Butterflies, Bugs and Birds

ButterflyThe butterfly, symbol of our own awakening life, the first to find the first yellow blossom that pushed up out of the mud at the edge of my pond.

The pond teems with life this year after the long drought. Enough to feed the huge white heron, enough to feed the butterfly, enough to feed whatever it is that breaks the surface to slurp up some unwary bug or baby bird and drag it back below. And when I drove in I knew immediately the baby killdeer had arrived.

birdinflightIn their effort to drag us away from their babies, the mother and father flashed their white wing patterns and their orange rump feathers as they swooped — across the surface of the pond and over the new-mown grass along its edges — around our advancing threat to their young, just far enough away to tempt, and not close enough to get caught. They settle onto the grass, looking back over their shoulder, they squat and flag the orange rump feathers, flutter their wings and roll over on the ground as though maimed and unable to escape, but if we approach they do escape, again just out of reach, time and again until they have lured us away from their new hatchlings, and then soar into the morning sun. This works with the dog, who dashes across the pasture in pursuit.

“But you can’t fool me,” I say, turning my back on the birds and scanning the shores of the pond. “I’m the one with the brain!” And sure enough, this time I spotted them, two babies, but then I remembered these birds have been living here for about five years and produced several sets of eggs each year. I have looked before, but this is the very first time I have found the babies, and that’s probably because I just mowed the grass where their nest has been — wherever that was.
So who is smarter here? How do these birds “know” what to do to protect their chicks? Why do Killdeer behave this way and other birds choose other methods of protection? When we ask those kinds of questions, we are asking about the information component of the ecosystem. The information the ecosystem needs to survive through time and across the different sorts of environments of which it is composed.

The survival information is encoded in every cell of every organism that exists in the ecosystem. The plants know how to do photosynthesis, the cells know how to do cellular respiration, the muscles know when and how to contract, the eyes know how to see, everything knows how to breath, though everyone does not breath in the same way. Fishes are rather different from us, but they get what they need.

The brain knows how to think, and Killdeer birds know how to draw predators away from their babies. How does the heron know to fish? The flower to attract just the right butterfly that will carry its male fertility to the appropriate female flower? How does the butterfly know which flower is the right flower? How did the flower know that the right kind of butterfly would be available just when it opened?

The kinds of behaviors that are involved with survival inside the ecosystem are encoded in the genes of all the organisms, each kind of organism with it’s own instructions. This information flow includes genes, and is studied by geneticists, but it is more than only genes. It includes predator/prey interactions, parasite cycles, and all of the other elements of the ecosystem reality as it is this day in this year, and the interaction of all those factors with the genomes of all the other organisms that live in the ecosystem and with the inorganic environment.

If I were to refer to it as the intelligence of the ecosystem, you would immediately want to give it an IQ test and compare with human intelligence. That would be a misleading metaphor, and so I will not. But it is a very real flow of information through the ecosystem from the origin of life on earth until this very day. It is in you; it is your heritage; and you are in it.
Look at those little legs go, faster than mine. The parents are having fits, off to the side, trying to distract me, and I will back off as soon as I get a picture, because I know there are big fish and turtles in the pond, I doubt the little thing knows how to swim, and a Copperhead roams the shore. I don’t want to be responsible. The parents, I think, can do a better job without me.

Sustainable Balance

Everything in the universe that we can study is about balance, that is, it requires balance to maintain. Without balance, there is no such idea as sustainability. Well, there is the idea, but it is insane. If something gets smaller and smaller until it disappears, that is not sustainability; if something starts eating and gets bigger and bigger until it is bigger than the earth — that is not sustainability (but it does describe modern corporations, doesn’t it ☺. Balance is where its at if we wish to survive.

If there were no death there could be no life; therefore death can not be considered the enemy (but it is one of the best ways to sell stuff).

If a man has ten sons, is he then required to divide his lands into ten plots, none of which are sufficient to support a family? That is not balance and it is not sustainable; he is not providing for his future.

Balance between humans and the ecosystem.

Balance between oxygen and carbon in the ecosystem.

Balance in the water cycle.

I am not good at physics. Probably I could quote something there if I were, but I do know that all of life is about balance. If you know anything about physiology, the balance of salts in your blood. Everything. Temperature. The same is true at the level of the individual cells.

Therefore – the obligation of stewardship is to understand the balance. Do not assume everyone and everything is just like you. Study facts, also study convictions and opinions and as you do be wary of the desperate extremes of people who are so afraid of life that they can’t listen to reality but instead make up pretty stories (or horrid stories if they want other people to join them in their pit of fear)..

If we really want sustainability, we will have to nurture the balance of life. Nothing else is sustainable.

Fake Arguments – Is Global Warming Caused by Overpopulation?

Why is this a fake argument?

Because it is used to misdirect the intellect and energy of our well meaning people so they end up arguing over something that does not matter very much instead of solving problems that do. It does not matter very much because:

1. We do know some things we can do to reduce global warming, and

2. The OTHER results of overpopulation are so dreadful, all by themselves, that global warming is relatively a pinprick. For example think AIDS. Think genocide. Think the Israeli land grab. Think war. Think failed states that are no longer able to educate or care for their people.

Is that enough reasons that we should begin the conversation about overpopulation?

Or at least provide protection for those who want it?

Fake debates are meant to keep people debating over things that don’t matter so they won’t do something about problems that do matter (that might be inconvenient for some persons who are making money, or at least getting lots of blog attention, off those problems).

What is an Ecosystem?

090603_dsc1467compSsAn ecosystem is a unit of life that is more or less self sustaining. The pond is a type of ecosystem that helps to sustain the larger ecosystem of the Brazos Valley. Ecosystems change over time in their function of sustaining life.

The earth ecosystem is the largest unit of life that we know. That is, it is the largest living thing. In fact, the earth ecosystem sustains all of life as we know it. In order to accomplish this prodigious task, the earth ecosystem must sustainably balance three primary sorts of resources:

1. The flow of energy from the sun to the plants. The plants use light energy to generate chemical energy and organic molecules (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins etc.,) the things we eat that only come from living things. When the energy is used, it can not be used again. So the plants have to keep on working in balance with all the other parts of the ecosystem.

2. The flow of information through time via the genomes of the species. For example, the photosynthesis that plants do is organized by the inherited genes of that plant. Every living species has genes that direct its behavior.

3. The recycling flow of the molecules and atoms of matter (like carbon and oxygen) that are used to carry chemical energy through the living cells and form the structures that are unique to life.


Stewardship is an obligation in many aspects of life, and stewardship over the health of the ecosystem is our obligation to our grandchildren. It’s really difficult to have stewardship over something if you don’t know how it works. Therefore it should be goal one of every person to learn as much as he can about how the ecosystem works. If he takes his responsibility to his grandchildren seriously.

Scientists know a lot about how the ecosystem works; religious people are more likely to be seriously interested in stewardship. Therefore, if we want to find a way to stop trashing the earth, it would be good if the religious people and the scientist would come down out of their respective ivory towers and talk with each other.

Nothing stops us from talking with each other. Understanding each other is a bit more difficult, but any two groups of people can talk with each other if they have the same goal and if they remember what that goal is. And stop themselves from introducing fake debates. A fake debate is a debate over something that is not relevant to the goal.

The first goal of ecosystem stewardship is to understand the system so we can stop trashing it. Scientists know a lot about how the ecosystem actually functions. Science is the study of measurable facts using the scientific method. Therefore, if we want scientists to share their professional expertise we have to talk about things that can be evaluated using measurable facts.

090531BP_dsc1461SLsWhat is the average size of a domestic cat?

How much does this cat weight?

What is she thinking? Not measurable.

God is also not a measurable fact; if you can’t talk about physical phenomena such as gravity (weight, mass), for example, or the flow of energy in the ecosystem, or the sexual reproduction that makes life possible as we know it. Well. Then. I wonder if you really want to fulfill your obligation as a steward, because those things exist and are discussable among peoples of any faith. That is the power of science. Measurable facts are discussable. They are not universal – they are not everythiing – but they are important and they are discussible.

And you can’t ask a professional scientist to professionally discuss science in the absence of measurable facts, because there is no such thing as science in the absence of measurable facts. Science IS the study of measurable facts. Technology is not science, but technology is a very good evidence for the validity of scientific discoveries, because technology uses the basic laws of nature (that science learns about) to make things. If the scientific information were wrong — the things wouldn’t work. So some of what scientists believe might be wrong, because scientists are only human, but most of it does tell us facts about how the ecosystem functions. And we cut ourselves off from the greatest body of knowledge that humans on earth have ever assembled when we refuse to talk to scientists, just because we (also humans) don’t like whatever scientists might be saying.

If we do that, I would doubt if our real motivation is stewardship, because if we genuinely want to fulfill our obligation as stewards, then we wouldn’t cut ourselves off from the information we need. We would do whatever it takes to learn the facts that we need to do the best possible job.