Ecological Literacy

Jun 8, 2011 at 5:37 PM by Paul Daley

I thought I'd share this piece by Fritjof Capra on Sustainable Communities

Five principles of organization that are connected to the basic principles of ecology and can be used as guidelines to build sustainable human communities.

The five principles are:

Interdependence, Recycling, Partnership, Flexibility, Diversity

Interdependence: In ecology, interdependence is the mutual dependence of all life processes on one another. The behaviour of every living member of the ecosystem depends on the behavior of many others. In human systems, the success of the whole community depends on the success of its individual members, while the success of each member depends on the success of the community as a whole. A sustainable community is the multiple relationships among its members. Nourishing the community means nourishing those relationships. This aware of principle emphasizes turning our attention from parts to the whole.

Recycling: The cyclical nature of ecological processes is an important principle of ecology. What is waste for one species is food for another. A major clash between economics and ecology derives from the fact that nature is cyclical whereas our industrial systems are linear. Our businesses take resources, transform them into products plus waste, sell the products to consumers, who discard more waste once they have consumed the product. Sustainable communities need to achieve sustainable patterns in consumption and production to mirror the cyclical processes in nature.

Partnership: The cyclical exchange of energy and resources in an ecosystem is sustained by pervasive cooperation and partnership. Partnership - the tendency to associate, establish links, live inside one another, and cooperate - is one of the hallmarks of life. In human communities, partnership means democracy and personal empowerment, because each member of the community plays an important role. As a partnership proceeds, each partner better understands the needs of the other. Both partners learn and change and co‑evolve.

Flexibility: The flexibility of an ecosystem is a consequence of its multiple feedback loops, which tend to bring the system back into balance if there is a deviation from the norm due to changing environmental conditions. In human communities, flexibility means finding the optimal performance level rather than maximizing performance. Stress in a system is caused when one variable is pushed to the extreme (maximized). Flexibility also means finding the dynamic balance between stability and change, order and freedom, tradition and innovation.

Diversity: A diverse ecosystem is more resilient to change because it contains many different species with overlapping functions that can partially replace one another if something goes wrong in one part of the system. In human communities, ethnic and cultural diversity enable many different relationships and many different approaches to exist. In a diverse community, information and ideas flow freely through the entire network, and the diversity of interpretations and learning styles ‑ even the diversity of mistakes ‑ will enrich the entire community.