How Ecosystems Can Help Mankind “Tune” Its Very Existence

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We can better understand ourselves through the lens of the natural world. A walk in the woods can elicit yet unseen inspiration, a clear sky on a starlit beach can offer insight into our inner selves. Agrestal (“growing wild in cultivated fields) experiences evoke lessons that, if we pay attention, help us thrive and grow.

Fritjof Capra, cofounder and former chair of the board of directors of the Center for Ecoliteracy—a wonderful organization whose mission is to teach ecology principles in K-12 schools — writes on how interactions on the ecosystem level can serve as models of how we can live more sustainable and full lives.

In his essay titled Ecology and Community Capra explains the basic principles of ecology—relationships, patterns, networks, self-organization and flexibility within diversity, and how our survival is dependent on learning how to identify and live within these constructs. One such lesson is the necessity of working with others. It is Capra’s belief that we as inhabitants of a planet all depend on one another:

So we have interdependence, network relationships, feedback loops; we have cyclical flows; and we have many species in a community. All of this together implies cooperation and partnership. As various nutrients are passed along through the ecosystem, the relationships we observe are many forms of partnership, of cooperation. . . . . We constantly observe partnerships, linkages, associations, species living inside one another depending on one another for survival. Partnership is a key characteristic of life. Self-organization is a collective enterprise."

Another lesson is that of the importance of diversity—how different strengths and weaknesses, different ideas, different niches, not only enrich a community, but they are, in fact, vital to the very existence of a community that sustains itself:

If we have a network structure with feedback loops, and if different kinds of people make different mistakes, and if information about these different kinds of mistakes is shared and travels through the network, then very quickly the community will figure out the smartest ways to solve certain problems or the smartest ways to adapt to changes. All the research about diverse learning styles and diverse intelligences will be extremely useful if — and only if — there is a vibrant community where you have interdependence, a vibrant network of relationships, and cyclical flows of energy and information. When the flows are restricted, you create suspicion and distrust, and diversity is a hindrance. But when the flows are open, diversity is a great advantage. In an ecosystem, of course, all doors are always open."

There are many of us who see the necessity of humankind living a more sustainable existence. Capra reminds us that emulating natural systems is a powerful way to start.

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 Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson 

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