Bare Bones Biology 136 – Corposystem Community

Last week we overviewed the relationship between the corposystem and the whole earth ecosystem. The earth ecosystem is the unique unit of life that consists of the sum of all the other units of life on earth and the climate they generate. The ecosystem uses light energy to make food energy (Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbook*). It then uses the food energy to do the work of staying alive – that is, it keeps all the earth organisms alive by making food for them. Then it recycles the products of life, that we think of as waste products; but the ecosystem puts the products together with more energy from the sun to make more life. The ecological miracle of life is that it is sustainable, as long as the products are recycled and there is light energy from the sun.

Earth Systems Final2 copyThe corposystem is the modern corpo-political culture. It uses the food energy from the ecosystem to feed the humans who do the work of making money. That work includes withholding from both the human community and the biological community any services that are not profitable. In other words the corposystem retains the money and also, for the most part does not recycle its products.

The problem the corposystem is now facing is that money (despite the clever misuse of the term by some authors) money is not energy. No matter how many clever games we use to make more of it – money cannot grow food energy to feed the humans who do the work of the corposystem. Only the process of photosynthesis can energize life on earth, and we can’t do photosynthesis. Even if we could, we would just unbalance a different node of the web of Life.

It is people working and living that drives the corposystem. It is the resources from the ecosystem (food energy and other resources) that feed the work of humans, and it is the work of humans that drives the corposystem cycle. Not money. Money is a product we play with.

This is good because it means, whenever we take a mind to, we humans can stop the insanity of competing with the ecosystem. We can change our culture to one that collaborates with the work of the ecosystem and so is more sustainable. Whenever we decide to, we can use the work of our hands, minds and bodies to support the cycles of life that actually do feed the welfare of the whole of Life itself. To do this, we need to understand how the corposystem generates a human culture of fear, anger, hatred, greed and dominance, in spite of our normal human need for the kind of a compassionate community that I have described in earlier blogs in this series (beginning with Bare Bones Biology 092).

HeroVictimVillain copyThe cycle of human roles that drives the work of the corposystem is shown within the corposystem cycle in the diagram on my blog. The culture diagram is my perception of our modern American culture: It can be a guide to ourselves, and a hope for the future if we can understand what we are doing to ourselves.

First let’s remember that a cycle is not me or you as individuals. A cycle is more like a set of job titles, or life-styles. I claim that our modern American corposystem culture limits us to three available over-all life styles: Victim life style: Villain life style: Good Guy-Hero life style. Some individuals choose to become very good at one or other of those life styles, but we aren’t specifically stuck. If you are raised with all the life skills of a Victim you can choose, and if you work very hard to figure out what keeps you in that life style, you can change to another lifestyle. But in our culture you will not be recognized, understood or rewarded if you try to choose any lifestyle that is too far apart from the available three. This is really difficult to explain, so I have placed a personal example on my blog directly below the transcript of this podcast. (

Lynn Lamoreux
Photos by Lynn

This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that will play
next week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. Bare Bones Biology is a completely
nonprofit project. The podcast can be downloaded at

Recommended References:

Bare Bones Biology Ecology Energy Handbook
Go to the right side of the page under Chapters and download your free no strings PDF.
Bare Bones Biology 135 –
A Heads Up –

Question for Discussion

Most people who read this blog are aware of the concept of Yin and Yang. For every earthly action or event, there is the possibility of both a “good” and a “bad” result. If we are really paying attention to the results of our actions, we can observe that this is true in our human experience. Why do you think this is true?

Try this for an Idea

Watch your actions for a whole day. You will be happy with some things you do and not happy with other things you do. Why is this? Is it because of peer pressure or because of some negative or positive responses of other people? Or is it because you have really considered the right or wrong of your actions? Ask yourself, why are they right and why are they wrong?

Whole Earth Ecosystem = All the species of organisms on earth and the environment that they generate to live in.
Corposystem = The modern American corpo-political system including its international entanglements.

Bare Bones Biology 134 – Community and Ego

I had a dream last night about human ego, whatever that is, I will not try to define. In the dream, some guy was driving the bus and I was picking up the pieces. Literally, I mean, I was picking the pieces of newspaper and trash, old egg shells, gum and plastic wrappings — out from under the gas pedal — as they kept rolling back in there — while two other people sat behind, telling me what I was doing wrong, and the trash kept piling higher and deeper.

You will never guess what this dream was trying to tell me, because I didn’t until I started to write it down, and immediately came to mind my persistent question: “Why did The Creator give us our ego in the first place?” The thing causes so much pain and suffering to us and our communities, convincing us that our own belief system, our own need to be more right, is more real than reality. It isn’t, you know. Nobody is “right,” because nobody understands everything. And if we believe that our mind, emotions, intellect (reference), or our world view (reference), are more powerful than the biological reality. Well, that’s a pretty good definition of pain and suffering, now or later.

Pain is life enhancing. It guides our choice of behaviors so that we avoid drowning in the river when its currents are swirling in flood, or burning our little hands on the stove. Because we were formed within the biological community – our response to pain is biologically life enhancing.

To understand why we were given an ego is more difficult. What good is the blasted thing, if the use of it causes us emotional pain and suffering, but it doesn’t tell us what the danger is? Well, of course, that’s one function of community – to help us avoid emotional suffering by passing down the wisdom teachings of the ages. The harm caused by our ego-trips is well and often explained in all the wisdom teachings, and better behaviors described.

Maybe that’s what the ego is meant to do. Maybe our ego suffering is meant to enhance the welfare of the community by passing on some wisdom from now to benefit the future. I hope so, because our age is growing new problems faster than any before, and with these new problems, we must learn new lessons (or apply the old ones) about what not to do if we don’t want to suffer.

Our origins designed us genetically and behaviorally to live in a biosystem that functions to support life, but our human culture now has grown an artificial corposystem that functions to make money. And the power of this corposystem seems to lie mostly in our human ego needs.

So many people so filled with the fear of not being better than other people. Is that our ego? Why do we feel that we must be better than someone else? We can’t discuss the important issues, because someone might go into a one-up or one-down tizzy, or just turn their backs and walk away for fear that we might know something they don’t know. But isn’t that the point of discussion, that everyone knows more than only one? Don’t we WANT to deal with the problems? We keep saying that we do, and then the next thing you know we are debating irrelevant questions for no better reason than to satisfy our never-ending need to win. Even though the floods of climate change (climate change series Bare Bones Biology 092 through 100) are already tickling our toes – even though everyone really does know the end result of these ego trips, in our modern times, will be disaster.

So now my question is: how can we be aware of our ego, and all the negative, painful behaviors that it generates — how can we use that knowledge to grow a more positive, life-supporting human community?

Lynn Lamoreux
Photos by Lynn

This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that will play next week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. Bare Bones Biology is a completely nonprofit project. The podcast can be downloaded at

Recommended Action/Question for Discussion: I’m tempted to suggest that you start an argument and consider what methods you use to win. And what are the results. But in fact I doubt that you need to know more about how to argue. So instead I suggest you find a person with whom to discuss an issue and see how long you can keep it going without either of you having an obvious emotional reaction (because this will be a serious subject.) Maybe you could try this one –
“In the United States, especially this year, any occasion when contraceptives and public policy overlap seems to be an excuse to fight about other issues.”

Bare Bones Biology 133B – World Community

Last week I described, in a very general way, how I imagine the human brain processes information. The primary take-away message is that our brains are not universal. We are one species out of billions that are required to operate the functions of the living earth — just as any one cell of our brain is only one out of billions that are required to operate our amazing human brain. Secondly, there are levels of function of the human brain that we do not control – they control us. They control the basic functions of our bodies, and the basic nature of our emotions.

However, we also have higher levels of function in our brains that can adapt to our environment in a conscious way. One of these qualities is how we are learning all the time. Another is our intellect, that we can use to evaluate ourselves and our surroundings. If we try, we can figure out the difference between our perceptions — that is what our reality feels like according to our world view – and what the world really is according to facts that we study in physics, chemistry and biology. For example, we can measure the speed of light using tools designed by our intellect, but according to our perceptions, we would not know about the speed of light. We wouldn’t know that light is energy. We wouldn’t understand energy and would not have learned how to control fire, for example, during the millennia of our origins.

In all those millenia, the problems we faced had to do with how to interact with an overwhelming environment. For example, I was very touched by the last story in the most recent National Geographic. It is the story of an interaction between today and a primitive tribal culture. I won’t tell you the end of the story, but for me it was a heart-wrenching illustration of the choices we must make if we are to survive within the requirements of our environment. (National Geographic, February, 2012, Cave People of Papua, New Guinea.)

Today, we no long live sheltered in the broad green arms of our ecological home. I think that’s one reason why we experience the levels of discomfort, dis-ease and discontent that we do in our culture, but that’s not something we can deal with now. We have already destroyed that long-distant Garden of Eden. We can’t go back and change the mistakes of yesterday. You younger folk don’t realize that yet probably, but it can be demonstrated using, that intellect of ours, that the earth has modified herself to our needs about as much as she can. Our choice now is whether to push the environment even more. If we do, it’s likely to change so much that it can no longer support our needs for air, water, shelter, earth and human companionship.

We can do this, I know our brain is capable of understanding the problems that we face, and we can join together communally to deal with them. However, we cannot face these challenges using only our inborn instincts. If we are to succeed, it will require our intellect in two ways. First, we must educate ourselves about the ecosystem, how it functions and what it needs from us in order to sustain itself; second we must use our intellect to grow a new culture, based in what we know about basic instincts, and on what previous cultures have taught us, and incorporating our scientific knowledge and changing our attitude toward technology.

We now must decide together whether we, as a culture of the world, want to continue using technology to dominate and to make money – or if we will choose to, find a better way, based on a better goal-set than winner/loser. We do know there are better and more satisfying ways for humans to live, and the first thing we need to understand — we are not God. We do not understand the infinite meaning of life, nor can we control it. Our need to control, our ego, our desire to grow life in our image, whether the image be evil or even if it is a good image – that is the source and cause of our man-made disasters.

Lynn Lamoreux
Photo by Lynn, Lucky B Bison

This blog is an expanded version of Bare Bones Biology radio program that will play next week on KEOS Radio, 98.1 FM, Bryan, Texas. Bare Bones Biology is a completely nonprofit project. The podcast can be downloaded at

Recommended Action/Question for Discussion: Identify the source, and the path from source to table, of each item of food that is part of your Thanksgiving meal. In countries without a day of Thanksgiving (or with one), give thanks for your food at every meal and remember that it comes from the living earth. What, I wonder, is the difference between our living earth, and your God? Or mine?

Recommended References

Bare Bones Biology Ecology Handbook, free, no strings –
On the right side of the page click on the link under “Chapters” to download the PDF.

National Geographic, February, 2012, Cave People of Papua, New Guinea, by Mark Jenkins, Photos by Amy Toensing.

Bare Bones Biology 116 – Wendy Johnson Workshop

Bare Bones Biology 107 through today, 116, are about communication. Different kinds of communication. And of course we didn’t scratch the surface. Communications has become an entire discipline. I know someone with a PhD in the subject. But there’s nothing new about the simple point of this series of blogs — that all communications are real, but they are useful to us in different ways, as we grow own personal future or, more importantly in the long view as we try to resolve the biological illness that faces our ecosystem.
We know we cannot survive without the ecosystem. Therefore, picking out whatever we like to believe, or whatever communication stirs our emotions, or whatever we wish were true — and working very, very hard for it – or going with the flow because that’s normal human behavior – none of those approaches to communication will resolve our current biological dilemma. What we mostly need is good information and good discussion. Sometimes a good place to look for these is in a workshop setting.

I recently attended a workshop about the four elements with Wendy Johnson (author of “Gardening At the Dragon’s Gate,” Bantam Dell), at Upaya Zen Center (

The workshop experience merged our awareness of our human values, emotions and needs with the mother-nurture of nature as we examined each of the four elements that are organized by Buddhism as: earth, water, fire and air (and space). We all know that these are the fruits of the ecosystem, that we cannot do without them, that our behaviors influence their availability, and that I have also been talking about these issues from my perspective of our physical survival needs. It was a joy to experience Wendy’s beautiful rendition of the same issues, blending the physical survival needs with our human emotional needs and a practical approach, learning through gardening, that goes beyond either perspective.

We really could resolve our biological dilemma, if we would only reach that one step beyond the science and beyond the emotions and use our inborn compassionate nature, and our recognition that the problem at its roots is biological, as an incentive to study the fact-based needs of the ecosystem – and find a way to give the mother life what it needs that is different from what we need – for it and for ourselves and our future. We have everything to do that — except the will. The facts are available and so are the technologies. The compassionate will, however, is being drowned in a sea of fear, hostility, short-sighted self-interest and false propaganda.

Here is Wendy’s better vision.

“I love to make the connection between the outer waters of the world and the inner waters that do compose us. Three-fifths of water of our bodies is carried inside our cells, and then another two/fifths outside as blood plasma, cerebro-spinal fluid and intestinal tract fluid. So we are walking bags of water. We can feel that. Especially in a dry place. Those of us from the Bay Area, from Portland, Oregon, where water animates the air. We have to search for the resonance that is our human inheritance.

“And every day, every day, three percent of the water in our bodies is replenished with new molecules. Water from the deep abyss of the ocean, I was thinking this morning we are replenished, not only with fresh water, but from water that is in the huge hydrologic cycle, coming up fresh, and that water includes water from the depths of the Gulf of Mexico, water mixed with the ancient fire of oil, water from rain on the tall grass prairie, and from the ancient forests. Actually, we measure water, in the woods, we measure water by how much stored fog and vapor. In the ancient redwoods, now whittled down to 2.5 percent of their original size. How much water they give back, so stepping into the redwood forest, I remember years ago with Thich Nhat Hanh (, he said: ‘We step into a Sangha of water and life.’ You can feel it, stepping onto that ground, water vapor breathing with the trees. So, three percent of our bodies are always refreshed by the upwelling and the sinking down, by the rhythm of water.

“And yet water shortage, water depletion, the so-called resource, I hate to even use that word in connection with water, the so-called resourcefulness of water is already one of the greatest challenges we are facing.”
For more of this and the remaining elements, check out Wendy’s podcasts part one and part two at Upaya Or for air, surely you remember Bare Bones Biology 093 was also pretty good, and the same general interdependence relationship is also true of energy (fire) and earth. I recommend you listen to Wendy’s podcasts of this workshop, parts one and two, and I also highly recommend her dharma talk of the previous week.

During this workshop, we went down to the little Santa Fe River to put our feet in the water and wonder what it would feel like without water.

Bitsy and I went back again last week and splashed about while the children swung on the tire. But two days later there was no more water in the little Santa Fe river. Only a place in the bottom of the channel where some animal had tried to dig for it.
Bare Bones Biology 116 – Wendy Johnson Workshop
KEOS-FM, 89.1, Bryan, Texas
For a podcast of this radio spot, click here
Or go to

Recommended References and Trackbacks:
Upaya Zen Center,
Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate
Bare Bones Biology 107-115 and 093
Thich Nhat

Climate Change – What can we Do with No Money?

This question keeps coming up. What can we do with no money? The very most important things we can do, especially if we can afford a computer and internet access and transportation and a phone, are otherwise pretty much free, at least at the community level.

“We have to work at every level and we have to work both at mitigation (prevention) and at adaptation. We’ve got to work at the local level to make our communities more resilient for the changes that are coming no matter what we do.” William deBuys

“When you put it in the political arena, I don’t understand why it polarizes people. It’s the one thing that could unite our country to focus on the planet and the health of the earth. There’s no down side to that, and it’s not political. Why are we fighting about this?” (Mrs. Green statement when interviewing William DeBuys – podcast 05-12-12_DuBuysMiraval.mp3 on MrsGreensWorld contains both these quotes).

Now I am back here, and I will tell you why I THINK we are fighting about this. I think it is very clear the corposystem is in direct competition with the ecosystem, and in this effort the corposystem sucks up our power; the more we fight over any issue, the more it grows. The corposystem knows this. The corposystem grows its power by initiating these fights. It also teaches us,using its media and its school system, that competition will get us what we want and need. This is not true. If you study how life functions — it is not by competition, it is by BALANCE of the myriad of factors that keep life alive. Nevertheless, we, living in these false beliefs, we are feeding the power of the corposystem by our fighting, from the local level to the community level to health of the whole earth.

There is no reason to fight about any of these biological questions because whoever wins cannot change the biology. Except of course in the normal sense of rule of law. We do need to control how we behave. We do need to prevent what one attorney is characterizing as ecocide. As is always the case, it is the responsibility of the community to control the crooks, but biology is what it is, and our only hope is in conforming to our ecological biology.

To do that, we MUST understand that the ecosystem is not human; that it needs what IT NEEDS TO BE HEALTHY, and then we must conform to its needs.

Levels Yet Again

I’ve done more radio spots on Levels of Organization than any other one thing, because I think it’s the most important and most neglected law of nature that we know about. The concept has two halves. The first half is that there are levels of reality that are made from combining simpler levels. A simple example would be a pie that is made of whatever pies are made of. The second half of the concept is that different levels have different characteristics and also different needs. A pie is definitely different from salt, even though salt is one of the ingredients.

The requirements for welfare are also different, one level from the other, in the levels of things that are alive, so that sometimes it is not possible to have all the requirements that are needed at all the levels. We can’t have everything we want. This gives rise to moral dilemmas of the tragic kind. They are tragic in the “Greek Tragedy” sense, because we can’t avoid them. We must either decide to honor the one level — and that has tragic consequences — or the other level and that also has tragic consequences, or choose to not decide, which also has its tragic results. But aside from the Greek tragedies, it’s really hard to find understandable examples of this law of nature.

Then — as I was driving home yesterday, I heard Diane Rehm interview Eric Felten about his new book “Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue,” that seems to be mostly about this kind of thing.

The Diane Rehm interview was excellent. Nobody used the term levels, but actually the whole thing was about that subject, and Diane Rehm is obviously familiar with the idea. She kept highlighting it. She and Eric Felton used different levels in their discussion than I have in my simplified system.

Mine are:
Individual, population, corposystem, ecosystem

The levels they used on this show:
Individual, friendship, marriage, family, employer, community, country

Some of the examples they used — you can be loyal to your friendship or to your friend or to yourself, but not always to all three. If you are Bernie Maddoff’s son, you cannot remain loyal to yourself and to your community and to your father’s behavior all at the same time. David Kuzinski’s brother had to choose between turning in his brother or allow him to continue damaging the community welfare. The “first responders,” such as firemen, whose obligation is to serve the community, all run off to help their own families (when the tornado hits).

And the one I never forget, though I don’t even know if it is true – the jewish mother hiding from Hitlers’ death squad who smothered her squawling child to save the community she was hiding with.

Eric Felton believes this natural law, the levels of organization around which the universe is organized is a “tragic flaw” of reality. I think, on the contrary, that all natural laws are perfect just the way they are – because, of course, there would be no universe without the natural laws that make the universe function the way it does function. I think these relationships are organized the way they are so that the levels of reality can stay balanced among themselves. If you are a religious person, you must believe that God made these laws for a reason, if we do or we do not know the reason.

If we want to live in this world, we can not insist that the universal laws, or God, should step aside so that we can re-organize it more like what we think it should be. That is not one of the available choices. And to pretend that any human or group of humans completely understands either the science or the will of God is an outrageously egotistical, powermonger stance. We don’t even know what all the levels are.

Any power that we have for the good of ourselves and our communities, now and for the future, must come from understanding more and more exactly how the universe — and especially the ecosystem that gives us life – how it really DOES function and fulfilling our obligations to that reality.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“Years ago, I told our monasteries it is very good to learn science,” His Holiness said. “At first there was resistance and skepticism to this, but now after just five years, we have created a whole curriculum. And now we are starting to study non-Buddhist thought, so that we have monks with fuller knowledge. We must also study living traditions, like Christianity, Islam, and modern philosophy.”

I say it’s also good for us American voters to learn science, if we want to save our cultures and our religions and our ecosystem that supports them all. So I have nominated myself to serve on the review board for supplementary science instructional materials at the high school level.

You don’t have to be in school or on a board to contribute to our welfare. The first step is to be sure you REALLY understand how energy flows through the ecosystem to keep the whole thing alive. The second step is to apply this understanding to whatever charitable activities and actions you espouse.

The Ecosystem is a Living Thing

As is true of all living things (including our selves) the ecosystem requires (minimally) the following to stay alive:

The flow of energy through itself (energy is required to do work; work includes everything that moves or grows; without energy, nothing lives or grows).

The recycling of materials – we aren’t talking about this today, but notice this is the one we are trying politically to do — because it is easier than actually trying to solve the energy problem. Recycling is a good thing but it can not solve the energy problem. Because energy does not recycle.

The flow of information through time so the system knows how to function – also we aren’t talking about this today.

If the living ecosystem were to die, nobody knows what would happen, but if you need a metaphor think of your own body, because all living things require these same things.

Deep Doodoo

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The problem is that intentions which are based on faulty assumptions are doomed to failure.” Steve McCurry

FYI, below is a letter I sent to a fellow scientist.

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 it wouldn’t be necessary for me and a couple of other people (most prominently and tirelessly, Jane Goodall) to spend all our time trying to draw their attention to the emergent properties of the entire living system within which we make our only home.

Actually, the reason I think you should read COLLAPSE has to do with the details of how these things do and have happened in the past, within the past 6000 years. Diamond does an excellent job of bringing all the data to bear on the holistic reality in multiple different cases of collapses that were caused by more growth than the resources of the ecosystem could support. So in hindsight we can see what caused the collapse, and it was different in every case (except of course for the foundational cause, which was excessive growth of economy and population). Whatever are his conclusions I already knew before I read the book, but the reason for reading is the lovely collection of facts that he presents — the details he uses to construct a world view that is in accord with the facts on the ground. Taken together, Diamond’s COLLAPSE and Barabasi’s LINKED 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 networks, such as the internet or the ecosystem, is that the details can change without loss of the emergent properties — up to a point. The emergent property of the ecosystem is all of life on this earth. And when we reach the point, the collapse is awesome, it is very quick and it’s not possible to go back — oops, shouldn’t have done that — and change it. And we can’t know what that point is by studying the details. And of course we can not avoid it by reducing global warming because global warming is only a symptom, not the cause of the unbalanced ecosystem; the only viable solution is to modify our growth ethic or at least our growth behavior, and the only good that I see coming from our obsession with global warming is that we might make the connection between global warming and over-use of resources. Unfortunately, the powers-that-be have decided to use global warming as an excuse to not deal with over-growth.

Nobody needs me to help treat the symptoms of an overtaxed ecosystem — war, genocide, starvation, disease and the other methods the ecosystem uses to try to save her own life in the face of cancerous growths in her body. The world abounds with people trying to make their reputations by claiming to do something that will help — something that will not, in fact, change the cancerous growth that threatens the ecosystem because the things most people choose to do simply add to the problem of overgrowth. Especially as we continue to let the corporations and the corporate media (even PBS and the NGOs that I have studied) rename every problem as a lack healthy growth and then throw more growth in as the supposed solution.

There is no such thing as healthy, sustainable growth in a living thing.

  • Congratulations all you who have helped to make this almost a book: Bare Bones Ecology – or rather Part one, Energy. This is the final entry on the blog, and the book is now in production. Probably I will find a way to post it on this blog so that you may print it out, hold it in your hands, read from front to back, and share with others who want to know more about the home we live in and to be able to understand more about how our behaviors affect her survival.

  • P.S.(LL I would add Chaos to the reading list)

    Light Energizes Life

    Energy Flows-Or Nothing Happens

    Light is one kind of energy. There are many things about light that we don’t understand, but 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. They do this, with regard to energy, by balancing the “uphillness” of complexity with the degradation of energy. The light gives its energy to maintain the complexity of life. This is possible because energy takes different forms.

    3. Some forms of energy are “uphill” from others. For example, light energy can release some of its energy to become heat, but heat energy can not spontaneously change back into light, 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 “uphill” complexity, by changing light energy to organic energy and using the organic energy to feed the whole ecosystem. 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 this 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 capturing light energy and converting it to form the energy attractions that bond together groups of atoms and small molecules to make large organic molecules. They capture the light using a pigment molecule that is called chlorophyll.

    Capturing, or absorbing light energy is no problem. Absorption of light energy happens all around us; it is what makes the colors. Pigment is any substance that absorbs light. Light from the sun includes (contains, is made of) 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.
    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.

    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.

    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 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. And 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 stays alive 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 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