Relationships – A Unifying Vision

“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

This essay presents ideas to environmental educators, students,  and all stewards of Nature.   These ideas come from some of our modern great thinkers. The emphasis in this essay will be on two key ideas:

  1. Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms energy into all life. The goal is to build a “Living Earth” worldview (a systems view of life)  into the consciousness of human beings that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth. This worldview is based on the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  2. Environmental education is not simply offering facts and giving tests. Environmental education must be hands-on and take place outdoors if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become conscious in the minds and hearts of our youth. Environmental education must include the passing of this consciousness to future generations.

Relationships – A Unifying Vision

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. Any living system, whether it be an organism, an ecosystem, or a social system, is an integrated whole whose properties cannot be reduced to those properties of smaller parts.

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

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

Systems thinking means that understanding life requires a shift of focus from objects to relationships. Each species in an ecosystem helps to sustain the entire food web. If one species is decimated by some natural catastrophe, the ecosystem may still be resilient enough to survive if there are other species that can fulfill similar functions. 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.

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 recognize our dependency on Nature. 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” .  Capra is well known as one of the fathers of modern systems science. Since the 1960s, 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. Capra notes that:

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 the 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 system 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.

In April of 2018, the Ecologist Journal published an essay by Fritjof Capra entitled “The Way To Sustain Life Is To Build And Nurture Community” . 

Capra’s essay is a wonderful summary of modern systems science thinking that has been completely ignored by many organizations who are carrying on “conservation” projects in Nature. What follows is a series of quotes from Capra’s essay that suggest a new way of thinking about conserving Nature. 

The Systems View of Life Requires A New Kind Of Thinking

Today, it is becoming more and more evident that concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues.” It is the context of everything else — of our lives, our businesses, our politics.”

“The great challenge of our time is to build and nurture sustainable communities, designed in such a manner that their ways of life — businesses, economies, physical structures, and technologies — do not interfere with nature’s inherent ability to sustain life.”

“The first step in this endeavor, naturally, must be to understand how nature sustains life. It turns out that this involves a new ecological understanding of life. Indeed, such a new understanding of life has emerged in science over the last 30 years.”

“The systems view of life requires a new kind of thinking — thinking in terms of relationships, patterns, and context.”

“One of the most important insights of the systemic understanding of life is the recognition that networks are the basic pattern of organization of all living systems. Ecosystems are understood in terms of food webs – i.e., networks of organisms; organisms are networks of cells, organs, and organ systems; and cells are networks of molecules.”

“The network is a pattern that is common to all life. Indeed, at the very heart of the change of paradigms from the mechanistic to the systemic view of life, we find a fundamental change of metaphors: from seeing the world as a machine to understanding it as a network. “

” Today, it is becoming more and more evident that concern with the environment is no longer one of many “single issues.” It is the context of everything else — of our lives, our businesses, our politics.”

” Sustainability, then, 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.

“Today, it is becoming more and more evident that the major problems of our time — energy, environment, climate change, economic inequality, violence and war, and so on — cannot be understood in isolation. They are systemic problems, which means that they are all interconnected and interdependent. They require corresponding systemic solutions — solutions that do not solve any problem in isolation but deal with it within the context of other related problems.”

“Unfortunately, this realization has not yet dawned on most of our political and corporate [and scientific] leaders who are unable to connect the dots. Instead of taking into account the interconnectedness of our major problems, their so-called ‘solutions’ tend to focus on a single issue, thereby simply shifting the problem to another part of the system — for example, by producing more energy at the expense of biodiversity, public health, or climate stability. Moreover, our leaders refuse to recognize how their piecemeal solutions affect future generations. What we need is solutions that are systemic and sustainable.”

Ecoliteracy And The Understanding Of Nature’s Systems Is Vital To Sustainable Living 

In the coming decades the survival of humanity will depend on our ecological literacy — our ability to understand the basic principles of ecology and to live accordingly.”

“This means that ecoliteracy must become a critical skill for politicians, business leaders, and professionals in all spheres, and should be the most important part of education at all levels — from primary and secondary schools to colleges, universities, and the continuing education and training of professionals.”

“We need to teach our children, our students, and our political and corporate leaders the fundamental facts of life — for example, that one species’ waste is another species’ food; that matter cycles continually through the web of life; that the energy driving the ecological cycles flows from the sun; that diversity assures resilience; that life, from its beginning more than three billion years ago, did not take over the planet by combat but by partnerships and networking.

Environmental Educators Hold The Key To Altering Humanity’s Misguided Worldview About Nature

Is there any hope of building an eco-literate worldview of systems thinking within humans? 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 interdependence. 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 an ecoliterate “relationship consciousness” and become legacy builders — Nature’s evangelists for future generations.

Please Comment 

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

My Role As An Environmental Educator

” It is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.” — from Earth Charter

Here are some of my recent notes about being an environmental educator.

I wish to solicit other environmental educators and stewards of Nature to embrace and evangelize  a worldview to all humans that states:

“All life on this earth is interconnected and interdependent. All life on Earth transfers and transforms the energy that comes from our sun. We humans must maintain a consciousness that respects and protects these processes of energy flow if we are to survive as a race.  Ecological literacy (ecoliteracy) is the ability to understand and protect the natural systems that permit the energy flow that makes life on earth possible. To be “eco-literate” means to understand and protect the interdependence of ecological and human communities in order to sustain life on Earth.”

The goal of all environmental education is to guide the minds and hearts of all human beings toward a worldview that Nature must be respected and protected because Earth is our home. The role of environmental educators is to  show human beings how natural environments function and how we humans can live sustainably within these ecosystems.

Environmental Education is a multi-disciplinary field integrating disciplines such as biology, chemistry, physics, ecology, earth science, atmospheric science, mathematics, and geography. The term is often used to imply education within the school system, from primary to post-secondary. However, it is sometimes used more broadly to include all efforts to educate the public and other audiences, including print materials, websites, media campaigns, etc. Environmental Education is the guiding of individuals, and communities in transitioning to a society that is knowledgeable of the environment and its associated problems, aware of the solutions to these problems, and motivated to solve them.

The term “Environmental Education” was coined by American educator David W. Orr and physicist Fritjof Capra in the 1990s. With this a new value entered education – meaning the “well-being of the earth”. An ecologically literate society would be a sustainable society which did not destroy the natural environment on which they depend. “Ecological literacy” (ecoliteracy ) is a powerful concept as it creates a foundation for an integrated approach to environmental problems. Advocates champion ecoliteracy as a new educational paradigm emerging around the poles of holism, systems thinking, sustainability, and complexity. Earth Charter goes on to state:

We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history. This is a time when humanity must choose its future, a future that holds both great peril and great promise.  We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.

All of my teaching and other work with environmental educators is based on this idea in addition to the idea that:

“…all living beings on this earth are interconnected and interdependent with each other. This is the basic definition of life that is necessary to transfer and transform energy”

If you are interested in working with me, other environmental educators, and other stewards of Nature to build a legacy of young people who will embrace and evangelize the worldview that “Everything on Earth is Connected and Interdependent”, please provide your questions and comments in the space provided below or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.

Please Comment  Below

Environmental Education: Empowering Our Youth

“For people, their story of the human role in the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation.”

— Thomas Berry – Dream of the Earth

As a fellow environmental educator, I believe that the future welfare of my young high school students is in jeopardy. Many of them are unaware of the world that much of the adult generation is leaving for them — a future world that includes limited food supplies, less land to support all life on earth, and social unrest. Many of we adults are apathetic about Nature even though Nature is our home upon which we all depend. Much of the human adult population over age 25 harbors a worldview that separates humanity from Nature. We see this apathy expressed in human attitudes about the climate change crisis and a deep distrust of scientists and educators. In addition, our adult population has actively participated in the pollution of our society’s value system resulting in an economic free-for-all that has caused the over-consumption of Nature’s resources.

I offer this question to you:

How can humans thrive within a natural world that has the ingredients necessary for our survival but, at the same time, is threatened by human destruction of that world?

In answer to this question, Earth Charter offers a challenge to we environmental educators and to all stewards of Nature”

“We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. … the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that amid a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations.”

Despite the impact of a large apathetic group of humans over age 25, there is a significant group of people in this age range who are very effective stewards of our Earth and who hold the power to help our youth embrace a worldview that can result in them advancing the well-being of our home — Mother Earth — now and in the future. These people include teachers (particularly environmental educators), scientists, and all other humans who embrace Nature as being the provider and protector of life on Earth. Through their worldviews and their informed actions, these people act within a framework of protecting our home while the older generation of naysayers with their destructive worldview die off.

It is my view that the first thing that this powerful group of stewards of Nature, environmental educators, and young people must do is to intensely focus on the replacement of humanity’s “Story of Separation” with a “Living Earth Story”.

Another word for “story” is “worldview”. Worldview is commonly defined as a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world that guides us. The worldview of a large part of modern adult humans is believing that we are separate from Nature, from each other, and from the community of life. This worldview is commonly called the “Story of Separation”. This story erroneously portrays humanity as being able to control and predict Nature. The “Story of Separation” results in human behaviors of exploitation, excessive economic growth, extremes of wealth and inequality, and the misuse of Nature’s resources which result in the effects of climate change, consumerism, and overpopulation.

Our human race cannot enjoy a sustainable future if the “Story of Separation” is our guiding worldview. Instead, we need to be living a worldview that is in synergy with our home — Mother Nature. It has been

proposed by several people and organizations that we humans need to embrace the “Living Earth Story”.  A “Living Earth” is an environment where everything is interconnected and interdependent. It is an environment where life’s energy flows from our sun and then between every living creature on Earth. Indeed, the health and well-being of all life on Earth depends upon this energy flow to live. For Earth’s human population to survive, this pattern of interdependence must become a powerful part of our consciousness. In the “Living Earth Story”, we humans believe in the power of community and interdependence — not separation.

The “Living Earth Story” can have its birth and growth in the minds and hearts of our youth while in the classroom and while being outdoors. Interdependence can be studied and practiced in the classroom, in Nature, and in human society. My teaching methods focus on inquiry-based seminars and field trips (with primary, secondary, and high school students), where we trace Nature’s vital energy flow and explore the consequences if we humans interrupt that flow.  We explore interdependence in Nature and in human society. The theme of my entire program is “Everything in Nature is Interdependent and Interconnected”. We embrace the “Living Earth Story” as learning takes place.

It is my view that, if enough environmental educators and their schools throughout the world introduce and practice the “Living Earth Story”, our younger generations will gradually adopt and practice the “Living Earth Story” as the way of life that is already practiced by Mother Nature. As our older human generations die off, humanity will operate in unity with Nature and achieve sustainability. 

I invite environmental educators and other stewards of Nature to join me in a dialog where we can all work together to create a plan of action for helping our young people adopt and practice a worldview that is guided by the “Living Earth Story”. Please provide your comments in the space at the end of this essay or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.

Here, I offer several references regarding the “Living Earth Story”. To respect your time, with each reference I provide a short summary.

 

References and useful teaching material that focuses on interdependence in Nature and the”Living Earth Story”

 

Nature’s Web of Life: The Soul and Science of an Interdependent Nature

This is my web site at https://www.freshvista.com. The home page summarizes the content including a list of many essays on interdependence in Nature. I also provide a short video which might prove useful to your students.

 

Free Book. “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons from Our Web of Life”

I encourage you to download a free copy of this 180-page PDF book written by me. You can download the book by following the instructions on the right-hand side of my web site home page at www.freshvista.com.  It is the purpose of this book to share with environmental educators and other stewards of Nature my suggestions for guiding their young people toward the development of a sustainable “Living Earth” worldview. You are welcome to use any of this material in your work. The table of contents for this book is displayed on the download page that appears after you click the picture of the book that appears on the right side.

The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity’s Search for Meaning. A book by Jeremy Lent

https://www.jeremylent.com/flourishing-future.html

The premise of this book is that our current sustainability crisis is a product of destructive human worldviews that can be reshaped. The book opens with a dedication to those “future generations”(our youth) who can reshape humanity’s worldview. The book continues with an excellent history about how our current worldviews about Nature evolved from previous generations of humans, how we are currently experiencing unnecessary suffering, and how these current worldviews are “…driving our civilization toward collapse”. Lent suggests that we modern humans “reach within ourselves to feel our deepest motivations as living beings embedded in the web of life, and act upon them.” This serves as a suggestion to all of us who are working with youth to create a new legacy of future environmental leaders who understand that:

“A Great Transformation of older worldviews would need to be founded on a worldview that could enable humanity to thrive sustainably on the earth into the future…. The new worldview would be based on the emerging systems view of life, recognizing the intrinsic interconnectedness between all forms of life on earth, and seeing humanity as physically and spiritually embracing the natural world.”

Earth Charter

https://earthcharter.org/

The need is strong, for tools and strategies that reconnect us with the perception that we are part of a community of unique life, that is totally interconnected and that shares, and is generously welcomed by the planet. In the sense of a loving and careful systemic vision, the Earth Charter brings essential reflections. It works like a compass, a north that indicates fundamental inspirations for new actions. They are principles and values ​​that guide us towards a new path, for the common good, for sustainability.

Worldviews and Values in Ecology

https://www.utpjournals.press/doi/pdf/10.3138/uram.18.3.176

“The task for us is now clear, but complex: it is to develop worldviews and value systems that might improve on our chances for ecological survival and a meaningful future development for all life on earth within a global biotic community. It is to the accomplishment of this task that one worthwhile step might be to seek to rediscover the significance of the worldviews and the ultimate values of traditional cultures. We cannot copy or simply take over their worldviews, but we can learn from the ways in which the traditional cultures perceive their unity with all living beings.”

Changing Our Worldview for A Sustainable Future and The Role of Dialogue

http://www.totetu.org/assets/media/paper/j023_040.pdf

“The best mechanism for us to declare our responsibility to each other would be through dialogues—intercultural, interfaith and even interdisciplinary dialogue, as for example between the natural and social-human sciences. Dialogue is the meeting of hearts and minds in the form of cooperative and positive interaction between people of different faith, traditions, spiritual or humanistic beliefs, at the individual or institutional level. Its aim is to derive a common ground in belief and strategy for common action, through a concentration on similarities between faiths, understanding of values and commitment to the common good. Dialogue is communication between people of faith (who agree to disagree on certain issues such as their differences for example); it is the experience of travelling together and working in projects that are of mutual importance. To engage in dialogue also means to be able to take oneself out of one’s own group; seeing oneself as others would see oneself and seeing the future of humankind as a whole.”

Why ecocentrism is the key pathway to sustainability

https://mahb.stanford.edu/blog/statement-ecocentrism/

“Ecocentrism finds value in all of nature. It takes a much wider view of the world than does anthropocentrism, which sees individual humans and the human species as more valuable than all other organisms. Ecocentrism is the broadest of worldviews, but there are related worldviews. Ecocentrism goes beyond biocentrism (ethics that sees inherent value to all living things) by including environmental systems as wholes, and their abiotic aspects. It also goes beyond zoocentrism (seeing value in animals) on account of explicitly including flora and the ecological contexts for organisms. Ecocentrism is thus the umbrella that includes biocentrism and zoocentrism, because all three of these worldviews value the nonhuman, with ecocentrism having the widest vision. Given that life relies on geological processes and geomorphology to sustain it, and that ‘geodiversity’ also has intrinsic value, the broader term ‘ecocentrism’ seems most appropriate.”

David Korten – Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QP7OCZ0d27U&ab_channel=SamEuston (40 minute video)

David Korten addresses the ecological crisis that is created by economic growth and suggests alternative strategies. His book that brings together the important teachings of Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth) and the many books about an economic system that protects life on Earth rather than destroys it. David Korten suggests that the Sacred Money and Markets story, the one that drives our lives today, be replaced by a Sacred Life and Living Earth story that preserves the community of life.

According to Korten, “we have created a global suicide economy designed to make money with no concern for the consequences for life”. He goes on to suggest that we must modify our worldview to align with the Society of Friends who suggest that:

“Our understanding of the testimony of simplicity is about removing the excesses that distract us from the life of the Spirit, as well as not using more than our fair share of Earth’s resources. Our testimony of equality would guide us away from a society of such income inequality that exists today. And our testimony of community would lead us to a society where the good of the community comes before the good of the individual.”

Korten then goes on to describe in more detail critical design choices:

“Realigning the basis of our economy to living households and communities, and away from computer-driven financial markets and corporations, is the essential first step toward a healthy, sustainable future. Ownership is power. When that power resides in global financial markets and corporations, it supports making money. But, when distributed among living people in living communities, it supports making a living.”

Please Comment

I encourage you to share your ideas with me. Please provide your comments in the space at the end of this essay or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.

Nature’s Relationships : Predator and Prey

Our great predators, the wolf, the cougar, the bear, and others teach us about the vital importance of interdependence in Nature. They are top predators because the power of their connecting presence is an evolutionary driver of the diversity of life. Chains of life flourish with the force of predation. The killing of predators by mankind results in broken energy connections that make a big difference in how Nature operates.

The conservationist’s toolkit must contain the ability to identify and preserve vital energy connections in Nature. Wikipedia defines keystone predators as species which have a disproportionately large effect on their natural environment relative to their abundance. We humans are just beginning to realize that keystone predators are a major connecting force in the functioning of ecosystems. It is a paradox that the great predators are a key to life itself. They affect the life and health of entire ecosystems. Yet, agricultural interests and Nature’s stewards in our public lands kill off the major predators because they are inconvenient or considered dangerous to humanity.

There is a wonderful video that provides a lot of detail and scientific data that supports the restoration of predators such as the wolf and the cougar. Lords of Nature  is a powerful 58 minute video that portrays the ecological damage caused by the breaking of natural connections when these predators are killed off. Narrated by Peter Coyote, the video beautifully demonstrates how everything is interconnected in Nature. And it offers solutions for humanity’s healthy coexistence with these animals. This video is well worth your time because it lays out the scientific evidence and reasoning for the preservation of the great predators like the wolf and the cougar. It also gives examples of successful coexistence between agricultural interests and predators.

Much of the conflict within the current government sponsored delisting of endangered wolf species results from human emotion and misunderstanding. On one side, some ranchers angrily view predators as thieves who destroy ones economic welfare. On the other side, the pro-wolf community portrays wolves and other predators as romantic, warm, and fuzzy creatures worth loving. Both sides harbor major misconceptions.

The video shows proof with examples that wolf predation of livestock can be reduced to near-zero levels through various non-lethal methods. Much of the resistance by the ranching community is in the Western United States where fear seems to prevail over reason. Unlike the fear of ranchers in the Western United States, there are large wolf populations in Minnesota and little predation of livestock because these ranchers have learned to employ effective non-lethal methods to protect their livestock. The video portrays interviews with Minnesota ranchers who have successfully used non-lethal methods for stopping wolf predation. The results are impressive. USDA data from the Northern Rocky Mountains show that wolves were responsible for only 1% of all livestock losses while losses due to disease (81%), bad weather (16%), and domestic dogs (2%) were far higher.

The video also notes that the pro-predator community has an equally erroneous perception – that of being “warm and fuzzy”. The fact is that predators are indeed hard to live with, and need our special attention to create a peaceful coexistence!

The science behind the issues associated with the great predators clearly defines how parts of ecosystems have been damaged or destroyed because predators like the wolf have been hunted to near extinction.

The video focuses on data and observations at Yellowstone National Park and Zion National Park. At Yellowstone and other places, starting early in the 20th century, the wolf was being exterminated. There was a war on any animal that was deemed a threat to livestock. Ranchers saw fit to clean their rangelands of all threats. By late 1920, the science of ecology (the study of Nature’s vital energy connections) began to emerge. By 1940, Aldo Leopold was defending the wolf and suggesting that conservation of the land for self-renewal should be the key idea for increasing the capacity of the land. He is famous for his words in his San County Almanac about the “green fire” in the eyes of a dying wolf . Leopold’s ideas were deeply holistic and included the welfare of soil, water, plants, and animals along with our human communities. The role of how predators associated with their prey became a key theme in his whole idea of the conservation of the health of the land. As a result, he started a bitter dispute with those who wanted the wolf exterminated.

In 1973 the Endangered Species Act was enacted and in 1995, new wolves were released into Idaho and Yellowstone National Park. Since then, researchers have gathered ecological data in Yellowstone and other national parks on the roles of predators in ecosystems. At Yellowstone, with the demise of the wolf prior to 1973, it was found that the ecosystem had changed significantly with too many deer and elk that resulted from a lack of top predators.

Aspen, cottonwood, and willow trees that grew along streams were stunted or destroyed by the foraging elk. In turn, the lack of strong stream-side plants caused erosion. The forests moved away from the streams resulting in changed ecosystems. The aquatic life in and near the streams was affected. This included beaver, fish, frogs, insects, and bird life.

With the reintroduction of the wolf, and with it the predation of elk and deer, a restoration of the former ecosystems began. The banquet provided by the wolf feeding on elk and deer was available to any other scavenger creatures from vultures to beetles. The stunted aspen, cottonwood, and willow trees began to grow again. Stream sites began to flourish. With the demise of the wolf, the beaver colonies had died off with only one left. The reintroduction of the wolf ultimately resulted in 12 beaver colonies. The Pronghorn Antelope population, a prey to coyotes, increased as the wolf preyed on coyotes again. The video describes all of this as a healing of a 70 year sickness created by mankind. Indeed, many connections in Nature had been restored with the reconnection of the keystone predator to his ecosystem. These studies have shown that the wolf is an important part of a fully functioning ecosystem

While ecological restoration was taking place at Yellowstone, deer were amassing in destructive numbers at Zion National Park. There were no wolves at Zion but there were many cougars. Strangely, the act of naming Zion as a national park ended up damaging the ecosystem. But, instead of purposeful eradication, the cougar quietly moved away from the hordes of humanity who came to visit Zion Canyon. Like Yellowstone, the stream side plant community was severely affected because of an overrun of deer. The key predator, the cougar, had moved on. But, researchers did find an opportunity to discover why all this was happening. The cougar moved to a secluded area near Zion Canyon known as North Creek. Here the scientists found a richness of life. There are 47 times more cottonwood trees, 5 times as many butterflies, and 200 times more toads and frogs. The key predator, the cougar, is keeping the deer population in check. Consequently, an ecological balance exists.

From all of this, researchers have found similar results in other places such as Jasper Provincial Park in Alberta, Canada; Olympic National Park in Washington; and Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota. The ecosystems in all of these locations were destined to decay without their top predators. Each is a living example of Aldo Leopold’s concerns some 60 years ago.Top predators provide richer, more resilient ecosystems throughout the world. There is scientific proof. And with this, human fear of loss has proven to be unfounded.

For Your Further Consideration

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. The key to an active group of ecoliterate humans that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity – particularly our youth. This worldview (the “Living Earth Story”) is supported by the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental educators,  their students, scientists, and all stewards of Nature  are a powerful progressive force that, through their knowledge about Nature, through the legacies that they create for the future, and through their informed actions are capable of overseeing the well-being of our home —  Mother Earth
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must include the acts of passing a worldview of a Mother Earth on to Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a consciousness in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature – Lessons From The Web of Life”. The book offers education methodology and content for creating Nature’s “Living Earth Story” within our youth and all stewards of Nature.. To download this book, follow the instructions on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book. 
  • If you are interested in working with me, other environmental educators, and other stewards of Nature to build a legacy of young people who will embrace and evangelize the worldview that “Everything on Earth is Connected and Interdependent”, please provide your questions and comments in the space provided below or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.

 

Please Comment  Below

 

 

What does Climate Change, COVID, and Stewardship Have In Common??

What does climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the stewardship of Nature have in common?? How are these three phrases, and the ideas that they represent, related?

You might be interested in this CNN report

As a scientist who regularly explores how Nature operates within a world  where human activity is a dominant influence, I witness both productive and destructive activities by humans. To explore these activities, one must first define the three phenomena that are listed in the title of his essay.

Encyclopedia Britannica defines “climate change” as a: “Periodic modification of Earth’s climate brought about as a result of changes in the atmosphere as well as interactions between the atmosphere and various other geologic, chemical, biological, and geographic factors within the Earth system.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “COVID-19” as: “A mild to severe respiratory illness that is caused by a coronavirus. It  is transmitted chiefly by contact with infectious material (such as respiratory droplets) or with objects or surfaces contaminated by the causative virus, and is characterized especially by fever, cough, and shortness of breath and may progress to pneumonia and respiratory failure

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “stewardship” as: “The careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care

The common factor that connects climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the stewardship of Nature is the world view of human beings. Man’s worst enemy is man himself.

While COVID, climate change, and stewardship  represent seemingly separate phenomena and ideas, they also represent some important underlying human activities that produce the same destructive results. The most critical of these destructive results could be the elimination of the human race. But also, these three ideas carry the potential of changing how we humans preserve and live within our home, Mother Earth.

Climate change, the COVID-19 epidemic, and the stewardship of Nature have certain characteristics in common. They are:

  • Human activity dominates our Earth.
  • These activities are driven by human world views.
  • Some of these world views could destroy the human race.

Modern science has successfully defined the physical, chemical, biological, and geographic interactions  that result in climate change within our Earth’s systems. Science has also defined the processes that create the coronovirus and how it is spread among humans. And, science has defined good stewardship as the preservation of interdependence and biodiversity among all plants and animals. All three are described by modern science as systems of energy flow.

However, what modern science fails to address is how the current worldviews of human beings negatively impact the processes that Nature requires to succeed. The coronavirus epidemic has reached huge proportions worldwide because humans have failed to follow simple rules that can inhibit or stop the epidemic. The negative impact of climate change within our earth’s environment is caused by humans who shun activities that would inhibit chemical and atmospheric interactions (like using fossil fuels). The reduction in our Earth’s oxygen supply comes from our poor stewardship of our forests. Huge swaths of forest that supply our essential oxygen are being eliminated by we humans for economic gain.

The common factor between the issues that drive the coronovirus, climate change, and poor stewardship is a destructive world view of Nature by we humans. It is difficult for me to imagine any major progress in the modification or elimination of these three phenomena within many humans without first addressing methods to change the majority human worldview from a “me” attitude to a “we” attitude where the Earth is recognized as a living system that requires a human consciousness of interdependence between all things.

As a high school teacher and marine biologist, I have experienced my share of humanity’s destructive worldview about Nature — a worldview of poor stewardship. Part of my work involves education of adults and high school students and the conservation of a internationally protected estuary in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. The rules specifically prohibit walking dogs in the protected area because the birds in this sanctuary view all dogs as predators. In addition, the annual depositing and hatching of Olive Ridley sea turtles in the dunes and the beach of the protected area is threatened by dogs.  Visitors from the USA and Canada are common most of the year. Signs that list the rules in both English and Spanish are posted in various locations. About 20% of the visitors openly ignore the signs and walk their dogs in environmentally protected areas. Some of these people actually destroy the signs at night. Due to budget constraints, there is only a  limited amount of enforcement. When these violators are approached, their attitude is one of “entitlement” where they feel that they have a right to walk their dogs despite the rules and the signs.

The village of San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico, where I live, is a very popular and beautiful beach community near the much larger community of Guaymas. With the corona virus crisis in full force, rules prohibit occupying the beach and require staying at home except for certain activities. These rules also require wearing face masks when away from home for essential business are enforced to prevent the further spread of this virulent virus. Nonetheless, many people, both Mexican and Anglo, have violated these rules. Again, the attitude of “entitlement” prevails. The result is a continued spreading of the disease and the death of many people.

In my work, I have discovered that much of the refusal to follow guideline or rules comes from an innate distrust of science by many human beings. Sadly, adult humans seem to be hardwired to dismiss facts that don’t fit their worldview. These facts may also affect the physical comfort of some humans.. This article  describes this phenomenon and offers reasons why many adult humans choose to ignore scientific fact and defy rules posted on signs by government authorities.

“Cognitive dissonance” is a concept that was developed in the 1950s by American psychologist Leon Festinger. It describes the mental conflict that occurs when current beliefs or assumptions are contradicted by new information. The unease or tension that the conflict arouses in people is relieved by one of several defensive maneuvers:

  • People reject, explain away, or avoid the new information.
  • People persuade themselves that no conflict really exists.
  • People reconcile the differences.
  • People resort to any other defensive means of preserving stability or order in their conceptions of the world and of themselves.

I have used the phrase “adult human” to classify 50% of the human race. These people are over 25 years of age. Many seem to suffer from cognitive dissonance. There seems to be a significant difference in the worldviews of these older generations and those humans who are younger than 25 years old. It is my view that the hope for humanity rests with our youth.

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

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

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

For Your Further Consideration

This essay, and other essays in this web site, present ideas to environmental educators and all stewards of Nature about ecoliteracy and legacy.   The emphasis is on two key ideas:

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

Please Comment

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

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 regular Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

Empowering Stewards of Nature — Lessons From The Web Of Life

Empowering Stewards of Nature 

Lessons From the Web of Life

(Free PDF Study Guides)

This book advocates a human worldview that includes a deep consciousness for an interdependent and connected Nature. With this worldview, we are empowering humans to partner with Nature rather than unsuccessfully trying to manipulate and control Nature. Without interdependence and connectivity in Nature, all life on Earth, including we humans, would cease to exist because the energy necessary to sustain life could not flow Everything must be connected. Everything, including humans, is interdependent.  Nothing is self-sufficient.

The words and ideas in this book are directed to all stewards of Nature, elementary, high school, and university students, and all environmental educators including classroom teachers, park rangers, docents, and nature guides. In turn, it is hoped that you, the reader, will promote the idea that Nature’s processes of interconnection and interdependence are vital to the welfare and harmony of both Nature and humanity on this Earth.

The strategy of the material in this book is to demonstrate the vital importance of identifying, understanding, and protecting the interconnections that provide energy flow in Nature. Equipped with this consciousness and knowledge, the reader is in a position to help current and future human generations respect and preserve the Earth’s interdependent environment that is essential for all life to exist.  You, the reader, become the messenger.

This book is designed to help you become an effective and knowledgeable messenger to both current adult generations and to future human generations — our young people. The book offers a series of teaching resources that include teaching strategies, case studies, activity sets, and lesson sets that focus on the theme that “Nothing In Nature Exists In Isolation”. The methodology for presenting this material to human beings of all ages is to set aside the formal presentation of facts in favor of individual exploration and discovery. Instead of being a purveyor of facts, you, the messenger acts as a mentor and facilitator.

Through seminar-style discussion groups accompanied by hands-on place-based education in the outdoors, this material will help the “student” in any age group to build a healthy consciousness for Nature by engaging, exploring, and discovering Nature’s interconnected world.

This book:

* Identifies and describes unsustainable human population growth on a planet with limited resources.

* Uses modern systems science to more fully describe our planet as an interdependent living system.

* Evangelizes the deep dependency of humans on Nature’s energy flow within Her ecosystem

* Examines current scientific fact as the basis for creating an environmental ethic that will guide humans toward a sustainable harmony with Nature.

* Focuses on conservation practices that identify and preserve the pathways of energy flow in Nature. By identifying and conserving energy flow networks, mankind does not get involved in trying to predict what an unpredictable Nature will do. Instead, Nature, makes the decisions that best serve Her and Her creatures.

* Emphasizes the fact that the environmental education of our youth produces a powerful legacy of effective conservation practices in Nature.

The book is organized into the following sections:

  • Introductory material that describes the book’s purpose.
  • Teaching concepts – suggested methods for effectively presenting the material provided in this book to different audiences.
  • Case studies for seminars – basic study/research material that describes 28 different ecological subjects to be used for conducting inquiry-based (Socratic) seminars.
  • Suggested activity sets to be used for hands-on, place-based outdoor activities in Nature.
  • Suggested lesson sets created by professional biology/ecology teachers.
  • Epilogue – Summary of the ideas presented in this book.

Please view my privacy policy here   

Your feedback to me about this free ebook is an extremely important part of my work. Whether you have found this book useful or not, I ask that you provide your critique by offering your comments in the comment section at the bottom of this page. It is through your comments that I build the foundation for the next edition of this book. I have found that comments from students are a very important part of any critique and I strongly encourage students to offer their opinions and suggestions.

 

Click Here To Download Your eBook

 

 

 

Our Youth Must Live Nature’s Story

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

-Joanna Macy – Active Hope

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our youth must be guided by the Living Earth Story

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

David Korten says:

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

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

For Your Further Consideration

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

Please Comment

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

 

Humans and Nature: Three Perceptions of Reality

People normally cut reality into compartments, and so are unable to see the interdependence of all phenomena.” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

In my work as a conservation biologist, I often experience an arrogance by many adult humans as they refuse to embrace Nature as their home. These people seem to reject the idea that :

We humans need Nature, but Nature doesn’t need we humans

I often find myself searching for the root causes of this human separation from Nature that is prevalent mostly in humans over the age of 25. I have grown to realize that this separation from Nature is a cultural thing that is driven by an individual’s psyche –  the human soul, mind, or spirit. I prefer to call this deeply embedded phenomenon a person’s “worldview” –  a particular perception of life or conception of the world which could be right or wrong. The behavior of a person is driven by his or her worldview.

There are three human worldviews of Nature’s reality that drive how human beings relate to Nature and how human beings affect Nature.  They are:

Worldview #1: We humans dominate and control Nature.

Worldview #2: Nature can be understood by separating and understanding each individual part of Nature.

Worldview #3: Everything in Nature has an interdependent relationship with everything else. Parts of Nature cannot be understood without reference to the whole. 
 

Human Dominion and Control of Nature

 
Currently, the modern and predominate human worldview of Nature centers around the idea that people can control and predict Nature. Modern systems science has shown that this worldview does not portray reality and is blatantly false. Nonetheless, a large percentage of the human population over age 25  (excluding scientists and environmental educators) believes that modern human technology will prevail and prevent bad things from happening to we humans.

Recently, an important word, “anthropocentric”,  has emerged in the literature.   The Encyclopedia Britannica defines Anthropocentric as a:

viewpoint arguing that human beings are the central or most significant entities in the world. This is a basic belief embedded in many Western religions and philosophies. Anthropocentrism regards humans as separate from and superior to nature and holds that human life has intrinsic value while other entities in nature (including animals, plants, mineral resources, and so on) are resources that may justifiably be exploited for the benefit of humankind.”

Anthropocentrism suggests that human beings are preoccupied with a “me first” attitude. Much is written about the human idea that economic growth is far more important than the preservation of the earth’s resources. “Consumerism” is defined as a preoccupation with activities that result in consuming Nature’s resources. The result has led to a great concern by many humans that these excesses have resulted in potentially destructive changes in Earth’s climate as early as 2050. These concerns are prevalent in the younger human population who believe that the destructive anthropocentric practices of many humans over age 25 will result in an uncertain future for younger generations of humans.

These concerns have resulted in a great deal of climate activism by young people. One example, among many, is the activities of 16 year old Greta Thunberg . Greta has inspired and organized youth groups who have become vocal about how the older human generations are leaving an environmental mess that will need to be cleaned up by young people. Greta has attracted a lot of attention and has spoken before the United Nations and other influential world bodies.
 

Reductionism – separating and understanding each individual part of Nature
 

 
Reductionism is the claim that the properties of any complex and varied object can be explained by separately studying a set of fewer, more basic, elements within the phenomenon. For example, reductionism asserts that you can completely understand how an automobile engine operates by disassembling that engine, laying the parts on the garage floor, and studying each part separately.

In practical terms, reductionism states that every biological theory and fact may be deduced from studying the simplest components of the biological system in question. This would mean that, if we were to know perfectly the traits of every biological process in an organism, for example, we would be able to predict the behavior of the organism they compose. But we can’t. A good example is modern medicine where a doctor diagnoses a specific malady in a patient and prescribes a specific pill to fix that problem. Charles Eisenstein says:

What is the cause of, say, strep throat? Well, obviously it is the streptococcus bacterium, right? The problem is a germ. The solution is to kill the germ. On one level this may be accurate, but consider what this approach renders invisible and leaves out. First, it leaves out the question why one person exposed to the germ gets sick, and another does not. Especially if someone gets repeated infections of strep, it might be more useful to see the germ not as the cause, but as one of the symptoms of the disease. It also ignores the effects of repeated antibiotic treatment, and whether that might somehow contribute to vulnerability to reinfection. In medicine, focusing on the immediate, linear cause of a disease can destroy or impair the possibility of a real cure, whether on an individual or epidemiological level.”

In addition, the reductionist approach to taking a pill to fix a problem ignores the possible side effects of a particular medication.

Reductionism fails to consider the relationships between parts where, in reality, Nature is a network of interrelated parts. Classical science and engineering have successfully used a reductionist methodology where one separates and simplifies phenomena in order to predict future events. Nevertheless, in recent decades the limits of reductionism have become evident in phenomena where interactions are relevant. Since reductionism separates, it has to ignore interactions. If interactions are relevant, reductionism is not suitable for studying complex phenomena such as ecosystems in Nature.

As I noted in an essay on environmental education that I have written:

It should come as no surprise that, despite being surrounded by an interdependent Nature, we humans think in bits and pieces and not relationships. From the day we start attending school until we graduate some 12 to 20 years later, we are embedded in an education system that operates in bits and pieces. We attend math classes where we must focus only on math. We take history classes where we must focus only on history. And we take music classes where we are taught to focus only on music. To prove that we have learned something, we are required to take separate exams in each subject and receive separate grades“.

Much of modern humanity’s reductionist worldview comes from this questionable structure of our education system. But yet, the reductionist worldview does not paint an accurate and realistic view of our home – Nature. A holistic worldview of Nature’s interdependence can paint a reality upon which we can live in a sustainable manner.
 

Holism is the study of relationships between everything

 
There are plenty of phenomena that are better described from a non-reductionist or holistic perspective. For example, insect swarms, flocks of birds, schools of fish, herds of animals, and human society exhibit behaviors at the group level that cannot be determined nor predicted simply from individual behaviors or rules. Each animal makes local decisions depending on the behavior of their neighbors, thus interacting with them. Through the study of interactions, group behavior can be well understood. We cannot define the behavior of a bird flock or a fish school based on the behavior of individuals only. The relationship between the birds or fish must be defined. This also applies to cells, brains, markets, cities, ecosystems, biospheres, etc. Since interactions generate novel information that is not present in initial nor boundary conditions, predictability is limited. There is no shortcut to determine the future state of a system other than actually running or computing that system in real time.  

Nonetheless, many people continue to harbor the false reductionist worldview of being able to predict and control Nature. These people fail to acknowledge that Nature is a complex network of interrelated and interdependent parts. Without a consciousness of interdependence and inter-connectivity in Nature, humans will continue to proceed along a destructive pathway that could spell disaster for the human race by about the year 2100.

This leads us to search for some form of action that might prevent the calamity that will result from an errant worldview.
 

Our youth, our scientists, and our environmental educators can save humanity

 
Our youth represent about half of the human population on Planet Earth that is 25 years of age or younger. Typically, these people ( as well as scientists and environmental educators) do not harbor the reductionist worldview of the older humans. Young people are not yet culturally conditioned to a worldview where Nature is viewed as a reductionist machine. The fresh minds of young people are open to new ideas and new world views. These young minds have the potential of becoming our next generation of environmental leaders. These young minds, with guidance of environmental educators and scientists, have the potential of embracing Nature is a system of interrelated and interdependent parts. In doing so new generations acquire a holistic worldview of Nature that is the necessary foundation for the sustainable existence of humans on Earth.
 

Hope For Mankind’s Future Comes From Instilling A Deep Consciousness For An Interdependent Nature In Our Youth

 
I have the privilege of overseeing an environmental education program that works with students from fourth grade through high school. The fundamental emphasis of this program is that nothing in Nature is isolated. Everything is interconnected and interdependent. Over the years, I have been able to show that, when my students move on in life, they retain and practice this fundamental idea. It becomes a holistic worldview for them. It is my hope that their newly acquired worldview will become a legacy for future generations that come in contact with them.

In this way, those of us who are environmental educators, scientists, or stewards of Nature have the potential of modifying humanity’s worldview of Nature so as to create a consciousness for the interdependence of all life.
 

For Your Further Consideration

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

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

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

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

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

Please Comment

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

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.

Interbeing – No Man Is An Island

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Your Further Consideration

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

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

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

  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. The key to an active group of eco literate humans that results in a healthy environment for all life on earth is the building of a systems view of life into the minds and hearts of humanity – particularly our youth. This worldview (the “Living Earth Story”) is supported by the fact that all of Nature is interconnected and interdependent.
  • Environmental educators,  their students, scientists, and all stewards of Nature  are a powerful progressive force that, through their knowledge about Nature, through the legacies that they create for the future, and through their informed actions are capable of overseeing the well-being of our home —  Mother Earth
  • Environmental education is not simply offering facts. Environmental education must include the acts of passing a worldview of a living Mother Earth on to humanity. Environmental education must be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become conscious in the minds and hearts of all of our youth.
  • This website offers a free PDF book entitled “Empowering Nature’s Stewards”. ‎ The book offers educational methodology and content for creating Nature’s “Living Earth Story” within our youth and all stewards of Nature. To download this book, follow the instructions when you click the “Empowering Nature’s Stewards ” menu item from the menu list. 
  • If you are interested in working with me, other environmental educators, and other stewards of Nature to build a legacy of young people who will embrace and evangelize the worldview that “Everything on Earth is Connected and Interdependent”, please provide your questions and comments in the space provided below or by contacting me at my Twitter account @ballenamar.

 

Please Comment  Here

 

Last updated by at .