Bare Bones Biology 127 – Community

Now that I am back from my trip, you will not be surprised to hear that I did not find any answers to the big questions. The biggest thing I learned is that nearly everyone I spoke with uses the same words to mean different things. Words are almost the most important things about being human, and the whole point of having words is so we can work together as human “communities,” because cooperating groups can accomplish more, working together, than any one person can accomplish alone. But that effort all falls apart in frustration and irritation if we are each using our same words to mean different things.

So I want to talk about community, because we humans are all hepped up right now about community-building. Maybe defining the words I used above, human and community, might be a good start, but let’s go back even farther. I have met people who do not know the meaning of the term earth, and there could be no humans and no communities and no life without the earth. So let’s start there.

One meaning of earth is a rather upscale word for dirt, isn’t it. Just plain old dirt that could be good dirt for growing food, or mountaintop dirt, or even the clay in the Brazos Valley. That’s the dirt we must have to stand on, build houses on, and grow our food. That is the first meaning of earth, but it’s not what I want to discuss.

What I’m talking about now is the whole planet Earth, the big blue and green and brown living marble as it is seen and photographed from a space ship. That earth is a living, breathing bit of life, floating in space. In fact, that earth is the only complete, self-contained unit of life that we know about in all the universe.

The whole living earth has several names. Biosphere is a term used in The Ecological World View, written by Charles Krebs. Krebs says: “Ecosystems consist of communities and their physical environment.” And he says that: “. . . they can be aggregated to include the whole earth ecosystem, or biosphere, which is sometimes called the ecosphere.” So the only complete unit of life that is not part of some other bit of life – the only one in all of space that we know about – the words that describe that amazing thing, are the earth or the biosphere or the ecosphere. Sometimes I like to call it the whole earth ecosystem, but the term ecosystem can be confusing because the whole earth ecosystem is made up of subunits that are also called ecosystems. And besides that, the same word has been widely used by the corposystem to apply to all sorts of combinations of things that are not really ecosystems. So no wonder we get confused some times.

A non-technical term for the whole living earth is Gaia, the concept introduced by James Lovelock. Sometimes I use this term to emphasize that the whole earth biosphere is a complete, stand-alone living thing within the universe.

The earth is not the universe. The universe is everything. All the stars and planets and moons and space and sun and energy and matter and everything that we don’t know about. The planet earth is only a small part, a tiny part of that, but the planet earth is important to us because it is the place that gives us our own lives. To do this, the planet makes its own food and water and climate and atmosphere and all the living things. It does this to stay alive.

The basic function of life is to perpetuate life.

And so the next question is, what has all that to do with community?

Bare Bones Biology is a completely nonprofit project. This edition aired on KEOS radio, 89.1 FM. The audio is available at We use the .com because we also refuse to become or behave as an integral part of the corposystem that is destroying both our lifestyles and our place in the communal life of earth.

Recommended References

Krebs, Charles. The Ecological World View.
Margulis, Lynn. Symbiotic Planet. Amherst, MA: Basic Books, 1998.
Lovelock, James. The Vanishing Face of Gaia. New York: Penguin Books, 2009.