A Reunion : Bringing Humans Back To Nature

 

We older folks are leaving an ecological mess for our younger generations. 

While thoroughly enjoying my senior years, I have experienced a profound internal struggle as I try to understand why we older folks are leaving an ecological mess for our younger generations.

As a scientist and conservationist, I see this process of “Nature denial” taking place. I see the everyday activities of ordinary people impairing important ecosystems with activities as simple as dog walking in legally restricted or prohibited areas where dogs have a negative impact on important ecosystems. Warning signs created by knowledgeable ecologists are completely ignored by some members of the adult public. When a dog walker is approached by a smiling and polite steward of Nature who is also a member of the local community, tension ensues. In many cases, the dog walker continues on with the dog without leaving the area. No amount of courteous and compassionate dialog will sway the dog walker because he or she believes that the dog has a “right” to be there.  Where I live, this interchange happens often.

This kind of thing is happening by seemingly responsible adults at all levels, from walking dogs to climate  denial. One does not have to dig very deep to discover that the human world is facing some major environmental crises unless some real changes take place in humanity’s worldviews about Nature. I feel this very deeply because my current group of students, and their offspring,  will be the first generation to experience some pretty awful things as they reach middle age. I feel for this generation of young people, aged 25 years and younger, as I face them in the classroom every week. I accept my share of the responsibility because I am part of their problem.

Thinking that there is an infinite supply of goods available to us in our garden of Eden, the members of my generation have fueled over-consumption that has resulted in straining the finite resources of Earth. We have seen ourselves as separate from Nature instead of being dependent upon Her. We have erroneously believed that our  technology can control Nature and will offer miracles that will prevent the bad things from happening.. And, we adults have failed to see that the relationships and interactions between things are far more important than the things themselves. We have failed to realize that we humans need Nature but that Nature does not need us.

Inside of me, I find myself silently dealing with a growing anger for some people’s  total disregard for the environment upon which all of our lives depend. I find myself trying to understand what is going on. But, most of all, I seek solutions to offer my students. I see brightness in a group of adult heroes who are positive exceptions within my generation. These folks are environmental educators, thought leaders, and scientists. These people are bringing the truth of the near term future to our young people and offering solutions.

My discomfort has driven me to do a lot of reading as I seek the perspectives of some great thought leaders of our time. I have come to realize that the climate change problem and the dog walking problem are the same problem, They both call for the same solution. Among many, I am particularly grateful for the persuasive thinking of thought integrator Jeremy Lent, environmental and political activist George Monbiot, philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore, speaker and writer on themes of human cultural evolution Charles Eisenstein, environmental educator David W. Orr, and the father of modern systems thinking Fritjof Capra. At the end of this essay, I offer online references for each of these thinkers.

The one basic idea expressed by every one of these people is that of a misguided and misinformed human culture that has driven us to a point in our Earth’s history where we all feel separated from Nature. We feel separated from our very source of life. If we can understand that actions by humans are motivated by separation, we may have a chance at helping our youth forge a new pathway to both survival and happiness. For, it is through our youth that we humans have a chance of saving our race.

ClimateHealers  describes this story of separation:

This story of separation is the core story that is truly failing us. With the technological strides we have made in the last two centuries, most of us live in concrete jungles with little to no exposure to the terrestrial biodiversity on Earth. Other than our pets, we rarely meet any other animal species in our daily lives except in zoos and circuses or packaged as meat in supermarkets.”

Some people have concluded that we are separated from Creation in an unconscious enactment of the Old Testament story. In Genesis 1: 26 of the Bible (KJV), we are told that humans have dominion over the Earth:

Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Charles Eisenstein, author of The Ascent of Humanity and Sacred Economics, says:

In civilization, what you are is a discrete, separate individual, among other individuals, in an external universe that is separate from you. In religion, you are  a soul encased in flesh. In psychology, you are a mind encased in flesh. In biology, you are the expression of DNA serving to maximize your reproductive  self-interest and greed. And that conception of self has basically poisoned our planet, because we treat the planet as if it were an other. That is, not only are we separated from Creation, but we are separated from each other. While climate change is a symptom of  the fever that our Earth has contracted, the underlying disease is the disconnection from Creation that plagues human societies throughout the Earth.

While this story of our separation justifies and drives many of our daily actions, it is in fact a story of human exceptionalism, the idea that we are somehow different from and better than other species. It is based on the false notion that while other species all have to live in harmony with Nature, we are somehow exempt from that requirement since we can fashion our own environment.

This notion is patently false. The cascading environmental crises are signals from Nature that there are no such exceptions in the family of Life. We have no choice but to live in harmony with Nature because we are a part of Nature.

This story of separation is closely aligned with ‘speciesism’, which is discrimination and exploitation on the basis of species identity. It is due to speciesism that we consider the murder of humans to be wrong, but the hunting of other animals to be sport, concentration camps to be evil, but slaughterhouses to be humane, jails to be avoided, but zoos to be toured.”

 

We are entering a story of Reunion

 

Throughout all of this human created chaos,  Charles Eisenstein sees hope. He says that:

Individually and collectively, we are on a journey from a story of Separation to a new yet ancient story of Reunion: ecology, interdependence, and interbeing.”

Indeed Eisenstein’s words define the pathway of this Reunion which is the solution to the climate problem, the dog problem, and other human created environmental problems.  We must take the Reunion pathway if we are going to empower our youth by creating a new human consciousness of our interdependence with Nature in the minds and hearts of our current and future generations. A consciousness for interbeing among all things in Nature.

Interbeing means to inter-dependently co-exist. The meaning of interbeing recognizes the dependence of any one person on  all other people and objects. Not only is no man an island, but rather 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 for his house.

This essay begins a series of essays that describe  some of the ideas that are expressed by current thought leaders regarding the human role in resolving the current ecological crisis and bringing we humans back into a Reunion with Nature. Some of the subjects that this essay series will address include:

  • The Necessity of Our Interbeing With Nature
  • Empowering Our Youth
  • The Danger of Fundamentalism
  • The Vital Importance of Systems Thinking By Humans (Our Earth’s Living Systems)
  • The Power of Legacy

 

Here are references to each of the thought leaders who I have mentioned:

Jeremy Lent

George Monbiot

Kathleen Dean Moore

Charles Eisenstein

David W. Orr

Fritjof Capra

 

For Your Further Consideration

 

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

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

Why Do I Write These Essays?

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

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

Please Comment and Subscribe

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.

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A Compassionate Consciousness

The word “consciousness” is not just a philosophical, spiritual, “hippie”, or “tree hugger” idea. Consciousness means being aware of something.

“Connections”, “interconnectivity”, “interrelationships”, “links”, and interdependence are all words that describe Nature and life. The idea of everything being connected in Nature is essential because life is defined by the energy that is transported between all living creatures and transformed into useful forms within all living creatures. By understanding the simple idea that everything is interconnected, we also understand why Nature is so complex.

We now understand that the origin of everything in the Universe begins with the atoms created by the stars. When we look at the night sky, we see our ancestors. From these relatively simple beginnings, our world of Nature has evolved into highly complex interdependent systems such as the bodies of all living creatures, the organization of ecosystems, and the flow, distribution, and transformation of our sun’s energy. In fact our Universe, as we know it, could not exist without everything being connected and interdependent in some way.

A consciousness about interdependence in Nature is essential to the survival of humanity on this earth. If we fail to understand interdependence and how we depend upon other creatures of our Earth, we are unable to define how we humans are able to thrive in Nature. If we fail to be compassionate and conscious about how any of our actions might affect other creatures, we might end up hurting ourselves. This compassionate consciousness requires the humility of stewardship instead of the prevalent arrogant attitude of many humans (and government agencies) who wish to control and manage Nature without understanding the consequences of their actions.

The secret to resolving our environmental crises is to develop a consciousness for the idea of Nature’s interdependent connections. through our young people. Young people have fresh minds. They are unhampered by the biases we develop as we get older. And, they learn and associate through awe and wonder. Many environmental organizations are beginning to realize that sustainability education within our schools is a powerful means to correct the ecological mistakes of the past. Instead of offering the common doomsday approach, environmental education uses stewardship to build a basic consciousness toward interdependency in Nature that will serve as a foundation for sound ecological decisions in the future.

Climate Change Is A Moral Issue

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

— North American Proverb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The late Rachel Carson offered a powerful, message as a precursor to a major paradigm shift in Western science that took place around 1960.  Her message is also the answer to curing our current environmental ills about climate change by changing mankind’s incorrect and misguided current view of control over Nature to one of interdependence of all living and nonliving things in Nature. In her “Essay on the Biological Sciences” written in 1958 she said:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. What does Earth ask of us?”

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

A Systems Thinking Reference List

The Systems View of Life Is A Unifying Vision

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

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

 
Systems thinking  means that understanding life requires a shift of focus from objects to relationships. Each species in an ecosystem helps to sustain the entire food web. If one species is decimated by some natural catastrophe, the ecosystem may still be resilient enough to survive if there are other species that can fulfill similar functions. But in other cases, the decimation of one species may have destroy a working ecosystem.
 
All of this invites the ethical side of systems thinking.
 
This essay is a list of references about systems thinking that I have found useful in my teaching and my research.
 

Systems Literacy

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

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

Systems Education

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

Interbeing and Interdependence

 
Creating An Interdependence Map
 
Interbeing – No Man Is An Island
 

Ethics

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

Climate Change

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 
Using Systems Thinking To Understand Climate Change
 

For Your Further Consideration

 

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

 

Why Do I Write These Essays?

 

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself,  or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.
If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

 

Please Comment and Subscribe

 

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 Architecture of Biodiversity

 

What Does Biodiversity Mean?

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

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

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

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

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

The authors go on to raise the following questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Your Further Consideration

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

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

Why Do I Write These Essays?

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

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

Please Comment and Subscribe

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

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

Ecoliteracy : Interdependence Is Life

Interdependence is a defining feature of all life

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

We humans need to embrace a systems view of life

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

Life is a collection of living systems

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

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

For Your Further Consideration

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

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

Please Comment 

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

Nature’s Relationships: We Are Imperiled From Within

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

Why Do I Write These Essays?

Nothing in Nature exists in isolation. The movement of life’s energy, which originates in the sun, takes place because everything is interconnected and interdependent. Your consciousness of interdependence in Nature means that, every time you engage Nature, you ask yourself how a creature, a plant, yourself,  or a natural object is connected to another and to Nature’s greater scheme of things. With this awareness you are prepared to protect Nature’s environment that sustains you. And, you create your legacy by encouraging others to do likewise.
If, after reading my essays, you find yourself embracing these ideas, I am thrilled in knowing that I’ve played some small part in setting this world view in motion in your mind.

Please Comment and Subscribe

I invite you to subscribe to my newsletter using the sign-up form provided at the upper right corner of this web page. As a subscriber you will receive regular email announcements of new essays that I publish or popular essays that i have previously published. In these essays you will have the opportunity to share comments and ideas about a topic. Your security is important to me. Please know that your email address is never distributed to anyone.
You are strongly encouraged to become one of my 11,000+ followers on Twitter. My Twitter ID is @ballenamar .  With Twitter, in addition to receiving daily Tweets that announce my essays, you will see when I retweet something that I read and that I think is important.

 

Ecoliteracy – Our Earth Is A Living System

Everything within Nature is interconnected and interdependent

 

Interdependence is an important word that refers to the tendency of all creatures in Nature  to be linked and interdependent upon other creatures.  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 the sun’s 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 living 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 successful 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.

 

Nature is composed of hierarchal, interconnecting and interdependent 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 equilibrium 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. It is important to know 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 and interdependent 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 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 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.

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. The outcome of any well-meaning actions is impossible to predict.

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.

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

 

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.

 

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Ecoliteracy – A Systems View Of Life

“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

The Systems View of Life Is 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.”
“These principles, it reveals, occur across widely different domains, from heart rhythms to climate variations and from lake ecologies to internet social media connections. It also shows how self-organized systems are fractally embedded within one another: a cell may be part of an organism, which is part of a community, which is nested within an ecosystem, which in turn is part of Gaia.”

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 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. 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 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.

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 organisation of all living systems. Ecosystems are understood in terms of food webs – i.e., networks of organisms; organism 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 ecoliterate 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.

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

For Your Further Consideration

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

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

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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.

A Legacy Worldview – Teach The Children Well

How do those of us who care and are aware face the grim dilemma of an unsustainable human population? Most certainly, conservation through obedience doesn’t work. Rules and policemen don’t teach anything. Laws, rules, and regulations can easily be ignored if one avoids individuals in law enforcement. The most likely and effective process is through education. However, the current attitudes of many members of the adult human population limit receptiveness to the idea of environmental education. Indeed, we have lost a large part of the adult population who will continue to live in unsustainable ways.

 

Nonetheless, education builds consciousness. It builds a capability to make good environmental decisions that are available to everyone — not just scientists and administrators. The challenge of environmental education is to build a legacy of conservation-minded people. Whether you are an educator or a student, your challenge is to pass on this legacy through your knowledge and your energy. Your job is to build a network of environmentally aware people through your example. In doing so, you will help build a future with people who care for the home in which we humans must live.  That is what this essay is all about.

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 world views.  The fresh minds of young people respond to facts and learn through awe and wonder. These young minds have the potential of becoming the 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 connection 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 us humans. Passing on ideas through 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. 

Therefore, the basic objective of environmental education is to build a “connectivity consciousness” in our youth in hopes that our youth will build a legacy that influences the generations that follow them. This makes the relationships between generations an important connection in Nature. This idea of generation connectivity amplifies the huge importance and responsibility of environmental educators.

 

Through hands-on, place-based education that emphasizes inquiry-learning, we can develop a consciousness for the interdependency of all forms of Nature. A consciousness that recognizes and accepts the fact that, for Nature at all levels to exist, everything in our universe, in our world, and in our local communities is connected. We can build this consciousness in our youth by offering ways to identify, understand, and preserve vital connections in Nature as well as the ecosystems that embrace these connections.

 

In a profound message called “Teach The Children”, poet Mary Oliver  says:
“Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones—inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones—rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms. Attention is the beginning of devotion.”
Children and youth up to and including age 25 represent 50% of the human population. If teaching methods make a subject interesting for each age group, children and youth are receptive to the awe and wonder of Nature. They will participate in activities that will reinforce the learning process.  They love to look, touch, feel, smell, and taste.

In turn, children and youth can influence adult members in their family. Children and youth can also influence the next generation. The idea of legacy education is a powerful conservation tool over the years. Let us assume that you have an environmental education class of 20 young minds. Let us also assume that you are able to significantly influence two (10%)  of these people to a point that they are able to eventually influence two other young people to a point of action. And so on. Over ten years,1,024 people will be strongly influenced by your singular influence in one year. If you do this for 10 years, your effort will result in 102,400 new stewards of Nature. If your success rate is 15% instead of 10%, your legacy from a 10-year effort will be 590,490 people. If your success rate is 20%, your legacy from a 10-year program will be 10,485,760 people. If there are 10,000 environmental educators providing significant influence to only 10% of their students, their legacy will be 10,240,000 young people becoming significant stewards of Nature. This very basic mathematical exercise demonstrates the significance and power of legacy building. By empowering a small group of students each year, one is able to eventually create a huge cadre of influential stewards of Nature well in advance of the projected 50-year date when it is thought that the human race will be in mortal danger of collapse due to its own ignorance.

 

Multiplying and spreading your knowledge and example to others is a powerful conservation strategy. By educating locally, but thinking globally, you become the initiator of a network of social energy that can grow and save Nature from human destruction. Your influence now can help build a future positive equilibrium in, at least, some corners of Nature’s existence.

 

Conservation is the act of identifying, understanding,  preserving, and protecting Nature’s energy flow. Legacy building – passing it on to others – must be added to our definition of conserving Nature. Legacy building is empowering environmental stewards, directly or indirectly, at all ages and within all disciplines.

The legacy worldview incorporates both the systems worldview that was explored in the second essay and the environmental ethics discussed in the fourth essay. These two subjects are seemingly unrelated. However, both worldviews address interrelationships. The systems worldview focuses on the technical truths about Nature’s interrelated systems while the ethical worldview focuses on the qualities and guidelines for human interaction within Nature’s ecosystems. The legacy worldview passes on facts and guidelines for action through the transfer of ideas to other groups and future generations. The legacy worldview represents the positive influence that is so badly needed if humanity is to survive on Earth. Here are two examples of young people and their mentors building a legacy of environmental consciousness. 

 

The Green Team

 

I am privileged to mentor a group of 10 incredible high school seniors in an environmental education program in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. My students use hands-on, place-based, Socratic (inquiry-based) teaching strategies to help young people in the primary grades understand the flow of Nature’s energy and why everything in Nature is interconnected. This program, called the “Green Team”, uses a local estuary as the “classroom”. Being the “resident biologist”, my job is to provide the technical information necessary for the Green Team to build an effective teaching package. However, the actual teaching activities are conducted by my students.

Typically, the Green Team first provides a 45 minute in-class oral and video Socratic session to introduce the ideas about energy flow in Nature. Within a week of this activity, the students take a field trip to a local estuary. First, they participate in the “string game” activity where they learn about the complex connections in the ecosystem. Then, they enter a mangrove ecosystem, get wet, and trace Nature’s energy flow from the sun, through the mangrove system, into the estuary water plane, and out to sea. This activity is heavy with sensory activities. And, finally, the students participate in a “What did you see?” session.

 

The Green Team participates in legacy building. First, I passed the information on to my students. Then, they passed what they learned to younger students. With time, we hope that the younger students will become the new Green Team.

 

 The Little Acorns Program

 

Deborah Perryman is an award-winning environmental educator from Elgin, Illinois, USA who provides us with a second example of legacy building.  Deb is an Illinois teacher of the year recipient. She oversees the National Biodiversity Teach-In  which is run by her students. Her hands-on, place-based environmental teaching work is portrayed in this video.

 

Legacy Building Resource Material
 
Thanks for reading this blog essay. This website offers a free PDF version of a book entitled “Empowering Stewards of Nature”. The book offers education methodology and content for building a connectivity consciousness for Nature within your students. The methodology includes seminar-style Socratic learning in the classroom coupled with activities in Nature that emphasize Nature’s relationships and energy flow. The book also offers some activity sets that will prove useful as you implement your environmental education programs outdoors. In addition, there is a series of environmental case studies that can be used in inquiry-based learning sessions. You are free to use the material offered in these packages “as-is” or modify things to fit your needs. To download this book, follow the instructions on the right side of the web-site when you click the photograph of the book.  

 

For Your Further Consideration

 

Ecological literacy (ecoliteracy) is the ability to understand how our Earth’s natural systems make life on our planet possible. The essays in this website offer thoughts about ecoliteracy to all environmental educators,  students, and stewards of Nature.   The emphasis is on these key ideas:
  • Our earth is a living system that transports and transforms the energy necessary for all life to exist. 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 (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, 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 be hands-on, and action-based if ideas, facts, and effective conservation strategies are to become a worldview in the minds and hearts of all of our youth. Environmental education must include the acts of passing this consciousness on to future generations.
  • 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.

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