Bare Bones Biology 100 – Climate Change, The End

On a Thursday I went to two local meetings, one right after the other. The first was a seminar — a group of people who are concerned about the health of the whole ecosystem that we live in. Second, I went to a political meeting. All the people I met at both meetings are concerned for the welfare of our whole community. But their views of what is a community are so different that, if they were talking together, they probably would not recognize our common motivation.

I despaired of explaining this gap until I once again realized that we are talking about levels of organization. BBB-051 and BBB-052. By my system, individual is level one. Level two is the population level, our local community of humans or all humans as a species. Level three is the entire worldwide ecosystem, which is a super-organism that consists of all the species on earth and the environment we all create to live in.

People who work at the population level need to understand as much as they can about the social sciences, because that’s how we humans manipulate other people, for good or for ill. That’s all about hopes and dreams and kindness and cruelty and good and evil and empathy and compassion, as defined by our common human values. This is different from individual, level one welfare, and the difference is the cause of most of our political battles. That’s because, instead of trying to understand the differences in a way that will generate a living space for individual welfare within the communal welfare, in our culture of today we are choosing to fight over those conflicts of interest. For example. My neighbor’s oil well is giving me nosebleeds, shortness of breath, and I think maybe affecting my memory, which at my age is a concern. Good for him, bad for me, a simple individual level-one difference, he is bigger than I am so I will move. However, a more
difficult problem is the effect that his oil well has on the rate of asthma, alzheimers and obesity and other problems of the people of the whole community. That’s level one welfare, conflicting with the welfare at level two. At that point, we need a serious human discussion or we will likely end up with a serious human fight. That’s the kind of thing that good politics should be addressing. The welfare of the individual within the population of humans. There is always a conflict of interest. That’s what the social sciences are about.

The ecosystem is the level that includes all of life on earth. Everything alive is part of the whole earth ecosystem and requires a healthy ecosystem to stay alive, because the ecosystem literally makes the air, water and rich soil, and it makes these things by balancing extremely complex cycles of energy and climate and organic molecules. That’s not a matter of opinion. Without the ecosystem, there is no population to worry about, and that’s what the folks at the seminar mean when they are concerned about the common welfare.

We need the so-called “hard sciences” to understand what the ecosystem requires to stay healthy. Because the ecosystem does not function according to human values or emotions, the social sciences will not help us understand what the ecosystem requires. That’s why we need biology and ecology. And facts. And our unique human brain that can understand the difference between ecological facts and human emotions and desires. And our unique human language that can share knowledge and information over space and time.

There are measurable facts in this world. Our opinions are fun and they make us feel important, but they do not change facts. Science does not change facts. Nothing changes facts; that’s why we call them facts. Thermodynamic relationships are real, and all of life is based on them. The law of cause and effect is real. It is a fact that what we do today will influence the level of human suffering in the ecosystem of the future. The world keeps changing; that’s a fact, and we need to deal with it.

Bare Bones Biology 100 – Climate Change, The End
KEOS FM 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Audio download available later this week
here and at

Recommended References: Levels of Organization Emergent Properties
Bare Bones Biology Energy Handbook is available on my blog for free download
Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, by H.H. The Dalai Lama

Summing Up

Evolution happens. Not only it happens, but it is one of the most powerful and fundamental forces in all of living nature, along with the laws of thermodynamics, gravity, cause and effect.

In chapter one, we said the entire ecosystem requires energy to do the work of staying alive. We said the laws of thermodynamics describe how energy can or can not flow through the ecosystem. Survival of any living thing is a constant push against entropy, and entropy is a natural law of the whole universe, living and not living, that describes the natural tendency of anything to become un-complex — to fall apart, like a rusty old car in your back yard, compared with the shiny old Model T that you have kept in good repair.

We have also said that life is one of the most complex things that we know about in the universe. It requires energy to keep it that way and nobody is pottering around keeping it in good repair. Life stays alive because of the way the ecosystem works as a whole to keep itself going in spite of the natural laws of the universe. It does this, as we have said a large number of times, fundamentally by three uber-processes that we have discussed in our three chapters.

Chapter One – The flow of energy through the ecosystem, utilizing every bit of organic energy between the time it is created by the plants using sunlight as energy source, until it is lost forever in the form of heat. Every corner of the ecosystem, if it is to continuing doing its function of helping to keep us all alive, must have energy. It is one of the defining characteristics of life that it can keep itself in good repair. This is accomplished by the flow of organic energy from its creation in the plants through all the levels of living organization, the herbivores, carnivores and the organisms that live on dead and decaying matter that still contains organic molecules.

Chapter Two – The recycling of materials is the process that is easiest for us to understand, and yet the apparent simplicity is deceptive, because this recycling, again, relies upon all the interconnected levels of organization of the ecosystem so that, for example, carbon is made available to all of the levels of life from the time the plants use it to make organic molecules until the breakdown of the organic molecules returns it to the atmosphere.

The biggest difference between the materials and the energy is that materials are atoms or molecules of matter that have mass and occupy space. So the maerials just get pushed around on earth from one place to another.  Whatever energy is — it does not stick around to be used again. With respect to the ecosystem it is used primarily as organic energy that is created by plants using light energy from the sun. As every living thing (almost) uses the organic energy, the organic energy changes to heat energy and can never again be used to maintain the processes of life. Heat energy is also useful, but it does not run our generators, so to speak. So materials and energy flow through the ecosystem along the pathways of the levels of organization. The difference is that materials can be recycled but energy can not.

Chapter Three – The flow of information causes all the above things to happen as they do — that is genetics, from the DNA to the gene to the chromosome to the genome of an individual organism to the gene pool of the speces to the evolution of that species to the ability of the whole ecosystem to respond to conditions inside and outside of itself.

Life can be defined as the ability to respond to the environment, from the ability of a cell to find a safe place to live to the ability of your gut to digest organic molecules to the ability of a bird to build a nest to global warming. And beyond that to integration of the entire living earth that we will discuss in the next few posts.

Life is the innate, internal ability to respond to the environment rather than just sit there and be destroyed by it. The flow of information sustains life because it senses the environment and cues the living response. The hand on the hot stove is a reasonable example of this process, but very limiting as a concept because we need the whole of the ecosystem information system to stay alive — in addition to our own nervous system.

Why do cells and organisms require oxygen to stay alive? Because oxygen is necessary for the flow of energy. It is required for our cells to capture the energy from organic molecules, through the process of cellular respiration. Oxygen is provided to us by the ecosystem.

Why does the ecosystem require the recycling of materials to stay alive? So that the plants can use the materials, along with energy from the sun, to make more organic molecules, through the process of photosynthesis.

Why does the ecosystem require the deaths of individual organisms, so that it can give life to more individuals? Because the deaths of individual organisms are necessary for the flow of information through the ecosystem to continue, and the flow of information IS the innate, internal ability of the ecosystem to respond to the environment. That is, the flow of information is the most basic essence of life itself.

Those three most basic of all life concepts – the movement of energy, materials and information over time — will also be the basis for our summing up in the next few posts.