Photo by Toni Cervantes Photography,
Toni recently arrived in base camp. She says: “There is a God.”

Energy Flows-Or Nothing Happens

Light is energy. There are many things about light that we don’t understand, but why should we understand everything? We only need three bits of very well established scientific fact to cover the most important aspects of how energy flows through the ecosystem to keep all of life alive.

1. Light is energy. We have defined energy as the ability to make actions happen, and light can make actions happen. For example, when light hits your eyes it activates molecules in a nerve cell that sends the message to your brain. That is one kind of work. Energy is the ability to do work.

2. According to the second law of thermodynamics, pushing anything from a lower level of organization to a higher level requires work. Work is necessary to push any kind of action “uphill,” but “downhill” actions can happen without help. It requires energy for you to climb the stairs to the top of the Empire State Building, but it requires no energy to get to the bottom if you fall off. In a more relevant example, anything that is more complicated or more powerful is “uphill.” To make a cake requires energy, but it can fall apart by itself. Cake is more complicated than flour. Life is the most complicated thing on earth. Cells require energy all the time in order to maintain their complex organization. But the important thing is that the entire system always is in balance because the downhill slide of energy balances its uphill push to the system. This is possible because energy comes in different forms.

3. Some forms of energy are “uphill” from others. For example, light energy can change to heat energy by itself, but heat energy can not spontaneously change back into light energy, because heat is a lower form of energy. Plants use light energy to make what I am referring to as organic energy (in food). Light energy is a higher form than organic energy, and organic energy is a higher form than heat energy.

So, the bottom line is that life maintains its complexity, even though it is always working “uphill,” because the entire ecosystem is provided with organic energy. For some people, this is the definition of life. Life is working, working, working all the time to keep itself from falling apart, and — if it stops working — it does fall apart. It dies.

That’s why people are alive and cake is not. Once you turn off the oven, the cake has no way to maintain its high level of organization and eventually it will fall apart. The miracle of life is that it can use light energy to keep itself organized and functioning — and it does it inside of itself. Inside every cell in our bodies and every organism in the ecosystem. So far as we know, nothing else in the universe can do this. Only life.

So the first half of our life story is about the amazing way that plants, and some bacteria, are able to capture light energy and convert it to food energy that we have referred to as organic energy. The process happens only in green plants and bacteria and it is called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process of making organic molecules using the energy from light.

Capturing, or absorbing light energy is no problem for a pigment molecule such as the chlorophyll of plants. Pigment is any substance that absorbs light. Absorption of light energy happens all around us; it is what makes the colors. Light from the sun includes several different kinds (different wave lengths or different energy types) of light. We see some of these in rainbows, and we can see them because our eyes are activated differently by the different wave lengths of light energy.

So we see a cat because sunlight hits the cat and bounces off the cat into our eyes and energizes some nerve cells. This cat is orange, because only the orange light bounced off her. The other wavelengths were absorbed by the pigments in her hair. (We wrote a whole book about hair pigments, soon to be published, called The Colors of Mice, but that is blatant advertising and has nothing to do with our story here.)

The wavelengths that bounce off — that are not absorbed by the pigment — are still light energy; the wavelengths that are absorbed into the hairs change to a lower form of energy. For example, heat energy; that’s why the cat is stretched out in the sunlight on a cool day. It makes her feel warm and cozy. The pigment of a black cat absorbs most of the light that shines on it. A white cat reflects most of the different wavelengths of light. The green rug in this picture is reflecting green light back to our eyes and is absorbing the other wavelengths.

Plants, as you already realize, reflect the green light and keep the other wavelengths. Unlike cat hair pigment, however, the plant pigments (chlorphylls) do not allow the light energy to degrade into heat energy. Instead, the plant has a very complicated series of biochemical reactions that converts some of the light energy to make the energy bonds of large organic molecules. We will talk about the chemical reactions in some other post.

So, absorbing the light into a pigment molecule of (mostly) plants –and then using the energy to make food molecules — is the first half of the flow of energy through the ecosystem.

The second half is distribution of the energy so that all the parts of the ecosystem can stay alive. We discussed last time why an internet requires all its parts if it is to maintain resilience and sustainability.

So, to recap, the energy that does all this work comes from food. And of course you know what happens when you have no food. The only food we can use to stay alive is organic molecules, and the organic molecules are made by plants. If someone tells you that there is no limit to the energy available to us — because it comes from the sun — they are wrong. You and I both know we can not eat sunlight; our food comes from plants, and we are definitely limited by the amount of plants on earth, not by the amount of sunlight. If someone tells you we can make organic molecules for ourselves to eat, that is true, but unfortunately it takes more energy to make the food than we can get back when we eat it. Any anyhow food is not the only thing that keeps the ecosystem alive. The ecosystem is an internet; it requires a lot of things, and the most important is to keep all those things in balance.

The whole ecosystem stays alive by keeping a critical balance among all the different life forms that do the various ecosystem jobs we talked about last time, and a balance among the three forms of energy, light energy, organic energy and heat energy.

The ecosystem survives because the energy from the sun flows from one of its life forms to another to another to another, doing the work of keeping cells alive. Cells of plants, cells of bacteria, cells of turnips, cells of your body, cells of trees, cells of potatoes, cells of tigers, cells of worms, cells of mosquitoes, grass, horses, fish. You get the idea but if you want a visual cue you can look to the elegant, if simplistic, diagram below.

Every time we eat a bite of food (with the energy it contains) and then our body breaks down the food to release the energy bonds, and uses that energy to do the work of keeping our cells alive — every time we do any of those things, some of the energy is lost as heat. Nobody can eat heat, so then some plant somewhere in the ecosystem must capture more light energy to make more organic energy for our next bite.

Of course we know energy is not the only good thing we get from food. We will discuss other things — primarily carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen atoms and small molecules like water and carbon dioxide — in the third section of this book when we explain how the ecosystem recycles these materials into and out of our food. The point here is that the energy does not recycle. It is lost as heat. That’s why the plants must be constantly making more organic molecules to keep the entire ecosystem alive.

For the whole ecosystem to stay alive, it must provide food for every living part of itself. It must maintain the balance among the numbers of plants and the number of organisms that eat plants and the organisms that eat other organisms. And even more, the ecosystem must maintain the balance between the light energy that it uses to make organic energy, and the heat energy that is released when organic energy is burned to do work.

That’s why we have global warming. The energy balance is off. It has been for a good while.

Therefore, the only long-term cure for global warming is to help the ecosystem to restore her balance. We could do it, but not if we try to use any method that causes more heat to be released into the ecosystem. We can not cure global warming, and the starvation that comes with it, by burning anything or by growing our economy or our population. Because growth within our living ecosystem burns organic energy.

And too much growth is what caused the problem in the first place.
“Men are not flattered by being shown that there is a difference between their purposes and those of God.” Abraham Lincoln


A few days ago I said I doubt if the human species will survive. Probably that sounds to you like the typical propaganda ploy of the modern sort — trying to scare people so I can “save” them — for a price. But it is not. First, I would not pick such a difficult problem to cure. Second, I have not asked you for money. And third, I spent the last ten years trying to believe that I am wrong.

I looked at the wonderful humanitarians who are working around the world today. For the most part I saw they don’t understand the biology of the world they are trying to save, and what is more disturbing they think they do understand.

I looked at our energized youth and saw that they believe, if you try hard enough, you can have whatever you want. Not surprising – they are youth – but they carry the huge power of the Western economic/political world view. Therefore some of their compassionate efforts are doing great harm to the ecosystem.

I looked at all my biological training and recalled the amazing ability of the ecosystem to respond to change. I looked with all my bias, trying to find an easy way out of the situation we face today, and I listened to all the easy outs promoted by other people who also want to say it isn’t so. I’m sorry. In my informed opinion, it is so.

What do you do when you know something that might cause harm to other people?

I am sitting here in my living room telling you this, instead of outside riding a horse, because I believe the human brain has the ability to conquer the problems we face today. Nothing is inevitable until it happens. But we won’t succeed if we continue trying to cure the problem by doing the same things that caused the problem. And we won’t succeed until we understand that the ecosystem is not human and has some needs that are different from ours. We must learn to appreciate that we can not survive without the ecosystem, any more than we could have survived without the womb of our mothers.

Almost everyone believes they know what the ecosystem needs to survive. Almost everyone doesn’t. Americans have been educated (if at all) by metaphor and nature study. The bottom line measurable facts have not been made available to us. You can’t learn them in school and you can’t learn them on PBS. The purpose of this project is to describe, as succinctly as possible, the basic survival needs of the ecosystem.

Most of us believe that all of life must be governed by the same ethic that governs us humans, our human ideal of how life should be. The true fact is that all of life is a balancing act between what is good for you and what is good for me and what is good for them. Between what is good for people, and what is good for the ecosystem. Once we understand this balance, we can stop trying harder and ever harder to impose human (actually Western) standards and ethics to solve a problem that is no longer basically political or social, but at its roots now is biological.

The overview of this problem boils down to three basic realities. These realities are not controversial and they are not hard to understand. The difficult part is juggling the balance among them. To be healthy, each living thing, including the ecosystem, requires that all its parts and processes be maintained in balance.

1. The ecosystem is a living thing, and all living things are networks. Now we can mathematically understand networks of all sorts (see Linked by Barabasi) but ecologists have been studying the ecosystem as a biological network for at least a century. It is not a new idea; good factual information is available.

2. The ecosystem consists of levels of organization. Everyone also understands levels of organization, for example in politics. There is the President, the Secretaries of various things, their secretaries, and eventually at the bottom there is us. We usually don’t use the term “levels of organization,” but we know what they are.

3. For a living thing to stay alive it requires a constant flow of energy into the system, a constant flow of the information of life through the system (that’s genetics we will talk about later) and a constant cycling of the basic materials such as oxygen, carbon dioxide and food (we will also talk about later). We already know we can’t change these things and still be alive. The reflect unchangeable laws of nature. For example, we know what happens if you stop breathing. Or eating.

So if we already know all these things — why am I trying to tell us about them? Why am I worried, with all the effort that is going into saving us?

I’m worried because we humans are behaving as though we could use our technology to change these three requirements of life. These are the basic laws of life. They are not laws like running a stop sign and paying a fine. They are laws like if you jump off a really high building.

So let’s discuss the three realities of life on earth:

1. The ecosystem is a living thing, and all living things are networks.

Of course we know the ecosystem is the largest network of life; it is much too complicated for any person or group of persons to understand all the details. And the details change, because of the way networks (all networks) function by interactions among all their “nodes.” Nodes is the term used in Barabasi’s book about how networks function. For example, your computer might be a node in the internet. My computer is only a tiny node, but it can connect with any other node and it does connect with quite a few nodes that are necessary to do my work. Google is a very big and important node. There are also intermediate sorts of nodes. We can compare the connectedness of the internet to the way in which an ecosystem stays alive. There are very important nodes, such as the plains ecosystem, or the arctic ecosystem that interact to keep the whole earth ecosystem alive. Then there are all the millions of species of organisms that interact to keep the plains ecosystem or the arctic ecosystem alive. I am a human organism. And then there are all the cells that interact to keep me alive. And each cell is also a living network composed of molecules.

The point is that each node within the ecosystem has a function (a task or job) that contributes in some way to the requirements of the ecosystem being alive. We have said the basic task of keeping a living thing alive requires energy flow, information flow, and recycling of materials. Each of these three requirements in the ecosystem or in ourselves is done by millions of nodes each of which does one little bit of the big process. And there are fail safe nodes — more than one node doing similar jobs. If a node fails, another might be able to do the job. Thus, if enough diversity exists in the network, it can survive when a node is lost.

That’s number one. Clearly the earth ecosystem is a network, and just as clearly we don’t understand the details of all the millions of jobs that are done by large and small nodes/species/ecosystems. We should be careful about destroying things we don’t understand. Whatever their job, it has something to do with survival of the ecosystem. If a node is not contributing to the welfare of the whole living thing, then that node (or the living thing) becomes extinct. All living nodes are contributing to something.

Point number two is about levels of organization. We referred to them above as being part of the ecosystem. Actually, levels of organization more than that. They are basic to all of everything we know, from atoms to the whole universe. But the living levels that we have discussed are: prokaryotic cells, eukaryotic cells and multicellular organisms, ecosystems made of multiple different kinds of organisms, the whole earth ecosystem that consists of smaller ecosystems. Organisms are a middle level of life. We are organisms.

So, point number two is that we can not survive without cells (because we are made of cells) and we can not survive without the ecosystem, because it provides food, materials, energy and information — the requirements for all of life. Our technology will not save us from “them” because they are us.

Point number three is the thing that most people have not been told: The requirements for staying alive are not the same at each level.

For example, we humans are made of multiple cells, — therefore we need a system to communicate among these cells. That system includes our brain. The brain — our fine thinking — is an emergent property of our multicellular level of organizaton. Emergent properties are capabilities of higher levels of organization that are not shared by their subunits. For example we can think in ways that other creatures can not. We can think as we do because of our brain. Our brain is an intricately complicated organization of specialized cells. Organisms at lower levels of organization are not as complicated and therefore can not do some of the things we can do. For example, a bacterium can not think as we do, even though it is an organism, because bacteria are only one cell and therefore can not have brains that are made of a zillion cells all organized to be able to think. We humans are made of multiple cells, — therefore we need a system to communicate among these cells. That system includes our brain. The brain — our fine thinking — is an emergent property of our multicellular level of organization.

Because humans have emergent properties that cells don’t have, we also have requirements to stay alive that are beyond what a cell requires to stay alive. We have organs (such as the brain) that are made of cells, and then we need a heart and blood to carry nourishment to all the cells of the brain, and then we need lungs to capture the oxygen to send to the heart for transport to the brain — and so on and on. A single cell is not so complicated. All it’s requirements — energy, food, information, materials — all come directly from the environment.

But we humans are only in the middle of the levels of complexity. The ecosystem is much more complicated than we are. Therefore, the ecosystem also has emergent properties that are even more complicated than ours, and it also has requirements for survival that are grander than ours.

We are not the rulers of the ecosystem — we are only nodes in the ecosystem, just as our brain is a node in us — and a single cell is a node in the interacting information flow of our brain.

If these nodes are unable to work together in the network of life, then they are eliminated. If the network is a healthy one, with sufficient diversity, a bad node will be replaced by a fail-safe node that can do a better job. The network is sustainable without the offending node. If the network is not healthy, if it is not sufficiently diverse for example, or if one node takes over as in cancer, then life dies.

Point number four, then, is the same as point number three. If we want to stay alive as a human species — our children and their children — we must not kill the ecosystem, or ourselves within it.

I am not worried about the crooks — not very much. There are always crooks, and we need to deal with them, but everyone knows that. I am worried because all of the beautiful, wonderful humanitarians I have met are sacrificing themselves to promote human values at the expense of ecosystem values. They are sacrificially promoting our Western human ethic, assuming that will also save the ecosystem. It will not. The ecosystem is much more complicated than we are, and therefore has some needs that are different from ours.

Here are some examples of fine, ethical world views that I believe are causing harm to the ecosystem — and before I give you examples I want to say that I have been studying these different groups for ten years in hopes of finding a major world view that is healthy for the ecosystem. The goals of all these groups is to help save the ecosystem. However, none of these world views, as a generalization, incorporates the needs of the ecosystem as imperative to the welfare of human kind. Therefore, by omission, I believe their efforts are doing more harm than good.

And here we need a disclaimer, because generalizations have received a bad name in our culture and I am about to proclaim some massive generalizations. Generalizations can be harmful, but on the other hand, if we can not see the overview picture what we are doing, we will be lost in a forest of details, trying to evaluate the whole forest based on the one tree that happens to be nearby. Or as I often say, we will continue to run off in all directions at the same time, the work of each canceling out the efforts of the other. We need generalizations if we are to establish goals. We can’t get anywhere until we know where we want to go. Evolution itself is based in generalizations — population norms — not primarily individual performance. As is politics. Think of all the fake (sometimes real) polls we use to guide our ship of state. Good generalizations are hard to come by, but they are necessary for good problem solving.

Following are generalizations about the world views I have studied. I hope we can use them as a guide to our individual thinking, as we work to develop a world view that will do more good than harm to ourselves:

Social networking/new age belief system understands the need for networking positive values, but they are networking human values and my experience is that they do not want to hear about the bottom-line needs of the ecosystem. In fact are often offended by them.

The new American economic belief system is the world view most likely to destroy us, because it is a Ponzi scheme based in infinite growth. We know (and it is discussed in Barabasi’s book on networking) what happens to Ponzi schemes. They do not go quietly; they crash. Our economy is based on a myth of unlimited resources and unlimited growth, both of which are impossible. That myth is also energizing the major charitable organizations such as CARE and Bill Gates’ projects and the nation-building that I have peripherally observed. I am not saying these goals are in any way bad; I’m just saying the goals area impossible to reach using Ponzi thinking, and the result is predictable both mathematically and by decades of biological studies of population dynamics. We can wish it were not so; it is so because it unbalances the ecosystem.

The religious world view can not be lumped into a single category. However I will try. Does your religious world view believe that God would make a human species and give us a unique brain that can understand all these things — and place it in the middle of the levels of organization of living things — for no reason? Might God want us to not to destroy this wondrous creation? For any reason? If we want to save it, we must inform our ethics and philosophy and the messages of our religious documents, using the measurable factual reality of The Creation itself.

Political world view mostly has to do with winning and losing. Tony Hillerman (Seldom Disappointed) suggests that some people may think all of nature is based in predator/prey relationships. This dichotomous viewpoint is naïve and self-serving and can not possibly explain the magnificence of the living earth ecosystem, which — we know this — is a network. Not an argument. Imagine that only winners survive. What would they survive in? No, the network would be destroyed and us with it. If we really want to build a future for human kind we will have to find a way to provide all the nodes with at least the basics of what they require for survival. It’s more complicated by far to provide for the species than to provide for me alone, but we do have that God-given brain and we are capable of looking at the whole system if we choose to do so.

And on that subject, we have people who believe in survival of the fittest without stopping to think that they/we do not get to define what is fitness. Fitness has nothing to do with one human being “better” than another, or with whatever Darwin thought a couple hundred years ago. Fitness, we now know, is a population phenomenon. And even with regard to populations — genocide has been tried. It didn’t work very well. Fitness has to do with (as always) balance. Balance between reproductive effectiveness (an extremely complex subject) and the available resources of the ecosystem network. Underpopulation or overpopulation are both less fit than ideal population levels, relative to the environment we live in.

Bottom line! If we want our children’s children to have any kind of reasonably tolerable life style we will have to give this living network what it needs in order to survive. None of our current Western world views can accomplish this goal unless we add a strong dollop of factual information about the real needs of the ecosystem. And then begin a goal oriented discussion among all the world views and all the charitable organizations, beginning with these questions:

“As I try to help human kind, am I causing harm to the ecosystem?” The answer to this is inevitably yes, because there is always give and take when seeking a balance. Therefore we must ask the next question:

“How can I change my operation so that I will cause less harm to the ecosystem while I continue to help human kind?”

If we want to survive we must evolve a new world view that is based in balance. In this respect the social/new age world view is on the right track ethically, if it were willing to recognize the factual needs of the ecosystem where it differs from human wants. But unfortunately social change/new age seems not to recognize that there is a difference between measurable facts and opinions and therefore treats them functionally as equal. Unless this view can be focused and informed, social change/new age is more responsive to passing whim than to a positive long-term goal.

Oh yes, in fairness I should try to include the scientist’s world view, with which I am somewhat familiar. In my experience, real basic science is nearly dead and most of the survivors are living in the ivory towers of their well developed brains, where life is (believe me) a lot more fun than solving real problems.

Except for the occasional conceptual breakthrough (Isaac Newton, Einstein) we are a group with no power to accomplish any goal. Technology, of course, is extremely powerful, but technology is not basic science and most technologists are not trained in basic science. So if you think of yourself as a scientist, consider whether your work is about inquiry or application. In the latter case I would classify you in the economic world view or the political world view, neither of which can succeed in the long term unless they begin to incorporate into their thinking the needs of the ecosystem.

In fact, so few basic scientists remain that we have essentially no voice in the outcome. Unless you choose to listen.
And why should you if we have no control over the laws of nature or the way in which the ecosystem balances itself and gets rid of pesky irritants such as ourselves? I’ll tell you exactly why.

The more your behavior and our politics unbalance the ecosystem the more human suffering will ensue and that kind of human suffering is unnecessary and avoidable. There is a direct relationship between our growth ethic, our behavior, the challenges to the ecosystem, and the number of other people who must live in conditions of starvation, war, disease, genocide. You and I make decisions regarding the growth ethic every day of our lives, from believing the ill-considered propaganda of the chamber of commerce or the oil companies to our holiday orgies to our shopping choices.

Everything is connected. Your choice in the voting booth in the USA – your hand on the shopping cart – does reach out and touch the hand of a child starving in Bangladesh. Most of the human problems that we activists and politicians and religious folk are trying to cure are caused by the growth ethic — and none of them will improve until we face that fact and decide to give the ecosystem what she needs — not what we think she should need.

Darwin and God

Today we take a little recess from writing our book, Basic Biology for Basic People, to report on two things of note that have interrupted the flow of ideas.

First is an answer to my question: “Can’t we think of a better name for this book?” because I have been trying for a year. We had several suggestions that were better than what I have so far thought of, which is a big help, and right now I’d like your feedback on “Bare Bones Biology.” Can anyone think of bad connotations of this title for the book and the accompanying series of radio spots?

Second, I happen to be listening to Tony Hillerman’s memoir, Seldom Disappointed, where he compares the Bible with Darwin’s book about evolution. This of course is a hot topic in Texas right now. Hillerman was raised in Oklahoma, just a few country acres to the north of us and is (was) the fine author of mystery stories based in Amerindian country. I am especially taken by his third sentence below:

“Darwin’s theories don’t conflict with our biblical genesis stories because we understand it as God talk in poetic metaphor. The biblical days represent eons of time. Humanity separated us from the primates when God touched the first of us with self-knowledge of him and of ourselves, and of life, death, good and evil. Darwin’s evolution theory was simply a brilliant scientist’s attempt to help us understand the dazzling complexity of God’s creation, from the amazing strength of a grasshopper’s legs to the way our brains transmit a signal from the optic nerves. Brother Bernard made the gospels equally simple. Christ tried to tell us that happiness lay in helping others. Selfishness was the road to damnation. His bottom line always boiled down to God loves us. He gave us free will. Permission to go to hell if we wanted; rules to follow if we preferred both a happy life and heaven; and a conscience to advise us along the way.”

This is of course an interruption of our series on the flow of energy through the ecosystem. For Christmas holiday I’ll continue the break from the FactFictionFancy blog and try to actually send cards to my whole list this year. Meantime I’ll keep you up to date with the daily traumas of life via the photographs of TheOneCreation blog. This week it was Postdoc with the vet student who came to help her recover from colic.

Personal question.

If I really want to understand the problems we face in trying to preserve the ecosystem from global warming, wars, and all that — what course should I take at TAMU during this coming Spring semester? Given that the basic ecology course repeats every semester on local TV, I guess I should continue to contribute there, but it’s available every semester. So other ideas in no particular sequence are: 1) economics, 2) management of charitable organizations, 3) politics. What do you think I most need to learn to make the measurable, biological facts in this blog useful to the world beyond the ivory tower?

FREE to senior citizens, and someone needs to help de-specialize our thinking.

Population, Extinction, Economics

OK, then I will say straight out that I am convinced (on the basis of my scientific training) there is a strong probability (almost a certainty) that the human species will extinct itself if we continue to believe that we can save ourselves with growth — economic and/or population growth.

I would find this very depressing except that I also believe human people can resolve this problem using our measurable factual knowledge about how the ecosystem functions. I believe this strongly enough to change my whole life in the effort to provide measurable, factual information so that people can understand for themselves the biological problem we face. Otherwise I would not be sitting here typing when the whole beautiful world is outside.

Because right-thinking, conscientious persons do not believe knowledge (especially unpleasant knowledge) unless they can discern the logic of it inside their own brains and unless someone makes that knowledge available to them. What we have available in he media is propaganda and in our educational systems is largely nature study rather than a study of functions.

Propaganda is always more palatable because propaganda gives us easy answers. Nature study is fun but gives no answers. The easy answers always relate to the most visible symptoms of a problem (war, starvation, epidemic, genocide, global warming, economic and political collapse, human rights offenses).

All these problems could be resolved by politics if we were to challenge their cause, but it simply will not work to try to cure the cause of a deadly problem by doing more and more of what caused the problem in the first place. The cause of our biological problems has to do with the ways in which humans react to shortages of resources. We will continue to have increasing shortages of resources that already are (uniquely in history) impacting the whole earth — unless we stop doing the thing that caused the shortages in the first place, which is rampant growth in a finite ecosystem that can not grow. It is a measurable fact that it is impossible to maintain life in an ecosystem that is growing faster than its energy reserves can support, and that has been the theme of all my blogs below.

Or, as I often say, you can not keep ten horses on a one-acre pasture unless your neighbor is growing hay. Our neighbor is the moon.

This is not an easy-answer sort of challenge, but it is logical and understandable, and we can solve it. We will not, however, solve any of the problems if we don’t try to deal with their common cause.

The ecosystem can not grow to accommodate our wishes. And why should it? Human persons are not God to define how we want the biology of the ecosystem to function. It is what it is, like it or not. We must honor the basic natural laws or we will be eliminated from the ecosystem, because the earth ecosystem is a living thing and all living things seek survival. The ecosystem will do what is required for it to survive. If that involves getting rid of us, then that is what will happen, regardless of CARE or Pres. Obama or anything that anyone believes.

Pres. Obama is not bigger than the ecosystem and he can’t do impossible things, no matter how many letters we send to him, but we could do it together if we would. He can not politically change something that is caused by an unhealthy earth ecosystem, but we could do it together if we would. But we can not make the ecosystem healthy — in the face of our rampant growth of the economy and the population of earth because human power does not control the ecosystem. Even if every person on earth were compassionate, well intended and law abiding we would still come to our end if we continue trying to use growth to solve problems that are caused by growth. If we really want to resolve this problem, we will have to talk about the problem, learn what is fact and what is propaganda and what is opinion or misunderstanding, decide what facts are important to the problem, and do something that will work to resolve it.

If we want to maintain any kind of reasonable quality of life within this earth ecosystem, we need to begin immediately to provide birth control for PEOPLE WHO WANT AND NEED IT, and we need to begin even sooner to stop pretending that we can cure the disease by treating the symptoms — and begin positive discussion of the issues that we need to resolve if we are to save ourselves for our future.

Dr. Lynn

So let’s all listen to what our only brave politician has to say, and then send her peals of applause for not being too chicken to say it. Whatever it is. And then continue the conversation to a positive end.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will deliver a major speech Monday, December 21, 2009 to mark the 15th year of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). Secretary Clinton will announce the U.S. Government’s renewed support for and dedication to reaching the ICPD goals and other related UN agreements, including the Millennium Development Goals, by 2015.

Recent polls show that a majority of Americans across the ideological spectrum strongly support the principles in the worldwide consensus reached at the ICPD, including providing voluntary family planning and reproductive health services.

Take this opportunity to view Secretary Clinton’s speech, host viewing parties and take action to support ICPD 2015 throughout the holiday season and new year.
Visit for more information.


I wrote a very good one for today. Spent several hours yesterday and last night and this morning. Computer wiped it out. Have to start over.

But in the meantime I wrote an email, to another scientist in another part of the world, that is more straightforward than anything I would say in a book that is written for people who have been deprived of the real biological background facts about our living world. It was that email that wiped out the lovely bit of explanatory writing. Maybe that’s a clue that I should share the nitty gritty with my readers, so here it is:

“1. If all scientists thought alike we would be in deep doodoo. They nearly do and we are.

2. If the “scientists” were paying attention to the whole living reality, rather than focusing almost exclusively on the details, it wouldn’t be necessary for me and a couple of other minority scientists to spend all our time trying to draw their attention to the fact that different levels of living things are characterized by different emergent properties and different requirements for their survival. Therefore it is not possible instead to understand the whole emergent needs of the ecosystem by a few details that are peculiar to us in the organismal level.

Taken together, Diamond’s COLLAPSE and Barabashi’s LINKED (these are referenced in recent posts) should be read by every scientist who believes the details are more important than the whole picture — or believes we can understand the whole picture by adding up all the details. The whole point of internets (and of course we and our lives are part of a biological internet) is that the details can change without loss of the emergent properties — up to a point. That is, an internet such as the ecosystem can afford to lose some of its parts, so long as the whole internet is able to use other parts to get what it needs to stay alive. Therefore, it is more important to study what the internet needs to stay alive, rather than to focus on individual details to the exclusion of our understanding of the whole system. Because, when an internet runs out of resources, the collapse is awesome, it is very quick and it is unavoidable. And — because we are living in the emergent property of the ecosystem of which we are details, or rather life itself is the emergent property of which we are only details — therefore we have no way to recognize the point of collapse of the ecosystem by studying only the details.

And of course we can not avoid the collapse by reducing global warming or any one of the component symptoms of the problem; we only delay it, and the delay predicts a more awesome calamity when the time comes. The only viable solution is to address the CAUSE of the problem, which in this instance is overpopulation. The only good that I see coming from our fixation on global warming is that we might make the connection between GW and overpopulation, but in fact the politicians and other people who make their living out of rampant growth have decided to use GW as an excuse to not deal with overpopulation. As they always do, every time we hit a new limiting factor.

Nobody needs me to help treat the symptoms of overpopulation — starvation, war, genocide, disease, global warming — the world abounds with people trying to make their reputations by claiming to do something that will help solve these problems — details that will not in fact help to fulfill the needs of the ecosystem unless we also give the ecosystem what it needs to stay alive — so that we all can survive.