (his father) passed on to Gregory the notion that…the most important question is not ‘what pieces is the system made of?’ .. but how do the pieces connect to each other? “.

Bateson saw reductionism as an incomplete way to describe Nature. He embraced a systematic point of view where the behavior of any system is far more than the sum of the behaviors of its parts.

Bateson does offer some context for his famous question. He was considered an expert in cybernetics and saw the “pattern that connects” as information flow between entities. In a written celebration of Bateson’s life :

“Bateson’s underlying message is that the only way we can hope to understand the world around us is by adopting a truly holistic attitude toward it. He saw clearly,  perhaps sooner than anyone else, the dangerously unsustainable nature of industrial civilisation and identified the root cause for this disastrous course we had taken. He understood that humanity is an integral part of a wider network of systems…he does present us with a revolutionary way of looking at the problems.”

The legacy of Bateson’s question is very much alive today – some 40 years later. The systems revolution in science is growing by leaps and bounds. It has been shown that there is not a direct link between an organism’s individual genes and its physical characteristics. Instead, genes are now viewed as storehouses of information. That information is acted upon by other mechanisms (including the environment outside of the organism).  And, reductionism has taken on the role of working with systematic thinkers to produce new findings.

For those of you who like to ponder, or those of you who are guiding a group of young people in a sustainability education program , ask and consider Bateson’s question “What is the pattern that connects?”. You might take a look at this crab claw and ask how you (and your students) are connected to it.  In raising the question, you will be joining many of Bateson’s students in pondering connections in Nature and why they exist.

Bateson’s question directs you or your group to think about Nature and its interrelationships in basic terms. Terms that can easily be adapted to any sustainability education program at any level.

I’d love to hear from those of you who are doing any form of environmental education. What do you think?

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  Here

 

Lessons From Lichens

“By stripping off the bonds of individuality the lichens have produced a world-conquering union. They cover nearly ten percent of the land’s surface, especially in the treeless far north, where winter reigns for most of the year. Even in a tree-filled mandala in Tennessee, every rock, trunk, and twig is crusted with lichen”. David Haskell in his book “The Forest Unseen” 

Lichens are both very beautiful patterns in Nature as well as living demonstrations of the importance of connections in Nature. A lichen is composed of at least two different but connected organisms – a fungus and a colony of microscopic green algae or cyanobacteria (“blue-green” algae). The fungus supplies a root structure, the lichen shape, and reproductive structures. The fungus is also able to find, soak up, and retain water and nutrients. The algae or bacterial cells provide carbohydrates to the combined organism through photosynthesis – something a fungus cannot do. In effect, the fungus is fed by the algal partner. The algae partners in lichens cannot live outside their host, nor can the host live without its algae. It is their connection to each other and to their environment that permits each composite organism to survive and to thrive.

Lichens are true environmental survivors. During droughts, they dry and become dormant. But once water is available, they rapidly absorb water and spring back to life.  According to Wikipedia, lichens are found “.. on leaves and branches in rain forests and temperate woodland, on bare rock, including walls and gravestones, and on exposed soil surfaces. Lichens must compete with plants for access to sunlight, but because of their small size and slow growth, they thrive in places where higher plants have difficulty growing. Lichens are often the first to settle in places lacking soil, constituting the sole vegetation in some extreme environments such as those found at high mountain elevations and at high latitudes. Some survive in the tough conditions of deserts, and others on frozen soil of the Arctic regions.”

Lichens are enormously successful worldwide because of the essential interconnections between their composite organisms. The lichen is a fascinating example of how connections in Nature result in an organism that is greater than the sum of its parts. This synergy is key to how Nature functions.

David Haskell notes that

“We are lichens on a grand scale.”

The organs in your body are dependent on each other. Your cells connect to sources of energy through your blood stream. Your blood stream interconnects with your lungs and stomach to receive oxygen and food from your environment while expelling waste products. Indeed, you are a highly complex interconnected super-organism.  The same idea of interconnectivity that permits a lichen to exist also is important to your very existence and survival.

Both the lichen and our human bodies are indeed parts of Nature because we are physically connected with Nature in many ways. Our very survival requires that we recognize, respect, and preserve that interconnectivity in all of Nature. 

You may view more of my lichen images here.

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  Here