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.

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That’s Not How it Works

Evolution is the process of change of the entire information content of the ecosystem — over time.

We all understand time, and the important thing here is that time does not go backwards, nor does it stop. I do not know why. Ask a physicist if you want to talk about that. What I know is — it’s one of the laws of our living ecosystem. Time stops for no living thing. If God created the ecosystem, then it is one of God’s laws.

So that takes care of time. We can not change what is already behind us. Furthermore, evolution does not happen in the future, or rather it WILL happen in the future, but it is what is happening in this very moment of time that affects what will happen in the next moment of time. The only thing that actually is changing is NOW.

The information content of the ecosystem is usually thought of as the “gene pool.” You could quibble about this and say that there are other forms of information, but I am talking about the primary source of information in the ecosystem that changes in response to whatever conditions exist at each moment in time. That information is all the genes that exist in this moment of time.

The ecosystem is the largest unit of life as we know it on earth. The information of life is the genes. The gene pool of a population is all the genes in that population, the gene pool of a species is all the genes in all the organisms of that species; the gene pool of the ecosystem is all the genes in the ecosystem. You have only two genes of each kind. So does everyone else. So forget the delusions of grandeur. The impact of any one person on the gene pool of the ecosystem is tinier than tiny. Even if you kill off all your enemies and even if you are more fit than Superman, your impact on the gene pool is still unmeasurably small. Survival of the Fittest is an excuse for people like Hitler. It doesn’t work that way.

The third word in the definition is CHANGE. Change in the gene pool over time IS evolution. What causes this change? No person knows, and unless you are a person who can understand all the genes in all the organisms in the ecosystem, and all the ways in which they interact to allow the ecosystem to be alive — then there is no way for you to know scientifically what causes evolution, beyond what we have already said. There is a change in the gene pool. That is, a change in the information content of the living ecosystem.

Now it gets complicated, because the gene pool (through it’s organisms) changes in response to the ecosystem environment. That sounds like a cycle, doesn’t it, with the environment on one side and the gene pool on the other. The gene pool is necessary for the environment and the environment is necessary for the gene pool, and this is true. But it is not a cycle because of the element of time. If the gene pool changes in response to the environment — then the gene pool is changed, and it can not go back in time to what it was before. Therefore, in the next moment of time (or more likely the next generation of organisms) the relationship between the gene pool and the environment is different, because the gene pool is different. And that makes the environment different. And the environment influences the gene pool in the next following generation. So it’s not a cycle, like the carbon cycle, that happens over and over again in the same way. It’s more like a figure 8 with infinite potential to continue, if it does not destroy its own environment. Or its own gene pool.

So to this guy on wall street who is puffing out his chest and gloating that he is contributing to survival of the fittest because his company has grown 100?

THAT’S NOT THE WAY IT WORKS.

What that guy has done to us all is essentially the same as what Bernie Madoff did to his investors. Because the ecosystem does not honor Ponzi schemes, nor does it honor growth. The ecosystem survives on BALANCE.

Balance between the gene pool and the environment; balance in all the interactions between all the species in the gene pool of the ecosystem; balance of all the nutrients and other chemicals that cycle around so that we may have life; and balance between input and output. That economist who is going around claiming to be a boon to mankind — what he has done by growing 100% is to contribute to the UN-BALANCE of the ecosystem. He has taken out more resources than she can sustainably produce and destroyed species that are required for her balance, and even changed the weather for goodness sake, and he thinks he has done a good thing because he is a big fat macho “winner.”090624Dallas_dsc1997Ss

That guy who is richer and more important than any other person on wall street — measured according to the natural law that allows life to exist — is one of the most UNFIT people on earth. He and his friends have gone halfway to changing the ecosystem into a desert. He will be dead and gone; his legacy will be huger and thirst.

Because he chose to rally behind a silly slogan about survival of the fittest instead of finding out how it really does work.

Toxic Tolerance

My friend Ivy could have told me. She was raised in the black community during segregation. Her teachers assumed that she was competent and expected her to demonstrate that competence. She has been striving (against odds in the school systems) to give that gift to her students for all of her teaching career. I on the other hand, like most idealistic do-gooders had to learn for myself about the devastating consequences of our low expectations of our youth and other members of our communities.

Low expectations usually are hidden behind a mask of tolerance. In California, where I was raised, tolerance is automatically viewed as “a good thing,” but really, does that mean it’s OK for anyone to do anything they want to do? Of course not; that would be dumb, and so the ethical person will avoid the easy knee-jerk idea of tolerance and face up to the obligation of us ALL to think about what sorts of things we do and do not want to tolerate in our children, our families, our schools and our communities. Sometimes intolerance, as intolerance of bad behaviors, is a good thing; sometimes tolerance is a bad thing when it is used to deprive our children of the resources they need to succeed.

I learned the hard way what Ivy could have told me. I accepted a teaching position that took me from “tolerant” California to “intolerant” South Carolina shortly after enforced integration. I expected my college freshman students to EARN their grades. I believed (and I still believe) that every one of them could do so, given the necessary resources. I tried to make the resources available. It was a hard time for us all.

Meantime, while I and my college students were struggling with our expectations, this segregated town had bit the bullet and built a fine new integrated showplace school for the early grades, to which they had transferred the best teachers in the community. Black and white children learning to read and write together, equally. And the next year the star student from my own class, an education major I’ll call Sue, went to do her student teaching with the star third-grade teacher in the showplace elementary school.

The third grade was learning to write sentences. Verbs and nouns. Subjects and objects. The star teacher explained the lesson to all the students, and then she gave the homework assignment:

“Write five sentences using the word flow.” And bring them back to class tomorrow.

Remember, the South Carolina accents. Most of the little black students returned the next day with sentences that used the word “floor,” while most of the little white students came back with sentences that used the word “flow.” No surprise here. Life is full of misunderstandings, and that is a GOOD thing to learn. So Sue went home that night and wrote up a lesson plan to explain the difference between flow and floor. Sue viewed this misunderstanding a golden opportunity to teach the students to enjoy the differences among human kind AND the difference between a noun and a verb.

The response of the star teacher was:

“Don’t bother, they can’t understand it anyhow.”

Is this tolerance or toxic low expectations or is it intentional racist discrimination? Does it matter? The damage was done to the students no matter the good or bad intentions of the teacher.

And it wasn’t until about three weeks later that I realized the same damage had been done to me in the same way. My tolerant white California culture had been doing the same thing to me — all of my life — because I started out as a pretty little girl instead of a rugged little man. Very few people recognized any need to give me resources beyond shorthand and typing, because there woulod be no place for me in the culture to do anything more than maybe secretarial work, nursing, teaching other people’s children to have low expectations of their own competence and depriving them of the resources they need to compete in our American cultural milieux.

It took me 20 extra years to understand that my culture’s low expectations of me were simply a lazy lie and to go for a PhD in science. Which took me to the South Carolina college where one of my freshman students could not write any words at all. For all of his 18 years he had been guessing true-false questions and passed through as a “kindness” without ever being required to write a sentence in a test. He believed himself to be stupid and incompetent – which he was NOT. I hate that more than anything else, when I hear people who clearly believe the lie and there is nothing we can say now to change their own perpetuation of the lie they have been taught about themselves..

And where I learned HOW I too had been handicapped by low expectations.

We have obligations to our neighbors, students, children and friends, and even if we don’t care about them, we have an obligation to the community that we require for our own survival. One of these is to know the difference between nurturing competence and toxic tolerance.

Good Job

090520TGT_dsc1150LSs copy“The horse was only curious, but Bitsy had drawn a line in the mud and was not willing to back down just because a thousand pounds of horse wanted something. She placed herself over my knapsack with the shoulder strap across her back, and she clearly intended to stay there no matter how many horses tried to steal it. “(Excerpt from Bitsy’s Book, in production.)

Everyone needs some kind of responsibility — something worthwhile that they can do well. I guess if dogs also have this kind of need, it must be more instinct than thinking.

But too many people, like Bitsy, invent for themselves tasks that cause more harm than they do good. A dog might not know the difference, but maybe that’s why people are gifted with a very special brain. Maybe we were meant to do something very special. If so, we will need to spend more time thinking about the long term results of whatever we decide to do, because up to now the difference between what we could do and what we are doing is a long, sad story.

Bio-Milk, Bio-Ethics

“We had a professor at Stanford who thought milk was manufactured.” Dr. Paul Ehrlich.

(For all you city folks, our commercial milk comes out of cows, and cows eat grass or hay to get the energy they need to stay alive and make milk, and the grass or hay gets its energy from the sun. The important point here is that we can not eat sunlight — all animal life on earth gets the energy it requires to live – that is food – from plants. The number of plants is limited.)

BUT THAT IS NOT THE SUBJECT OF THIS BLURB.

The subject of this blurb is ethics, the ethics of scientists who have not been telling people these important facts, and I want to quote Dr. Ehrlich because I agree with him:

” . . . I prefer to think of ethics simply as shared values, and one of our ethical tasks should be to try to speed the evolution of the values of biologists. I think the vast majority of my fellow scientists already share the value that we should give our fellow citizens the benefit of our best counsel on issues at the interface between science and society. That already fits under one dictionary definition of ethics—“the principles of conduct governing a profession.”

(Some references are omitted here that appear to no longer be available on the web, see modern versions below. LL)

“I’d like to see bioethics evolve further, toward all biologists considering it their duty to report to the public (which supports them) the essential findings of their research—and toward training their graduate students accordingly.”

Additional references:

You can get the entire letter above, in pdf format from Dr. Ehrlich’s web site:
Ehrlich, P. R. 2004. Values and bioethics (letter). BioScience 54: 484. [pdf]

The letter was written to and published by American Institute of Biological Scientists (AIBS)

It was a response to a discussion of “Scientific Integrity in Policy-Making” on the web site of Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS

A short thought today

JFK said: “The challenges of mankind are created by man and are solvable by man.”

I say: Depends what you have done. There are hierarchies, levels, of power. You have the power to kill someone, but you do not have the power to bring him back to life.

Better to think before you pull the trigger.

Power of Thinking

“I see a system failing,” Ms. Menon said. “It is doing something, but it is not solving the problem.” quoted in the New York Times March 13.

As Indian Growth Soars, Child Hunger Persists

Doesn’t it make you want to cry when you open the above link and see the children suffer? And read about the reality they face.

“. . .‘serious’ rates of hunger persist(ed) across Indian states that had posted enviable rates of economic growth in recent years, including Maharashtra and Gujarat.”

How much longer will we cling to the belief that growth will lift us out of our global problem that we created by excessive growth?

Economic growth is based in goods.  Money is a promissory note to deliver goods.  On this earth — in this earth ecosystem — all goods come ultimately from the earth.

The earth has reached its capacity; it can not grow more goods than it already is growing.  Yet the economists (that is, people who deal in money) continue to believe that economic growth will cure our problems that are caused by excessive GROWTH.

Why do we continue to believe this strange, toxic mantra that only works when goods are plentiful?  Why do reporters not THINK about what they are saying when they tell us that growth, GNP,  is a symbol of prosperity?  Prosperity for whom?  When will we stop evaluating every success in terms of the same growth that is defeating our efforts to achieve success?  What happened to the idea of sustainability?

I think it fell victim to our preference for making money, but that won’t change the fact that sustainable growth is an oxymoron.  Sustainable is possible — but only in the absence of growth.  Why don’t we go for sustainable?  For the children.
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The power to find a better way – a way that will work — begins with the willingness to think outside the circle of our  toxic mantra.

That’s why God gave us a brain.