16 May 2009

An excerpt from "The Party's Over" by Richard Heinberg - Community defined

For me, this gives an easy-to-understand example of the interdependence of all things - and at its peak balance, being 'Community.'  Let me know what you think, yes?  If we're going to move through these Middle Times, we'll be looking for common understanding of what is.
p. 16, 17, "The Party's Over" - Energy, Nature and Society - Richard Heinberg

These days the term ecology is often understood to be used merely in a scientific critique of human society's negative impact on nature.  There are two reasons for this:  The first is that early ecologists soon realized that, since humans are organisms, ecology should include the study of the relationship between people and the rest of the biosphere.  The second is that, as early ecologists cataloged and monitored various natural systems, they found that it was becoming increasingly difficult to study such systems in an undisturbed state; everywhere, nature was being impacted by the human presence.

This impact itself became a focus of investigation, and soon ecologists realized that disturbed and undisturbed systems differ in clear ways.  Ecosystems that have not been disturbed significantly for long periods of time (whether by humans or natural disasters) tend to reach a state of dynamic equilibrium which ecologists call a climax phase, meaning that organisms have adapted themselves to one another in such a way as to maintain relatively constant population levels, to avoid direct competition, to keep energy flow-through to a minimum, and to recycle available energy and nutrients as completely as possible.  They have formed, to use an anthromorphic term, a community.

Biological communities are kept in equilibrium through balancing feedback loops.  A useful technological example of a balancing feedback loop is a thermostat:  if a room gets too cold, the termostat triggers the furnace to turn on; when the room achieves the set temperature, the thermostat turns the furnace off.  The temperature of the room varies, but only narrowly.  Similarly, feedback loops in ecosystems - such as predator-prey relationships - tend to keep varying population levels within narrow ranges.  If the vole population increases, fox and hawk populations will soon expand to take advantage of this food-energy surplus.  The increase inthe hawk and fox populations will then reduce the vole population, whose diminution will eventually lead to a reduction in the number of hawks and foxes as well.

The more mature the ecosystem, the more thoroughly the organisms in it use the available energy.  Waste from one organism becomes food for another.  Moreover, in order not to expend energy unnecessarily, organisms will tend to avoid direct competition through any of several strategies:  by dividing the habitat into niches, by specializing (for example, if two species depend upon the same food source, they may evolve to feed at different times of day), or by periodic migration. Territorial animals avoid wasting energy in fights by learning to predict one another's behavior from signals like posture, vocalizations, and scent marks.  As a result, climax ecosystems give the appearance of cooperation and harmony among member species.  The degree of mutual interdependence achieved can be astounding, with differing species relying on one another for food, shelter, transportation, warnings of danger, cleaning, or protection from predators.  As biologist Lewis Thomas once put it, "The urge to form partnerships, to link up in collaborative arrangements, is perhaps the oldest, strongest and most fundamental force in Nature.  There are no solitary, free-living creatures, every form of life is dependent on other forms."
Richard Heinberg, from Santa Rosa, Ca., has been writing about energy resources issues and the dynamics of cultural change for many years.  A member of the core faculty at New College of California in Santa Rosa, he is an award-winning author of five previous books, including Powerdown:  Options and Actions for a Post-Carbon World.
And so the dialogue begins, and continues, as we co-create Community; realizing that without interdependency and awareness that the chances for getting through these Middle Times into a new day (albeit a different day) will entail more struggle than we need to have if we work together...get aware together.  Just like the example above from Mr. Heinberg, we don't all have to love one another.  We don't even particularly have to like one another.

We only need to see What is real.

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