Ecological Literacy Fritjof Capra
Reconnecting with the web of life means building and nurturing sustainable communities in which we can satisfy our needs and aspirations without diminishing the chances for future generations to do so. During its three billion plus years of evolution, the planet’s ecosystems have organized themselves in the ways so as to maximize sustainability. Using nature’s ecosystems as our models, we can formulate a set of ecological principles and use them to build sustainable communities.
The first of these principles is interdependence, the mutual dependence of all life processes upon one another. This is the nature of all ecological relationships. Understanding relationships requires shifts of perception — from the parts to the whole, from objects to relationships, from contents to patterns.
The cyclical nature of ecological processes is another important principle of ecology. The ecosystem’s feedback loops are the pathways along which nutrients are continually recycled. All organisms in an ecosystem produce wastes, but what is waste for one species is food for another, so that the ecosystem as a whole remains without waste.
Partnership is an essential characteristic of sustainable communities. The cyclical exchanges of energy and resources in an ecosystem are sustained by pervasive cooperation. Partnership — the tendency to associate, establish links, live inside one another, and cooperate — is one of the hallmarks of life.
The principles of ecology mentioned so thus far are all different aspects of the same pattern of organization — the pattern to maximize sustainability.
Once we understand this organizational pattern, we can ask more detailed questions such as:
What is the resilience of these ecological systems?
How do these systems react to outside disturbances?
These questions lead us to two further principles of ecology — flexibility and diversity — that enable ecosystems to survive disturbances and adapt to changing conditions.
The flexibility of an ecosystem is a consequence of its multiple feedback loops, which tend to bring the system back into balance whenever there is a deviation from the norm due to environmental conditions. Disturbances happen all the time, because things in the environment change all the time, and thus the net effect is continual fluctuation.
A diverse ecosystem will be resilient because it contains many species with overlapping ecological functions that partially replace one another. In other words, the more complex the network is, and the more complex its pattern of interconnections, and thus the more resilient it will be. These then are some of the basic principles of ecology — interdependence, recycling, partnership, flexibility, diversity, and as a consequence of all these, sustainability.