Bare Bones Biology 068 – What to Do 02

Last time I outlined the basic requirements that I think are necessary if we are to build a better future for the children and grandchildren than what we’re building right now. This time I’ll give you a short list of general sort of activities that we can do or not do to head in that positive direction. Next time I have some specific suggestions for what to do at home.

Of the four points for today, the first is, as consumer citizens we need to stop fighting with each other over who is dominant. The questions of right/wrong, winners/losers, all of that dichotomous behavior, setting ourselves against each other to see who is king of the heap will not help us to address our situation with the real king of the heap, and that is the corposystem. We need to focus on our common goal, with whatever level of humility is necessary to go in that direction. And that direction is to grow a better future for the consumer citizens.

Alternatively, stop sitting back and waiting for someone else to solve the problem. Nobody can solve the problem because everyone is part of the cause. So instead of waiting for that to happen, do what you can to identify the root problem. Or just believe me when I tell you what the real root problem is that the mother earth can no longer provide enough food energy resources for all the growth that is happening on her body. And the secondary problem is that the corposystem instead of trying to cut back and reach a sustainable level that can be maintained over an indefinite period of time. Instead of doing that, is trying to promote more growth and yet more growth.

Now there is a good chance that quite a few people will disagree with me on this point. So in that case I will suggest that you do a good job of fact-checking and come back and let me know what you find out and I will give you as many of these Bare Bones Biology programs as you wish to explain it. That was number two. It was a kind of complicated number two.

Number three, refuse to participate in the corposystem’s promotion of growth, as far as that is possible. Unless of course the corposystem would actually re-define itself as having a goal of sustainability, I think we should avoid participating in its harmful activities. My suggestions for that is to pay off your debts so they don’t have control over you, cut up your credit cards, don’t vote for their candidates but do vote, even when you know you will lose. Don’t buy their stuff. You can shop at the Farmers’ Market, for example, and other local sources. Don’t let them take over the internet. Don’t watch their television.

We should learn every little bit that we can about the real true facts that relate to our goal. Our goal would be to understand more and more about, compassion, human rights, and the biological needs of the ecosystem. Everything we can learn that’s real and factual, because nobody knows everything, and the corposystem is projecting on the television and in their propaganda a fairytale life that is not sustainable.

Our job is to learn the facts and grow a sustainable culture. Live the sustainable life style now, that we need to grow a sustainable future; we who know what is happening will be the founders of our children’s future, carriers of the experience and the awareness and the wisdom and knowledge of reality that they will need. Human and economic growth on this planet can no longer be supported by the available resources. We each individually need to understand how the ecosystem functions. How it really functions, so we can prevent a few extremists from messing throwing wrenches into its functional works. But factual knowledge of our ecosystem is not enough.

Many people believe that a compassionate lifestyle will lead to a compassionate future, but compassion is not enough, because the ecosystem does not need compassion — and we can not survive without the ecosystem. What the ecosystem does require is balance, and we need to understand that WE do now know how to maintain that balance. We are not in charge of the ecosystem. As a biologist I assure you we don’t know enough about how it functions to micro-manage the ecosystem. But the ecosystem does work marvelously if we don’t mess it up. We must learn how to let it be, so that it can maintain it’s life and our lives.

I am guessing that most people believe human politics can resolve our problem, but politics is not enough, unless it is informed by an umbrella of compassion and factual knowledge of the ecosystem, and a useful rule of law. So the bottom line is that none of these three aspirations by itself can resolve our problem, but the three together, passed on from generation to generation, can grow a fine and modestly flourishing, sustainable future for human kind on this earth.

And in that light, the fourth suggestion is to learn how to tell the difference between hype and factual information. There is a lot of factual information available, thank goodness for the internet. Find the real information. Fact check. Check the logic. Check the sources. Check the qualifications of the sources. Find out if they are actually being paid by the corposystem to say whatever they are saying. Stop letting their propaganda into your head, no matter how nice it sounds. We can not grow the future on fairy tales, but we can grow a wonderful future based on honesty and real facts.

Bare Bones Biology 068 – What to Do 02
KEOS radio 89.1 FM, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at
Audio later this week at

Survival of the Fittest?

So, if species grow and succeed on the basis of survival of the fittest, meaning they are doing something that is good for the ecosystem — then how come the ecosystem pitches them out later and they go extinct?

I think the answer to this is that species succeed on the basis of something they are doing that is “fitness” within the ecosystem. That is, it is useful or at least not harmful within the multiple variables of the whole system. And what the ecosystem needs to survive is “resilience” (that is, the ability to change when conditions change) and “sustainability” (that is the ability to stay in balance by adjusting it’s parts, which is almost but not quite the same as resilience). So if a species does not upset the balance — and it increases the resilience of the system — then it is a happy camper within the system.

So why would it then go extinct, I mean barring the occasional mega-volcano or meteorite? I think most species are good at something, better at something than other species. Humans, those who don’t think the problem through, tend to believe this is “fitness.” Being better. They think being better and better at some little thing, like winning, for example, is fitness, and in a way it is, because it allows the species to fill or create a new niche in the system. Up to a point where it can no longer maintain its balance, a system with more niches will be more resilient than a system with fewer niches.

Most species are therefore good at something that is different from the other species that live in the same space. As time goes by and generations follow generations, and selection pressures of the surroundings tend to continue or increase, I think most species develop whatever is their advantage until it passes a balance point and becomes extreme.

For an example, think of the giraffe. And then if conditions change or they continue to develop the same trait to absurdity, they can’t cope in the system any more. For example, if all the tall trees died as a result of global warming (or anything, tree diseases, whatever) the giraffe would have to compete with everyone else at ground level and would probably become extinct.

Humans, now, have developed their definining characteristics to an even greater absurdity than giraffes. Humans in the USA, young people that I talk to, they actually believe they can control their environment (ecosystem) with the power of their brain, either directly or through creating technologies.

The trouble with having a really good brain as a defining characteristic is that it can go crazy and do absurdly harmful things to its own environment that lead to its own extinction. This is not fitness; it will not survive.

But we do have that brain, and we could use it for something useful if we wanted to.


When I was growing up, and when I was a productive member of the work force, my goal was to save and to share with the future (to sustain) the “American dream.” Of course, that wasn’t my only goal, but it was foundational, and it defined the boundaries of my personal dream. The whole point of “my” dream was that we all can have different dreams so long as my dream does not cause harm to you or your good dream. Of course, that’s an ideal — an impossible island within which to function. Therefore, the other half of my dream is a continual process of negotiating the boundaries of our individual dreams so that our community is a positively functioning whole.

It was only after retirement that I realized some of the people I worked with — and with whom I shared a mutual commitment to the “American Dream” — it wasn’t the same dream at all. We had never explained ourselves to each other, never negotiated our ideas, and so we all were seriously trying hard to sustain different and incompatible dreams. This was a shock to us all, and we very soon were arguing/debating/fighting rather than sustaining. It became clear that we can not build an American Dream if we don’t know what it is and discuss it among ourselves before we start to fight over misunderstandings that we don’t know exist. We cannot understand each other unless we define our words.

Sustainability a word that we must understand if we are to build a future for ourselves, first because Americans have multiple different ideas of what should be sustained, and more importantly because the word was deliberately co-opted by the economic community, following the green revolution, to mean the exact opposite of what it means. The idea of sustainable growth (which is impossible within the living earth ecosystem) has overcome the actual meaning of sustainability. The implications of this reality are, to me, genocidal. I see this campaign to change the meaning of the word sustainability as a deliberate attack on the life and health of the whole earth ecosystem for the profit of a few. Worse, the attack seems to have succeeded, and the result, literally, is a Ponzi type of growth scheme that is manipulating the resources of the entire world. Unfortunately, however, it is not sustainable. The fact of sustainable growth is physically impossible, even though the concept of sustainable growth has become embedded in our culture as a synonym for sustainability.

So the word sustainability is a problem because it seems that most or many Americans believe that it means sustainable growth, and the earth ecosystem can not grow. The size of the earth ecosystem is fixed. The ecosystem has become more efficient in its use of organic energy (it did this primarily by increasing diversity), but we can not change the size of the ecosystem, because the ecosystem functions according to natural laws such as gravity and the second law of thermodynamics that we can not change. If we continue to try to grow the ecosystem, the result will be the same as it sooner or later is with all Ponzi schemes, because sustainable growth is impossible in a living system. Growth in the ecosystem is limited by the ability of plants to convert light energy to organic energy, and we are destroying our plants in our efforts to grow.

If the word “sustainable” has communication problems, another approach might be to use some different words to explain the physical realities of the ecosystem and the things she needs to survive. Rob Hopkins likes to describe ecosystems in terms of “resilience,” and describes resilience as a reflection of the relationship between diversity and survivability, and this is very important (download pdf from Google, title Resilience Thinking). Diversity is one of the basic realities of life systems; higher levels of diversity generate higher probabilities of survival because the living system is a network. As is true of the computer network, diverse possible pathways make for fewer crashes (well described in “Linked: the new science of networks” by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi).

In the human body we might think of cancer as a threat because of the decrease of diversity when one type of cell overtakes the myriad other cell types that individuals require for their survival. A good general discussion of how this has played out in human populations is found in the historical events described in Jared Diamond’s book “Collapse.”

It is also true of ecosystems. The high survival value of diversity in living systems is easy to demonstrate. Still, diversity/resilience is not the only essential element of ecosystem survival, is not identical in its meaning to “sustainable,” and none of these terms refers to growth of either the economy or the biomass on the earth.

The most widely quoted definition of sustainability is the “Brundtland definition” of the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” According to your computer dictionary, sustainability is: “Able to be maintained.” Or, in relation to smaller ecosystems: “exploiting natural resources without destroying the ecological balance of a particular area.”

We have already stressed the requirements of the ecosystem:

1 – A forever balance between the amount of available organic energy that flows into the system and the amount of organic energy that is used up within the system (remembering that we are within the system);

2 – A continual flow of information through the system (this is mostly genetics, genes in all organisms carry the code of life and are passed to future generations). In brief, the effective flow of information increases the survivability/diversity of living systems. For example: (a) we know that some people are genetically more susceptible to certain diseases; when the flu comes around, some people are hit harder than other people. If everyone were the same, then everyone would be equally as likely to die of flu. This is a biological survival value for the human species. (b) Similarly, each small or large ecosystem is composed of many different species. The many species permit the ecosystem to use more of the available organic energy to do more kinds of work before all the energy is converted to work or heat and lost. (c) Again, the whole earth ecosystem is composed of a diversity of smaller ecosystems. Clearly, resilience, as defined by Prof. Hopkins, is importantly based in diversity, and is essential to maintain life on earth.

3 – The third major factor that must stay in balance if the living earth is to survive is the cycling of materials such as water and oxygen and carbon dioxide through the whole ecosystem. That we will discuss information flow and materials cycling in separate chapters.

The bottom line is that all these definitions are accurate, and for once the computer definition is excellent and the simplest definition of “sustainability” is: “Able to be maintained.”

We have said that LIFE is not the same reality as A LIVING THING, and that is essentially because a living thing is not sustainable. That is why we all have hopes and dreams of a sustainable ecology/economy for our grandchildren, and that is why our various versions of the “American Dream” always involve pictures in our heads of the children and the grandchildren working the land as we do or boating on Lake Bryan as we do, or celebrating Hannukah as we do or enjoying whatever world view that we enjoy.

But dreams and pictures and words of today are not a reality for tomorrow. It is not the function of the living earth to fulfill our dreams, but to maintain her own life. If we really want our grandchildren to be a living, laughing presence upon this living earth we MUST understand what the ecosystem needs to stay alive and then we must give it to her, because otherwise our own rampant growth upon the earth, just like a cancer in our own bodies, will reduce the resilience and upset the balance to such an extent that the productivity of the earth ecosystem will be reduced and unable to provide enough organic energy to nurture our grandchildren.

What’s That Got to do with People?

It is important to understand the energy relationships of the ecosystem for two reasons:

1. We are part of the ecosystem and we can not survive without it, but really our individual comfort and satisfaction are not as important as the welfare of our communities. They can’t survive either.

2. Maybe it is even more important that we realize the relationship between MONEY and ENERGY. That would be, of course, an idea of how the economy relates to the ecology. When I consider the following sequence of factual statements, I end with the conclusion that we need to do a lot more thinking on this subject before we continue to try to cure a problem by doing more and more of what caused it in the first place. What’s your conclusion?

a. Whenever we use energy to do work, the energy changes from a higher form to a lower form. Because there is no such thing as 100% efficiency, some of the energy is lost, commonly as heat, a waste product or byproduct that is released into the environment.

b. Most of our energy for doing the work of staying alive and also the work of maintaining our communities (road work, driving around town, making things for us to buy) most of this comes from burning organic molecules. What happens when we burn organic molecules? A big molecule changes into a bunch of small molecules and the chemical energy (that I referred to above as organic energy) bonds that were keeping them together is released. So, an organic molecule is burned, some of the energy is used to do work, while heat and water and carbon dioxide are the byproducts. This happens in our bodies (as metabolism, see below) and it happens in our communities.

c. Our usable energy is a resource that comes from the earth. As stated before, the SOURCE of organic energy is plants, because plants make organic molecules (proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids and a few other things). Plants are the only source of energy for most of the life processes of our bodies and our communities. Oil, coal, gas were generated by plants and animals that were fossilized during the carboniferous age. We will not get more from that source than whatever is already in the earth.

d. There are also other resources that come from the earth that will be discussed in a later section.

e. Money is nothing more than green paper unless it has a relationship with resources. Money has no value. The vale of money lies in its relationship with resources.

Money of value is related to resources; resources come from the earth. That is why Ponzi schemes always eventually crash.

If we want to reach a sustainable relationship with the earth, we must look to our money and consider what we do with it. Only balance is sustainable, in goods, molecules, resources of any kind, and money. Growth is not sustainable, and as the resources become exceeded – growth is impossible.

Sustainable Balance

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

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

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

Balance between humans and the ecosystem.

Balance between oxygen and carbon in the ecosystem.

Balance in the water cycle.

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

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

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

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.
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.