Polluting Nature With Our Noise

When most people think about conservation in Nature, they think of ways to conserve and protect physical ecosystems like forests and the animal life that lives in these ecosystems. However, there are other systems in Nature that are not visible but are vitally important. One such system is sounds in Nature. It is a system that needs preservation just like all other ecosystems.

 

Natural soundscapes are the voices of entire ecological systems.

 

Every living organism—from the tiniest to the largest—and every site on earth has its own acoustic signature. Human noises – deliberate or not deliberate, well meaning or malicious – interrupt or break vital communication links between creatures in Nature. These sonic links in Nature serve procreation, mating, warning, defense and other behaviors that are essential to wildlife for daily living and and for survival. 

 

Quiet, according to soundscape ecologist Gordon Hempton is not the absence of sound, it is the “absence of noise”. Quiet, in this sense,  is a vital natural resource. Species, other than human, depend on absence of human noise so that their vital communication links can function.

 

Writer Clive Thompson, reporting for Wired Magazine said that “We worry about the carbon emissions from SUVs and airplanes, maybe we should be equally concerned about the racket they cause.”

 

The conservation of quiet is just as important as other  forms of ecological conservation .  For the most part, this important idea is not being promoted to the public by respected conservation organizations or by our government agencies whose job it is to conserve public lands and the creatures that live there.  There is a general lack of sonic consciousness – a consciousness of the importance of quiet in Nature.

 

The US National Park Service (NPS) now has an extensive series of web pages on the effects of human noise in Nature.  While the web site is factual, the NPS does not walk their talk. They fail to set an example in their many campgrounds. They establish “quiet hours” at the campgrounds from 10 PM to 6 AM. But Nature does behave according to the NPS campground quiet hours. The big villain is RV generators. The rules permit RV generators to run from 6 AM to 10PM – some 16 hours a day. Nature’s communication system and other soundscapes run all day. NPS rules are meant only for the convenience of campers and not Nature’s creatures. Their soundscape web site reflects a total ignorance of the science of nature’s soundscape ecology. With some exceptions, you will find the same set of rules at the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and US Forest Service (USFS) campgrounds. These three governmental services are supposed to be protecting Nature, but exhibit ignorance when it comes to protecting Nature from human noise. Happily, however, there seems to be a growing sonic consciousness on the part of BLM with the offering of RV hookups at some of their campgrounds. At these campgrounds, RV generators are prohibited and a fee is charged for an RV hookup.

 

The insensitivity of the US government toward sonic conservation extends to campground hosts at these campgrounds. When RV generator noise gets unbearable at a campground, the hosts typical reply to someone who complains is that all campers must be considerate toward each other. The host then endeavors to reach a compromise. There is a total lack of sensitivity regarding the needs of the ecosystem. Only the needs of the humans is addressed in any discussions. The campground host seldom has a clue about  the impact of human sound on campground ecosystem.

 

When we visit Nature, we need to go quietly and leave things as we find them. We need to enter Nature with reverence — leaving behind our noisy dogs, ATVs, cell phones, and RV generators. We need to avoid chatter with our friends – instead listening to Nature’s chorus as it speaks.

 

Here are some references regarding soundscape ecology:

 

A Symphony of Sounds Worth Preserving

https://www.nps.gov/subjects/sound/index.htm

How Human Noise Ruins Parks for Animals and People

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-human-noise-ruins-parks-animals-people-180964095/

Animals to Humans: Be quiet

ensia.com/features/noise-pollution-harm/

RV Generator Noise Breaks Connections in Nature

http://www.freshvista.com/2013/rv-generator-noise-breaks-connections-in-nature/

Does ambient noise affect growth and begging call structure in nesting birds?

https://academic.oup.com/beheco/article/19/3/502/184815/Does-ambient-noise-affect-growth-and-begging-call

Noise pollution alters ecological services: enhanced pollination and disrupted seed dispersal

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/early/2012/03/15/rspb.2012.0230

A Not So Silent Spring – Conservation Magazine

 www.conservationmagazine.org/2009/01/not-so-silent-spring/

A Not So Silent Spring – Atlantic Magazine

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/05/a-not-so-silent-spring/525417/

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.

 

Are Environmental Conservation Strategies Misguided?

 

Some of the essays that are presented in this blog site communicate a deep concern over the negative impact of human beings on Nature. The information sources that support these essays predict the destruction of the human race within the next 50 years unless humanity is able to make a significant change in the relationship between human beings and Nature. This point of view is presented by many experts and is well documented in great detail in the book by Lester R. Brown  entitled “Plan B – Mobilizing To Save Civilization”. You can download a free copy of this book.

 

The warnings that are outlined in the “Plan B” book seem to go unheeded by much of the human population. This includes people who are professional and volunteer stewards of Nature who profess allegiance to one of two conservation strategies. This essay presents a brief summary of these two conservation strategies and suggests that neither strategy will conserve and preserve a Nature that will support the lives of all creatures on Earth, including mankind.

 

Current conservation strategies do not protect Nature from humanity’s misguided worldview

 

In 1985,the well respected Michael Soule published a paper entitled What Is Conservation Biology? Soule proposed a conservation strategy that supports designated human-free and/or highly regulated tracts of land to protect Nature from mankind. This strategy is sometimes called “Fortress Conservation” because it is designed to protect Nature from humans.

 

Soule’s conservation strategy sets humans apart from Nature and fails to recognize that humanity has already negatively impacted almost every square inch of our Earth.

 

In 2012, Peter Kareiva, then chief scientist of the Nature Conservancy, and Michelle Marvier published a second conservation strategy in the Bioscience journal entitled What Is Conservation Science?. This paper suggests that humans are part of Nature’s ecosystems and their economic and social interests must be considered when conservation strategies are formulated. The authors summarize their new views on conservation science by stating:

 

We offer a revised set of core principles in light of the changed global context for conservation. Most notably, scientists now widely acknowledge that we live in a world dominated by humans, and therefore, the scientific underpinnings of conservation must include … paying better attention to human rights and equity. We argue that in conservation, strategies must be promoted that simultaneously maximize the preservation of biodiversity and the improvement of human well-being.”

 

These papers by Soule and Kareiva set the stage for an intense dialog within conservation science that is documented in a paper entitled “The Battle For The Soul Of Conservation Science. According to the the “Plan B” book mentioned earlier in this blog essay, neither strategy seems to be stemming the tide of human beings that are acting as if there are infinite resources available on a finite planet. The promoters of these two conservation strategies don’t focus on a solution that would prevent the grim disaster that might be facing human beings in two generations. Indeed, Peter Kareiva, in subsequent essays,  offers questionable assurances that the “Plan B” scenario will never happen because human ingenuity and technology will prevail.

 

Political will always seems to be a part of scientific endeavors. New policies of the Trump administration threaten to interfere with the conservation of Nature in the United States. Trump’s secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, is wielding destructive power and influence over conservation strategies in the United States. Zinke is highly unqualified for the job of protecting and preserving Nature. He is a politician and a former Navy seal with apparently no training or experience in biology or ecology. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, describes Zinke as a “fraud”.

 

The Guardian reports that Zinke:

“…meticulously crafts his image as wilderness-loving western cowboy and sportsman. But nine months into his job at the Department of the Interior, the federal agency that oversees most public lands and natural resources, … demonstrate strong allegiance to the oil, gas and other extractive industries seeking access to some of America’s most spectacular protected landscapes. [Zinke] has reversed an Obama-era ban on coal mining on public lands, and proposed changes that would shrink the borders of four national monuments set aside by previous presidents. His agency has taken early steps to open the door to oil exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – one of the most symbolic and fiercely protected sites of the American environmental movement. He’s announced plans to repeal an important fracking safety rule, and loosened safety guidelines for underwater drilling, both major shifts away from Obama-era environmental protection regulations.”

 

In both Kareiva’s and Soule’s conservation strategies, as well as the questionable political efforts of Ryan Zinke, no mention is made of the fundamental fact that Nature is an interdependent, living system of energy flow conduits that transport and transform the necessary energy of life to all living organisms on Earth. By embracing the idea that our planet is a living system and by devising conservation strategies that focus on the identification, the protection and the preservation of the networks contained within these living systems, the concerns of Kareiva, Soule, and other ecologists would be addressed.

 

Another scientist, Kevin McCann, in a 2007 article in Nature, said:

 

Scientists have focused on diversity at the expense of ignoring the biological structures that maintain ecosystems – networks of interactions between organisms that characterize ecosystems. The network of interactions between organisms breathes life into ecosystems. Perhaps the main reason why researchers and Nature’s stewards within government organizations have focused on diversity is that it is easier to count species than to document their interactions. Empirically mapping biological networks is no small chore.

 

The goal of any conservation program should be to protect biostructure by defining an ecosystem’s energy flow network structure and conserving the energy flow within that network. For anyone who is charged with the responsibility of conserving an ecosystem, the primary  question one must ask when faced with a request that might impact Nature is: How does current activity or a proposed action affect the energy flow of the ecosystem under question?

 

McCann’s description of energy flow networks contains the elements of a conservation strategy that holds great promise for reducing or eliminating the crisis that humanity will be facing in the near future. All conservation strategies need to center around the identification, the understanding, and the preservation of energy flow conduits in Nature. I know of no disagreement with the fact that Nature’s energy flow defines life. By preserving Nature’s energy flow, we preserve life and the home in which all earthly creatures live – including ourselves. This approach to conservation also transforms the human race into a sustainable species that accepts its interdependence with all other creatures on Earth. The  key question then becomes: “are interdependent energy flow networks being conserved in the proposals offered by Soule and Kareiva?” Neither author answers that question? But, by protecting Nature’s energy flow, the land tracts defined in Soule’s arguments will be protected.

 

An effective conservation strategy must protect Nature’s energy flow

 

I submit that a powerful conservation strategy should be the definition, the understanding, the protection, and the preservation of Nature’s energy flow conduits – Her connections. By focusing on this conservation strategy, Nature’s life blood, her flow of energy, is maintained. When we protect these energy flow networks, we let Nature do her own thing. We humans no longer need to vainly try to control Nature or make predictions that are mere guesses at best. This strategy requires the human race to view Nature as a living system upon which we humans depend for our own lives. We need to acquire a systems worldview – a “connectivity consciousness”.

 

Human survival will depend upon a renaissance of ecological ethics and literacy driven by environmental educators, and backed by good science. This renaissance must instill in humans, both youth and adults, a consciousness of interdependence with Nature. These interdependent processes are manifested from the biological structures which are the energy flow networks described by McCann. Interdependency in Nature is a scientific fact. Interdependency is the core process in Nature that defines life. It is this core process that needs to be conserved by humans.

 

A “connectivity consciousness” is a sense that can be developed within we humans. This consciousness addresses how and why everything is interrelated. This consciousness also provides an internal map of how to act when addressing ecological issues. With a “connectivity consciousness”, humans are equipped to ask the right questions when approaching any ecological issue. Those questions are:

 

• What are the conduits of energy flow that exist in the ecosystem under study and how can these energy conduits be preserved?

• What might happen if changes are made to these conduits either by mankind or by Nature?

 

To most people, I would assume that all of this sounds really great. But, a huge problem stands in the way of these good things. That huge problem is human beings. How do we convince the human race that it does not control Nature? We cannot rely on Peter Kareiva’s speculation that technology will somehow control Nature for us. Gus Speth, a US advisor on climate change, said:

 

I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

 

Scientist Joe Hutto, in his book “The Light In High Places”, offers his perspective:

 

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

 

In addition to ignoring an exponential and unsustainable human population growth, humans have come to believe that they can predict and control Nature. With this belief comes the false idea that humans are not dependent upon anything. The quotes by Gus Speth and Joe Hutto suggest that conservation is a people problem and not some technical issue to solve.

 

An effective conservation strategy is environmental education

 

I submit that one of the most important conservation strategies that we humans can implement is environmental education programs that build a human consciousness for Nature and Her interdependent character. The emphasis is on the fact that our earth is an interdependent living system that consists of networks of energy flow conduits.

 

Unfortunately, this systems worldview of life fails to resonate with many current conservation practices which assume that human input will achieve a predictable result. Conservation managers set goals and reference points for killing so many wolves or deer or other creatures based on the assumption that equilibrium or a steady state will be achieved. This idea is blatantly false because Nature’s equilibria and steady states are constantly changing. The assumption that mankind can control Nature is also false. Indeed, Nature’s living systems are dynamic. They are always moving. Equilibrium shifts as Nature’s feedback systems adjust. Human predictability is impossible. Consequently, current conservation practices will ultimately be ineffective.

Our future on this planet depends on our moral and ethical values

The future of this life-supporting planet of ours is dependent on our moral and ethical values and a deeper understanding of the intricate relationship we have with the natural world. Moral and ethical values are guidelines that originate from scientific fact. The fundamental facts of life are that:

 

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

 

All of this means that we need to teach our children, our students, and our corporate and political leaders, these  fundamental facts of life. Together plants,animals, and microorganisms regulate the entire biosphere and maintain the conditions conducive to life. Sustainability, then, is not an individual property but a property of an entire web of relationships. The way to sustain life is to build and nurture community.

The goal of environmental education is to restore the relationship between humans and Nature.

 

There are two keys to successful environmental education programs. The first is an emphasis on hands-on, place-based experiential teaching methods where students get out of the classroom go into Nature. George Schaller, recognized by many as the world’s preeminent field biologist, says:

 

I console myself that natural history remains the cornerstone of conservation, that it must be learned on the ground, asking questions, observing, listening, taking notes, getting the boots muddy.”

 

The second key to successful environmental education is an emphasis on legacy where students become the influencers and teachers of their parents and the next generation.  The Nature Conservancy (TNC) sponsors an urban environmental education program called LEAF. TNC reports that:

 

“Many former LEAF interns have continued with their passion for conservation, and are now working in the field as national park rangers, environmental engineers, environmental science teachers, and in careers helping to connect future generations to nature at some of the world’s largest environmental organizations. Over 30 percent of surveyed LEAF alumni go on to pursue environmental careers, and over 50 percent volunteer for environmental causes in their communities.”

 

It is both a consciousness for an interconnected and interdependent Nature and the building of a legacy that needs to be emphasized by our environmental educators. Environmental education programs must teach more than scientific fact about objects. These programs must also focus on on both relationships within the human race and relationships in Nature.

 

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

 

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.

 

Environmental Educators Are Very Important People

 

Environmental educators are some of the most important people on our planet. I can take it a step further by confidently stating that environmental educators may be that one group of humans who can save humanity from total destruction in the next 50 years. [ http://www.earth-policy.org/images/uploads/book_files/pb4book.pdf   ] Those of you who are environmental educators  have the power to advance your legacy with a sense of caring for our Earth. Equally important, you have the power to instill a human consciousness of deep interdependency with Nature. Equipped with this new ecological consciousness and  literacy, the generations that follow you will have the power to change the grim projections of human destruction of the very home in which they live and depend upon.

 

There is a recurring theme about the conservation and preservation of Nature that emerges in an increasing number of essays on this blog site. The theme is that:

The most important conservation strategy that we can implement is environmental education programs that build both a human consciousness and an ecological literacy for Nature and Her interdependent character.

An increasing and unsustainable human population is consuming the earth’s resources as if there was an infinite supply of these finite resources. Within the next 50 years, the human race is in danger of destruction. There is an intense dialog within conservation science that is documented in a paper entitled “The Battle For The Soul Of Conservation Science. The two conservation strategies that are featured in this paper do not address the potential crisis that may be coming in 50 years. One strategy assumes that human technology will overcome the issue of overconsumption. Little is said about man’s disconnection from Nature as the possible cause for a crisis.

 

Gus Speth, a US advisor on climate change, said:

 

I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

 

Scientist Joe Hutto, in his book “The Light In High Places”, offers his perspective:

 

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

 

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

 

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

The underlying force of all life on Earth is the flow of energy.

The key word in this quote is “connections“. The underlying force of all life on Earth is the flow of energy. Without energy flow, life would not exist. Life’s energy flows through highly interconnected networks of chemical and physical conduits such as our body’s digestive system, our network of veins and arteries, and Earth’s ecosystems. This energy flow network, that starts with our sun, consists of highly complex energy flow networks throughout Nature at all levels. If pieces of this interdependent network are altered or destroyed, life as we know it would be changed or destroyed. The preservation this network is not addressed in modern conservation strategies. Yet, it is easily taught in the classroom and demonstrated during hands-on, place-based student visits with Nature.

 

Peter Karieva, formerly Chief Scientist with The Nature Conservancy, has said:

 

For better or worse, people’s attitudes and actions help shape the world that will be left behind for future generations…The “public is becoming increasingly indifferent to environmental issues… The fate of Nature and people are deeply intertwined…. Conservation will be a durable success only if people support conservation goals.”

 

As Gus Speth points out, scientists ( including those mentioned in the papers I just noted) do not know how to solve the problem of human indifference toward a sustainable Nature, but environmental educators do know the solution. It is my contention that environmental educators are very important people in modern times because they have the power to build a consciousness in young people (and maybe their parents) that may prevent the crises that face humanity in 50 years.

 

The challenges that face environmental educators are:

  • Human indifference to Nature.
  • A lack of ecological literacy concerning subjects such as Nature’s energy networks.
  • The absence of a legacy – connections to parents and to future generations.

 

Perhaps human indifference is the biggest challenge that faces environmental educators. I submit that the building of  ecological ethics in our youth is an important first step. An “environmental ethic” is a guideline for behavior that is based on scientific fact. An environmental ethic is the connection of facts that are first learned in the classroom, then practiced through outdoor experiential activities, and ultimately coupled with with human behavior in the world of Nature. It is a powerful thing for a young person to be able to sit with family and talk about how everything in Nature, including we humans, is interdependent. It is equally powerful when that young student supports his or her statement with facts about the vital energy flow between all things in Nature. In doing so, both human indifference and ecological literacy are addressed. It is up to the environmental educator to bring each student to that point where this scenario is possible. This activity might include inviting the parents on those field trips where hands-on, place-based education takes place. In my view, human indifference can be addressed by presenting material to both students and parents that emphasize three ideas:

 

  1. Teach the idea of earth as a “living system“.
  2. Emphasize the characteristics of an energy flow network.
  3. Offer simple methods for analyzing and preserving the energy flow connections in an ecosystem.

 

Legacy is something that is transmitted to a future or earlier generation.

 

As environmental educators, your students (and perhaps their parents) are your legacy where you pass on fact, ethic, and a consciousness for humanity’s interdependence with Nature. A great example of legacy in environmental education is the LEAF program offered by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). LEAF is an environmental education program offered to students who live in cities. TNC states:

 

Many former LEAF interns have continued with their passion for conservation, and are now working in the field as national park rangers, environmental engineers, environmental science teachers, and in careers helping to connect future generations to nature at some of the world’s largest environmental organizations. Over 30 percent of surveyed LEAF alumni go on to pursue environmental careers, and over 50 percent volunteer for environmental causes in their communities.”

 

In the formal sense, I am neither a trained teacher  nor an environmental educator. I am a biologist who has taught at the university level. I have mentored groups of high school students as they developed their own environmental education programs for introducing Nature to primary students. I have rubbed shoulders with numerous educators as I have written my blog essays and books. This all speaks well for osmosis because it is through my contacts with environmental educators that my ideas about conservation and environmental education have grown. To all of you who have guided me, I am deeply grateful !!!

 

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.

 

Effective Conservation Practices – An Action Plan

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

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

The six blog essays are:

  
Conservation is a state of harmony between man and land. By land is meant all things on, over, or in the earth. Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend: you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators; you cannot conserve the waters and waste the ranges; you cannot build the forest and mine the farm. The land is one organism.”  — Aldo Leopold

 

In this essay, we bring together ideas of the previous essays in order to talk about how we humans can prevent the ecological disaster that is facing us by about 2050. The theme of this essay is:

 

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

This is an action essay. The action word is “conservation”.  Protecting nature’s energy flow is a powerful conservation strategy and an essential human activity because the flow of energy is the basis for all life on earth. Protecting Nature’s energy flow protects life. As we have learned in previous essays, energy flow within Nature requires relationships between living beings of all kinds. By protecting these relationships, we protect energy flow.
Conservation activities include:

 

  • Direct or indirect physical action.
  • Environmental education that builds a consciousness for Nature.
  • Political action and activities. The goal of politics is not to get everyonr to think alike, but instead to get people who think differently to act alike.

 

In her “Essay on the Biological Sciences” written in 1958, Rachel Carson 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.

 

In “Silent Spring“, Rachel Carson went on to offer many examples of man’s ignorance in tampering with Nature’s energy flow conduits. Here is her description of how the U.S.Forest Service used chemical weed killers to kill sagebrush and substitute grasslands for cattle ranchers that leased government land. In her own words, she described this folly by our government:

 

“The earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and the earth, between plants and other plants, between plants and mammals…. It was no accident that the great plains of the West became the land of the sage. The bitter upland plains, the purple wastes of sage, the wild, swift antelope, and the grouse are then a natural system in perfect balance. …One of the most tragic examples of our unthinking bludgeoning of the landscape is to be seen in the sagebrush lands of the West, where a vast campaign is on to destroy the sage (using weed killer) and substitute grasslands.  

 

” ..it is clear that the whole closely knit fabric has been ripped apart. The antelope and the grouse will disappear along with the sage. The deer will suffer too… The spraying also eliminates a great many plants that were not its intended target. The sage was killed as intended. But, so was the green life-giving ribbon of willows… Moose had lived in these willow thickets, for willow is to the moose what sage is to the antelope. Beaver had lived there too, feeding on the willows, felling them and making a strong dam across the tiny stream. Through the labor of the beavers, a lake backed up. Trout in the lake thrived so prodigiously that many grew to five pounds. Waterfowl were attracted to the lake, also. But with the ‘improvement’ instituted by the Forest Service, the willows went the way of the sagebrush, killed by the same impartial spray. The moose were gone and so was the beaver. Their principal dam had gone out for want of attention by its skilled architects, and the lake drained away. None of the large trout were left. The living world was shattered.”
Due to human insensitivity and an ignorance regarding Nature’s  interconnectivity that is necessary for energy to flow,  government funds were used to “manage” our environment and create ecological disasters. Rachel Carson started it all with “Silent Spring  by exposing the ignorance and the disastrous assumptions that biologists made about ecological interrelationships. She laid the foundation for a consciousness of interrelationships in Nature. Her legacy is the new and more productive ways in which we now holistically view Nature.

 

Kevin McCann, in a 2007 article in Nature, said:

 

“Scientists have focused on diversity at the expense of ignoring the biological structures that maintain ecosystems – networks of interactions between organisms that characterize ecosystems. The network of interactions between organisms, not diversity per se, breathes life into ecosystems. To understand the implications of biodiversity loss, it is crucial to monitor changes to the underlying biostructure. Perhaps the main reason why researchers and Nature’s stewards within government organizations have focused on diversity is that it is easier to count species than to document their interactions. Empirically mapping biological networks is no small chore.
There is an ongoing debate between two schools of thought within the field of conservation science. One group believes that setting aside land tracts only for Nature’s sake, free from humans, will permit Her to take care of herself. This worldview is seen in designated wilderness areas.  Yet, studies have shown that even as more land is set aside for protection from human influence, global biodiversity in the protected areas continues to decline. This is because the energy flow relationships between the designated wilderness areas and those areas inhabited by mankind have been either ignored or are impossible to control.

 

A second worldview in the conservation community values both Nature for herself and for human purpose. This view calls for the protection of Nature while working with business entities to find mixes of economic benefit and conservation success. The idea is to blend human development with Nature. This view accepts the ecological dominance of mankind as a permanent reality and seeks to protect natural habitat where people live and work.

 

Both strategies have a fatal flaw. That flaw is that modern conservation ideas fail to view Nature as a living system and  fail to embrace the idea that every living thing on earth is inextricably interconnected to every other living being. These key facts are ignored by many workers in the field of conservation. As a result, modern conservation practices fail to acknowledge that it is impossible for humans to predict or control the future activities of Nature.

 

There is an excellent article, entitled “The Battle For The Soul Of Conservation Science” that explains these two conflicting conservation worldviews in greater detail.
This essay offers a third worldview that encompasses both schools of thought within the field of conservation science as it focuses on the preservation of energy flow in Nature. This approach does not need any predictions by mankind because Nature continues to operate on its own without attempts by humans to control Nature. In other words, this third worldview lets Nature run Herself. It lets Nature decide. Her decision pathways are defined by Her energy flow.The job of humanity is to conserve energy flow and Her energy flow conduits. However, we need to first talk about passive restoration. Here is a passage from one of my blog posts entitled The Case For Passive Restoration.

 

“I often get frustrated with those who oversee our public lands. They are always trying to “manage” something in the ecosystems that they oversee. We read about things like controlling invasive species and establishing hunting quotas as if these people had done some precise calculation in order to take a certain action or to establish the limits they impose on the public. …These guys have no way of effectively determining limits because science has taught us that we cannot predict what Nature will do.
“Passive restoration is an idea that preserves our ecosystems where Nature is allowed to make the decisions for her own welfare. In basic terms, passive restoration means ‘Let Nature take her own course’. Passive restoration means simply allowing natural succession to occur in an ecosystem. The recovery of the deciduous forests in the eastern United States after the abandonment of agriculture is a classic example of passive restoration.  So is the wolf recovery  story at Yellowstone National Park.”

 

There is a blog post entitled “Wolves, Cougars, and Rivers” which features a great video entitled “Lords of Nature” . The blog post and the video provides a real life example of passive restoration. The story is about the great predators and how things changed after the Gray Wolf was reintroduced and allowed to multiply and roam on its own, without human interference, in Yellowstone National Park. This wonderful story tells how Nature carried out Her own restoration by restoring Her own pathways for energy flow without the help of man. 
High Country News has offered an article that interviewed Oregon State University ecologist Bill Ripple who collected data on this wolf reintroduction project. 
“As wolves reduced the size of the elk herd in the Yellowstone ecosystem, chokecherry, serviceberry and huckleberry flora began to rebound and flourish in a long-term phase of “passive restoration”, Ripple said. In time, and as other food sources declined, berry production might become more and more important as a source of nutrition in the grizzly bears’ diet. It’s humbling, Ripple added, to realize that the cascading effects of wildlife management, or mismanagement, roll in both directions. If too many wolves are killed, the consequences could affect many other species.
“But if we let passive restoration run its course, we might just see some remarkable things happen,” said Ripple. The riparian environment could once again become vibrant nurseries for birds, beaver, and a number of smaller critters.  If you kill too many wolves in Yellowstone, however, their population could drop below the threshold essential to maintaining a vigorous and resilient ecosystem. If that happens, we might as well paint over the petroglyphs, cage the animals, pave the parks, dam the last free-flowing rivers, turn the last old-growth forests into toothpicks and stop pretending that we cherish the wild. There is a lot to be said for we humans just backing off and letting Nature do her thing. “
The previous essays in this essay series emphasized that we humans cannot “manage” or predict Nature. However, we can identify, work with, and passively protect Her energy flow conduits. A “connectivity consciousness” is a sense that can be developed within ourselves that addresses how and why everything is interrelated. It is also an internal map of how to act when addressing ecological issues. With a “connectivity consciousness”, you are equipped to ask the right questions when you approach any ecological issue. Those questions are:
• What are the conduits of energy that exist in the ecosystem under study and how can these energy connections be preserved?
• What might happen if changes are made to these conduits either by mankind or by Nature?

 

Asking and then seeking answers to these two very important questions is the beginning of any successful conservation effort. But any conservation project will falter or fail if  the following two vitally important messages are not heeded:

 

Message #1: Mankind cannot control Nature

Nature’s systems are highly unpredictable. Humans cannot control Nature. Despite our intelligence and increased knowledge, Nature seems quite capable of managing herself without any outside controlling intelligence. Human intelligence often does more harm than good.  Rachel Carson once said “The ‘control of nature’ is a phrase conceived in arrogance, born of the Neanderthal age of biology and the convenience of man

 

Message #2: Don’t mess with or change Nature’s connections, instead work to protect them.

In order to process energy, we have noted that Nature is highly interconnected in very complex ways. Nature’s “genius” does not respond to human ideas of control where one simply pushes one button to get one predictable result. Instead, Nature’s “genius” is in her ability to transport and transform the energy which is her lifeblood. If you mess with one thing, most likely you will affect something else. The result will be that energy connections are broken or inadvertently redirected in unintended and disastrous ways. We are tinkering with Nature. Look to Aldo Leopold’s admonition that “to keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering“. Nothing stands alone and humans messing with Nature leaves tracks.

An Action Plan

 

What follows is more detail regarding any conservation effort that focuses on protecting Nature’s energy flow.This effort would include:

 

  • Direct or indirect physical action that is suggested in the following paragraphs.
  • Environmental education that builds a consciousness for Nature and Her interdependent character. 
  • Political action and activities.

 

 

Direct or indirect conservation action

 

 

First, we offer some comments for environmental educators who are reading this essay. The process of identifying and describing a connection in Nature can become a useful assignment for your students.

 

1) Start by looking at any ecosystem such as a forest, a body of water, or a beach.
2) Ask yourself: 
     A) What and where are the connecting energy flow conduits within this ecosystem? Draw a food web diagram.
     B)  What do these conduits do? 
     C) How do they operate? 
     D) What would happen if an energy conduit were damaged or destroyed?
3) With each question, take time to look for detailed answers from experts. Make heavy use of the Internet. Then write out your detailed description of the energy flow conduit that you are studying.
4) Present your writing to others for examination, group study, and discussion as you refine your findings.   

 

For stewards of Nature who are suggesting or implementing a conservation program, the goal is to protect biostructure by defining an ecosystem’s network structure and conserving the energy flow within that network. For anyone who is charged with the responsibility of conserving an ecosystem, the primary  question one must ask when faced with a request that might impact Nature is: How does current activity or a proposed action affect the energy flow of the ecosystem under question? To develop a conservation program for a specific ecological threat:

 

1) Identify an ecological threat within the ecosystem.
2) Describe why it is a threat.
3) Define all components of that ecosystem by developing a list of all flora and fauna.
4) Build a food web diagram that defines the energy transportation and transformation between the flora and fauna in the ecosystem. 
5) Define which energy flow conduits are threatened and explain why.
6) Present and defend your food web diagram and your solution for preserving and protecting each threatened energy flow conduit. 
7) Ask yourself the question: Will my conservation effort change or break any energy flow conduits?
Along with this list of action items, a steward of Nature must consider the following:
  • Good science is an absolutely essential foundation for any conservation project because it is the science that defines a conservation problem and provides the basis for a conservation goal. Be very careful to identify the human biases that might be present within any scientific study.
  • Identify and assess political influence and human bias. Special interest groups are common in scientific investigations. The cattle industry is a prime example where federal grazing allotments are justified based on questionable facts. The bias extends beyond the ranchers to the government employees who oversee allotment programs. Many times, these folks were born and raised on ranches. Their continued employment depends upon the continuation of the grazing allotments.
  • Strong community influence and support is essential because the cooperation of the community is needed to carry out a conservation program.  The missing component in poor community support is usually inadequate community education. Community education , in turn, is tied to the generation of well researched scientific fact by respected snd unbiased individuals.
  • Skilled facilitation. Effective, experienced facilitators serve to bring parties together to develop a mutually agreeable conservation plan. Many times, facilitators are non-government organizations such as The Nature Conservancy.

 

 

Education that builds a consciousness for Nature and Her interdependent character.

 

 

One of the most powerful conservation strategies for protecting our environment as a whole or within a specific geographic region is environmental education. 

 

 

Political action and activities

 

 

The goal of political activity is to  bring together people with different viewpoints to reach a consensus.

 

Worth Your Extra Attention

 

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

 

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.

 

 

Energy Is The Force That Drives Nature

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

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

The six blog essays are:

 

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

 

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

 

Energy Is The Dynamic Currency Of Nature

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Energy Defines Physical Structure

 

 

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

 

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

 

Visualizing Nature’s Energy Flow In A Real World

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Worth Your Extra Attention :

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

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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.

 

Our Earth Is A Living System

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

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

The six blog essays are:

 

Everything within Nature is interconnected and interdependent.

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

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

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

A thorough understanding of Nature’s living systems, as well as energy flow within these systems, is key to the development of conservation programs by human beings. When a conservation program developed by humans proves ineffective, it is usually because there was insufficient comprehension of living systems and Nature’s energy flow within these systems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What follows are descriptions of the characteristics of living systems.

Nature’s Living Systems Are Self Organizing and Leaderless

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

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

Nature’s Living Systems Are “Complex Systems”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature’s Living Systems Are “Open” Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nature’s Living Systems Evolve In Complexity With Time

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

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

Nature’s Living Systems Are Nested Hierarchies

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

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

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

Living Systems Are Sensitive To Initial Conditions

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

A Summary of Living Systems Characteristics

Here is a summary of the characteristics of living systems:

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

Most Conventional Practices For Conserving Living Systems Will Not Work 

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

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

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

Ecological literacy – The Path To Human Survival

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

What is Life?

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

The fundamental facts of life are that:

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

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

Human Beings Depend On Ecological literacy

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

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

Systems Thinking

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

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

Sustainability

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

Current world problems

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

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

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

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

Worth Your Extra Attention

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

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

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

 

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

 

The Fantasy Of Infinite Growth On A Finite Planet

You cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.

 

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

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

The six blog essays are:

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nothing In Nature Exists In Isolation !!!

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself, or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.

 

If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

  

Please Comment and Subscribe

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

 

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

 
 

Nature Is A Self Organizing Living System

 

“If we could surrender to Earth’s intelligence, we would rise up rooted—like trees.”

~ Rilke

Nature is capable of organizing herself.

 

As a biologist, nature essayist, and eco-traveler,  I am often depressed and confused over the negative human impact on our Earth. Even though we are a seemingly intelligent race, we are determined to destroy the very environment that sustains human life.  Anyone who can do basic math can calculate that, within only 50 more years, our rapidly growing population will have used every square inch of usable land to grow food for ourselves. We will have run out of resources. Wars and famine will determine our inevitable fate.

 

While all this is going on, our scientists in their ivory towers as well as ecologists in the field continue to debate about ways in which to conserve our earth. The two popular and competing conservation strategies either prohibit people from occupying “protected” land areas or permit and encourage human involvement in land use. Both strategies have a fatal flaw. That flaw is that human arrogance prevents an acknowledgment that it is impossible for humans to predict or control the future activities of Nature. In addition, humanity fails to embrace the idea that every living thing on earth is inextricably interconnected to every other living being. These key facts are ignored by many workers in the field of conservation. Indeed, it will be the hubris of humanity which will destroy us.

 

This essay offers a way of thinking that might prevent that destruction. It is a worldview that is held by many modern scientists and philosophers. Ecophilosopher Joanna Rogers Macy and teacher Molly Young Brown, both  scholars of general systems theory and deep ecology, wrote a book that clearly explains, in layman’s language, a worldview that suggests a pathway to human survival. The book, recently revised in 2014,  is entitled  Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives.   In this essay, I offer a paraphrased version of their worldview. 

 

Earlier in the 20th century, the modern scientific worldview chose to describe both man-made systems and Nature’s ecosystems by identifying and analyzing a system’s parts. The idea was that you could describe how an entire automobile operated by disassembling it, laying the parts on the garage floor, and calculating how each part operated. This practice was called “reductionism”. But, as twentieth century biologists realized with increasing frustration, reductionism cannot explain the self-renewing processes of life.

 

Instead of breaking a system down into its basic building blocks, scientists began to look at entire processes.  They discovered that these processes such as cells, bodies, ecosystems, or an entire planet, are not just a heap of disjointed parts.  They are dynamically organized and intricately balanced “systems”.  Modern science began to realize that each element is part of a larger pattern that connects and evolves by discernible principles.  This fresh worldview has spread throughout the natural and social sciences.

 

By shifting their focus to relationships instead of separate entities, scientists made an amazing discovery that was new to the western mind.  They discovered that Nature is capable of organizing itself. Scientists set out to discern the principles by which this self-organization occurs.  They found these principles, sometimes called “systems properties” to be simple and constant throughout the observable universe including sub-organic,  biological, and ecological systems, as well as human-based mental and social systems. Nature’s systems ( also known as ecosystems ) are defined as  “open systems”. Any ecosystem can interact with systems or components external to itself. In the course of these interactions, energy can be both transported and transformed. These processes permit the variety and intelligence of life forms to arise from interactive currents of matter, energy, and information.  There are four  properties:

 

1.  Each system, whether it be a tiny atom or a huge galaxy, is a whole.  That means that it is not reducible to its components.  Its distinctive nature and capacities derive from the dynamic relationships of its parts.  This interplay is synergistic (two plus two equals five), generating “emergent properties” and new possibilities, which are not predictable from the character of the separate parts.  For example, wetness could not be predicted from the water formed from the combination of oxygen and hydrogen before the formation occurred.

 

2.  Thanks to the continual flow-through of matter-energy and information, ecosystems are able to self-stabilize and maintain their equilibrium.   This self stabilization enables ecosystems to self-regulate amidst changing conditions in their environment.  This process, known as feedback, monitors the effects of their own behavior and realigns their behavior with pre-established norms, much like a like a thermostat.

 

3.  Ecosystems not only maintain their balance amidst the flux of energy and matter, but also evolve in complexity.  When challenges from their environment persist, ecosystems can fall apart or adapt by reorganizing themselves around new, more functional norms.  This is accomplished by feedback. Feedback processes are how ecosystems learn and evolve.  If this feedback process is blocked or ignored, by human or other activity, there is a risk of system collapse.

 

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

 

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

 

An ecosystem self-generates from adaptive cooperation between its parts for mutual benefit. 

 

Order and differentiation go hand and hand, components diversifying as they coordinate roles and invent new responses.

 

The earlier reductionist worldview of reality separated substance from process, self from other, and mind from matter. In the new systems worldview, these dichotomies no longer hold.  What appeared to be separate and self-existent entities are now seen as interdependent and interwoven.  We humans are ecosystems ourselves. We participate by virtue of a constant flow-through of matter and energy transformation in the evolving web of life, giving and receiving the feedback necessary to the web’s integrity and balance. Like all of Nature’s systems, we both transport and transform matter and energy.

 

None of this systems view of life resonates with current conservation practices which assume that human input will achieve a predictable result. Conservation managers set reference points and targets based on the assumption that equilibrium or a steady state will be achieved. This idea is blatantly false. Indeed, Nature’s ecosystems are dynamic. They are always moving. Equilibrium shifts as Nature’s feedback systems adjust. Human predictability is impossible. Consequently, current conservation practices will ultimately fail.

 

Worth Your Extra Attention – A Useful Resource List

 

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

 

Wikipedia Living Systems Theory

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Waking Up In An Ecological Age – Molly Young Brown. An EXCELLENT summary of the history of modern systems/holistic thinking in ecology

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Introduction to Living Systems — by Molly Young Brown

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Living Systems – Joanna Macy and her work. A holistic view of life on earth

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Living Systems Theory  An excellent and easily readable summary of livings systems theory. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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Energy Flow and Matter Cycle in Living Systems – An excellent high school instruction video

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Energy Flow In Living Systems – An excellent summary video designed for a high school class.

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A Basic Written Description Of Living Systems Theory

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Feedback loops allow living organisms to maintain homeostasis

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Earth’s Web of Life – A blog essay

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The Web of Life:A New Understanding of Living Systems By Fritjof Capra. This is a good, short summary of his important book

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Biodiversity: The Web Of Life. A video

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Celebrating The Beauty of Living Systems – Video

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The Unity of Living Systems

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Energy Powers All Living Systems

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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.

 

Your life depends upon Nature’s energy flow

 

If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees.

                                — Rainer Maria Rilke : Love Poems To God

 

Human life, and all other life, is totally dependent upon Nature. Our arrogant modern humanity is unable to accept this dependency. However, it is a fact that Nature captures, contains, and operates the processes that provide you with the energy that you need to live.

 

Energy Is Essential To All Life On Earth

 

Nothing in our Universe happens without the existence of both energy and the pathways by which this energy flows. A destruction or hindrance of energy or its pathways, whether by man or by Nature, can bring ecological disaster.

The major source of Earth’s energy is the sun. The sun’s atomic furnace transmits its energy outward in the form of photons – a fundamental particle of light. Our earth receives some of this photon energy, filters it through our atmosphere, and makes it available to the network of living and non-living objects on the earth’s surface.

 

On Earth, the network of energy pathways begins with the leaves of green plants which receive the sun’s energy. A chemical within this leaf, called chlorophyll, receives the sun’s energy. Along with carbon dioxide from the air, chlorophyll creates a chemical called carbohydrate – a form of sugar. This carbohydrate is the warehouse that stores the energy that has been received from the sun. In this way, the sun’s energy is transformed into a form of energy that is useful to the plant and to animals that eat the plant.

 

Animals, like ourselves, then eat the plant leaves. In doing so, the animal’s body transforms the stored sun’s energy within the leaf’s sugars into a chemical compound called “ATP”. ATP stores and then releases life energy for use by an organism.  In addition to eating plants, we humans, and other meat eating creatures, receive and transform energy by eating other animals who had previously eaten plants.

 

Energy Is Both Transported And Transformed

 

There are two important processes that take place within this energy chain. First, energy is transported from the sun and then from one organism to another. Then, within each organism, energy is transformed into a useful form. So, in order to live, every plant and every animal within the entire web of life both transports and transforms energy. The energy conduits that serve to transport and transform life energy of all plants and animals is a highly complex  network that is called an “ecosystem”. The energy networks within ecosystems are sometimes called food webs.

 

The science of ecology focuses on how energy flows within ecosystems. The term ‘trophic’ refers to anything related to the flow of energy in Nature’s food webs.  In ecology, the term “trophic level” is the position that an organism occupies in a food chain. In other words, a trophic level describes what an organism eats, and who eats that organism.

 

Nature’s Energy Flow Can Change Within Ecosystems

 

A “trophic cascade” is  a change in the transportation and transformation of energy flow. This is often triggered by humans adding or removing an organism within a food web. Often, a trophic cascade results in dramatic changes in the flow of energy which alters  an ecosystem’s structure and nutrient cycling.

 

The study of trophic cascades provides living demonstrations of how changes in energy flow can result in radical changes in ecosystems. In particular, these studies can show how mankind’s uninformed actions can alter Nature’s flow of energy with possibly disastrous results.

 

The story of the wolves at Yellowstone National Park is a living demonstration of mankind’s alteration of trophic cascades which resulted in an adverse alteration of Nature’s energy flow.  There is no better example than the Yellowstone wolf. The story of the eradication of the wolf in and near Yellowstone National Park in the early 1900s, and the wonder of Nature’s recovery when the wolf was reintroduced in 1995 is an amazing demonstration of the positive impact of key predators on an ecosystem’s energy flow.

 

The story is best told through an amazing video, “Lords of Nature which is narrated by actor Peter Coyote. There is a wonderful discussion guide  in PDF format that might be of interest to educators.

 

Another amazing video is “How Wolves Change Rivers. This short video, narrated by  by  George Monbiot, provides a wonderful description of the trophic cascade  that starts with the Yellowstone wolves and ends with the alteration of the flow of rivers when wolves were eradicated. It is living evidence that mankind’s alteration of Nature’s web of life can produce unwanted and unpredictable changes to an ecosystem and its physical environment.

 

George Monbiot narrates another wonderful video,  “How Whales Change Climate. He describes how mankind has changed our earth’s energy flow by killing huge numbers of whales.

 

“When whales were at their historic populations, before their numbers were reduced, it seems that whales might have been responsible for removing tens of millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere every year. Whales change the climate. The return of the great whales, if they are allowed to recover, could be seen as a benign form of geo-engineering. It could undo some of the damage we have done, both to the living systems of the sea, and to the atmosphere.”

 

Here are some other examples of trophic cascades:

  • Sea Otters – Sea otters eat urchins, which eat kelp. Otters keep the urchin population in check so that the kelp population (and its reliant ecosystem) can flourish.
  • Blue Crabs of Salt Marshes – Blue crabs eat snails. Snails can threaten a salt marsh by consuming enough marsh grass to turn the marsh into a mudflat.
  • Jaguars & Other Rainforest Predators – Similar to the wolves of Yellowstone, jaguars and other rainforest predators keep the herbivore population from growing out of control. Tree

 

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.

 

Our Relationship With Nature

All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. His instincts prompt him to compete for his place in the community but his ethics prompt him to co-operate (perhaps in order that there may be a place to compete for).” –– from Aldo Leopold “A Sand County Almanac” 1949

WIthout A Relationship With Nature, We Have No Life

We commonly think of the word “relationship” to describe a  personal, romantic, or passionate attachment of some kind. One might say: “I have a great relationship with my daughter”. Or, in your Facebook profile, you might state “I am in a relationship with Sandy Smith”. But rarely do we hear or read about the most important kind of human relationship that is so critical to the maintenance of life itself. This kind of  relationship is a relationship with Nature.

Perhaps one reason for this omission is that much of humanity does not see Nature as a relationship of dependency. In our “me” societies, our hubris suggests that we can control Nature. This arrogance prevents us from admitting that, while Nature can survive without us, we cannot survive without Nature.  Many scholars point out that the unchecked, exponential population growth of the human race will result in the resources of the Earth being unable to supply food for humans within the next 50 years. This dire prediction has come about because humanity has failed to look upon Nature as a relationship.

Some years ago, Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi published a seminal book entitled “The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision”. In this book, the authors stated that:

sustainable society must be designed in such a way that its ways of life, businesses, economy, physical structures, and technologies do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.” 

What follows are some important quotes presented this book.


Prior to 1960, modern science operated under the assumption that complex objects or phenomena can be best understood by separating and studying their smallest constituent parts. In other words, an automobile could be understood by disassembling the car and laying out the parts on the garage floor. A tree could be understood by cutting it apart and analyzing each cut up piece. This worldview is called “reductionism”

 

Since the 1960’s, modern science has undergone a major paradigm shift by recognizing that:

“the material world, ultimately, is an evolving and ever-changing system in which complex structures are developed from simpler forms. Nature is a network of inseparable patterns of relationships. The planet as a whole is a living, self-regulating system. A central characteristic of this systems view of life is that all living systems are complex networks where there are countless interconnections between the biological, cognitive, social, and ecological dimensions of life.” 

An ecosystem is greater than the sum of its parts. It cannot be defined by looking separately at each of its interconnected parts. In addition, the high complexity of an ecosystem makes it impossible to predict.

The problem is that the society of mankind is unable to grasp this fundamental truth. Humanity fails to see that we are part of the relationship. We cannot stand aside from something that we are part of. If we affect Nature, we affect ourselves. For example, if we pollute the air, we might  suffer climate change.

The human concept of economics is another powerful example of how we might end up damaging or destroying relationships within human society by damaging Nature.

The outstanding characteristic of most of today’s economic models – whether they are promoted by economists in government, in the corporate world, or in academia – is their assumption that perpetual economic growth is possible. Such undifferentiated and unlimited growth is seen as essential by virtually all economists and politicians, even though it should by now be abundantly clear that unlimited expansion on a finite planet can only lead to disaster. Since human needs are finite, but human greed is not, economic growth can usually be maintained through artificial creation of needs by means of advertising. The goods that are produced and sold in this way are often unneeded, and thus are essentially waste. The pollution and depletion of natural resources generated by this enormous waste of unnecessary goods is exacerbated by the waste of energy and materials in inefficient production processes. The continuing illusion of unlimited growth on a finite planet is the fundamental dilemma at the roots of all the major problems of our time.”

Indeed, we humans are an integral part of Fritjof Capra’s systems view of life.

What does the term “systems view” mean when it is applied to life? It implies looking at a living organism in the totality of its relationships. But clearly, the idea of a relationship of interdependence with Nature is ignored by most of the human race. Instead, we pursue a reckless dominance that might wipe out our species.

Environmental educators hold the key to altering humanity’s misguided worldview about Nature

Is there any hope of altering this worldview? I think so !! Despite the irresponsible ignorance of a large number of humans, many of our children and future generations do not hold this destructive point of view. Their minds are fresh and responsive to awe and wonder. Through environmental education programs that emphasize Earth’s web of life, they are likely candidates for embracing the idea of relationships and connectedness. And by being shown how to identify and protect energy connections in Nature, they become effective stewards of our Earth. Through hands-on, place-based education:

 

  • Ask each student to describe his or her relationship with a plant or animal.
  • Ask students to draw a complete food web diagram, INCLUDING THEMSELVES,  of the ecosystem that they are observing.
  • Have the students play the Web of Life game that includes themselves.
  • With care, guide the students away from consumerism.

Hopefully, with these ideas and other ideas, our children can develop a “relationship consciousness” and  become Nature’s evangelists for 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

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.