Web of Ecological Thought

Studying organic agriculture was a letdown for me. I had expected to learn about ecology but was instead confronted with the workings of tractors, contribution margin calculations and basically conventional agriculture minus the sprays. I wanted to learn about how to relate to ecology in a sustainable way based on the science of ecology. 

Instead of quitting my studies, I decided I would study the intellectual history of ecology and make that my thesis subject. Luckily, I had great teachers who thought this was a good idea. The result is the following text which I have called The Web of Ecological Thought. In it, I go through a few key ideas I found while studying the history of ecology. I also include ideas from Environmental Philosophy and Environmental Ethics more specifically. My aim is to, in some small way, contribute to the biocentric paradigm shift that is urgently needed in order for life on our planet to once again thrive. I hope it inspires the reader to expand their consciousness from the ego-self dominated cultures we now live in, to an eco-self culture I hope one day we will co-evolve into. 

(Image of “Seed Brain”. The logo of the Norwegian Seed Savers.)

Web of Ecological Thought

How can key ideas from the history of ecological thought help us meet the challenges of global warming and loss of genetic diversity?

Chapter 1: Key Ideas of Ecology

1.1 Introduction to the Web of Ecological Thought

In the history of ideas, the view that the evolution of thought proceeds from one thinker to the next, is often illustrated through the metaphor of a tree. Charles Darwin´s famous drawing of the tree of life is the metaphor used for both the evolution of life and thought: from simpler forms to more complex, and with increasing diversity. To illustrate the evolution of the history of ideas that have impacted ecology, I turn instead to the mycelial web which in contrast to trees, don’t grow by capturing energy from one source, but instead spread in any direction possible in order to link up and exchange nutrients and energy between diverse branches of the tree of life.

Like a web of mycelia, the history of ecological ideas, did not grow from one idea or root, instead it evolved from a web of ideas which make up an ecology of thought (Alle, Emerson, Park, Park & Schmidt, 1949, p. 43). The web encompasses numerous scientific disciplines, agricultural practices, cultural traditions and belief systems, which this paper will merely glimpse into in an attempt to draw conclusions about which direction the web is evolving.

The choice of which idea to start with is less important than that we show the connections between the ideas. Thus, I will not attempt to form a chronological tree of ideas to get back to the origin of the “Genus” ecology. Rather I will show how a change to one idea in the web effects other ideas, and that there are tradeoffs for any evolving dynamic paradigm in adopting one idea over another.

It is therefore not the case that there is such a thing as The Paradigm of Ecology. Rather there are several overlapping and inter-related sub-cultures rooted in ecological thought. Each-subculture has one or several ideas that are unique to it and which distinguish it from its relatives. However, there is a critical set of ideas which link all sub-cultures of ecology together. Call this the “minimal set” of ideas which all related paradigms share to form the Genus of ecological thought. This paper will refer to these related world views of ecological thought collectively as “the Genus”.

In addition to minimal set ideas that must exist for a paradigm to be included in the Genus, there are ideas that many sub-cultures within ecological thought share, but which tend to split them into different “species”. I call this class of ideas “speciation ideas”—borrowing the language of biology—as the adoption of one of these ideas creates a new species that is incompatible with certain other ideas in the Genus.

The third and final category of ideas to introduce are ideas labeled “ecological ethics” which aim to guide human interaction within ecosystems or in relation to the biosphere as a whole. Ecological ethics are grounded in the ontology that each ecological sub-culture holds. As all ecological sub-cultures contain a minimal set of ecological ideas, most ethics in the Genus are shared; they vary in critical aspects where speciation ideas split sub-cultures apart.

Ecological thought is often perceived naïvely as a spiritual, etherical, non-scientific sub-culture by proponents of conventional agriculture, who reduce a whole branch of intellectual history to pseudo-science which they discard. With the tools introduced above I will proceed to map out key portions of the web of the Genus, disarming negatively charged associations of ecology. Finally, I hope to show how certain key ideas of ecological thought can help humanity meet the challenges of global warming and loss of genetic diversity.

1.2 Emergent properties

The Emergent Property Principle is an elementary concept to understanding ecology. The following definition is given in the first chapter of Fundamentals of Ecology:

As components, or subsets, are combined to produce larger functional wholes, new properties emerge that were not present at the level below. Accordingly, an emergent property of an ecological level cannot be predicted from the study of the components of that level. A property of the whole is not reducible to the sum of the properties of the parts. Though findings at any one level aid in the study of the next level, they never completely explain the phenomena occurring at the next level, which must itself be studied to complete the picture (Odum & Barret, 2005, p. 7).

How the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts is a serious philosophical question that has parallel answers in several scientific disciples such as Evolutionary Biology (Novikoff, 1945) Social Neuroscience (Bello-Morales & Delgado-Garcia, 2015) and most notably Philosophy of Mind (Jaegwon, 2006). In ecology we find it useful to consider the following primary levels: 1. Physical 2. Biological 3 Mental and 4. Social (Emmeche, Køppe & Stjernfelt, 2000); however, emergent properties do not only apply to these prime levels and show up in many different subsystems of life (Miller, 1978).

The concept of emergent properties synthesizes the scientific approaches of reductionism (how individual bits of nature work) and holism (how all the bits fit together in the big picture). Functions like energetics, evolution, regulation and feedback operate at all levels of ecology and are thus transcending functions (Odum & Barret, 2005, p. 9). On the other hand, although all levels of existence are integrated and a part of a whole, certain properties are specific to only certain levels (Wheeler, 1928, p. 16). For instance, Schrödinger states that “the structure of living matter works in a manner that cannot be reduced to the ordinary laws of physics” (Schrödinger, 1944, p. 27). As we shall see in the following section, metabolism is one such emergent property integral to all life, which evolved to offset the universal effects of entropy. This idea is at the core of the modern Philosophy of Ecology (Jonas, 1966, p. 75 &Vetlesen, 2015, p. 135).

For a property to be emergent it must be radically novel, maintain identity over time and be a part of a dynamic and complex system (Goldstein, 1999). Information is a good example of an emergent property. Although information is critical at multiple levels of life, information that can form a symbolic representation of reality built on language is an emergent property only found in highly evolved minds. Language based on symbols is an emergent property of the older emergent property DNA. Only after millions of years of dynamic evolution of information did the emergent property of symbol-based language arrive as a new form of information, containing a far more rapid method of reproduction and mutation than found in previous information systems. The evolution of the written word is yet an emergent property of the earlier emergent property of language. And finally, the information technologies that now form the structure of the internet is yet an emergent property with an even shorter history embedded in the evolution of all information systems. As Hans Jonas puts it, “Imaging and speaking man ceases to see things directly: he sees them through the screen of representations, impregnating it with symbolic charge” (Jonas, 1966, p. 185).

All symbolic information only functions in the realm of language and is what Philosophy of Mind calls a “supervenient property”. This concept is used to explain how mental properties or phenomena are related to physical properties and processes. The concept is that the mentality of a creature is ‘supervenient’ on its physical nature in the sense that all mental properties are physical processes located in the brain, but that they cannot be reduced simply to physical properties. These supervenient properties are more than the sum of their physical parts. Consciousness is an ‘emergent’ characteristic of complex organisms and systems in that it is a dynamic, novel and systemic property that transcends the simpler properties of its constituent parts.

Obviously, to confuse properties belonging to one level with another more elementary level leads to nonsense. A lack of awareness of the workings of emergent properties has led to several such confusions. Ideas, for instance, evolve in the realm of symbols and are tools we use to model what is going on in the physical world, and to interact with it efficiently. As our world has increasingly become shaped by ideas it is critical to discern what events are triggered by sets of ideas, from events that are triggered by purely chemical or physical causes. Where there is an interplay of levels, one must understand the system, its feedback loops and context.

An example of such a complex interplay of levels from ecology is the link between two historical events, the Industrial Revolution and global warming. It took hundreds of millions of years for the decomposition of life to form the energy sources: coal, oil, gas and soil. This was an interplay of the levels of physics, chemistry and biology, lacking any input from the symbolic realm. The Industrial Revolution—in contrast—was driven by ideas from the symbolic level, using the stored energy sources formed over eons. As a result, industrial waste has been fed-back as an externality into the biosphere causing a change in the chemical makeup of the planet, which is driving global warming, which in turn threatens the integrity of the biological and the symbolic levels. Global warming is an emergent property of the symbolic level´s misalignment with the biological level, as our conclusion will show.

1.3 Metabolism as Entropy offsetting

1.3.1 Entropy

Building with the tool of the idea of emergent properties, ecological thought tries to differentiate the oldest, most basic levels of the cosmos from the newer more complex levels. One of the earliest ecologists that provided a holistic picture was Vladimir I. Vernadsky who in his groundbreaking masterpiece The Biosphere states that our model of the cosmos must always have a thermodynamic component (Vernadsky, 1926).

Put in simple terms, the Second Law of Thermodynamics (entropy), states that energy in a closed system will become more evenly distributed over time and eventually reach a state of equilibrium. Entropy is the property that measures the amount of irreversibility of a process (Grossman, 2014). The law of entropy helps science explain why the quality of matter decays over time and tends to go from an ordered state to a disordered state.
The intricacies of entropy are vastly complex. The average comprehension of entropy simply does not do the subject any kind of justice, and we shall not attempt a close inspection of entropy in what follows. Our reason for introducing entropy is to recognize that any understanding of the flow of energy from inorganic to organic states, so crucial to all ecosystems, entails at least a rudimentary understanding of entropy.

One apparent contradiction arises when we ask how it is that living systems increase their organization despite the law of entropy stating that energy irreversibly heads to disorder. This is known as Schrödinger’s Paradox. The solution is that the increase of disorder outside the organism is offset by order inside an organism through the loss of heat to the environment in the process of metabolism.

In 1944 The Nobel Laureate Erwin Schrödinger wrote What is Life in which he takes on perhaps the deepest question of our time, namely “how can the events in space and time which take place within the spatial boundary of a living organism be accounted for by physics and chemistry?” Schrödinger proposes that life is comprised of two kinds processes, order from order and order from disorder. Schrödinger describes this as “an organism’s astonishing gift of concentrating a stream of order on itself and thus escaping the decay into atomic chaos – of drinking orderliness from a suitable environment – which seems to be connected with the presence of chromosome molecules” (Schrödinger, 1944). Schrödinger´s deep philosophical perspective on the intersection of entropy and life pointed squarely at genetics as the level at which science should be placing its focus. It is therefore no coincidence that Watson and Crick, co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, acknowledged What is Life as a source of inspiration for their work a decade later (Pietzsch, 2019).

Schrödinger´s insight is that life is always minimally both a productive metabolic (order from disorder) and a reproductive genetic (order from order) set of processes. Order from disorder comprise the entropy-offsetting processes on the level of individuals, such as photosynthesis and metabolism, through which solar energy is converted to chemically stored and then consumed energy. On the other hand, order from order processes comprise the inter-generational, ecosystem-dependent complex reproduction level of genetic information.

The impact that this new speciation idea of entropy has had on the Genus of ecological thought must really not be understated. The branch of New Ecology which started in the 1930s and gained widespread acceptance by the 1960´s has entropy and energy flow through ecosystems as its core speciation idea (Worster, 1977, p. 380).

The idea of entropy continued to evolve and created new sub-cultures within ecological thought. One important offshoot that grew out of entropy was to view ecosystems as Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamic (NET) processes. NET states that ecosystems are a part of the gradient between total organization and equilibrium. True equilibrium would mean no flow, no energy exchange and thus no life. Life thrives in a sweet spot in the gradient in-between order and disorder, where an ecosystem both protects itself from overheating, and cooling. Put simply, NET tells us that life is not about finding a balance; rather it is about finding a balance between having a balance and not having a balance.

In this view, ecosystems are “open thermodynamic systems with a large gradient impressed on them by the sun… which strive to reduce this gradient by all physical and chemical processes available to them. Thus, ecosystems will develop structures and functions selected to most effectively dissipate the gradients imposed on them while allowing for the continued existence of the ecosystem” (Schneider, 1994).

An essential aspect of viewing ecosystems as NET is that life must contain a boundary but at the same time, it must exchange energy and matter across that boundary if it is to offset the effects of entropy on the system.

This is a critical idea when it comes to the application of ecological thought to agriculture. As an ecology is either more or less efficient in offsetting entropy, the degree to which it is successful is a gauge for how any one agricultural practice either increases or decreases the ability of the ecology it is a part of in entropy offsetting. From this perspective, an agricultural practice that creates bumper crops for human inhabitants could be a far more degrading element in the ecosystem than one that creates a more sustainable crop over time. The critical measure is not an anthropocentric value, but a biocentric value of the entire ecosystem.

The aim is not to quickly achieve equilibrium, rather “life defers, delays the immediate fall of free energy to ground state, trapping and rerouting it. This, the essence of metabolism, allows life to preserve itself as a degrading system. Life is not a clone; it has two parents: natural selection and thermodynamics… Evolutionary theory links organisms in time. Ecology links organism in space. Chemistry links them in structure. NET links them in process” (Schneider & Sagan, 2005, p. 303).

This leads us to the maximum power, minimum loss principle which states that evolving ecosystems will “maximize, on the one hand, the energy intake of organic nature from the sun, and on the other, minimize the outgo of free energy by dissipative processes in living and decaying matter. The net effect is to optimize in this sense the energy flux through the system of organic matter” (Lotka, 1945, p. 194).

A final deep comment on entropy is to pose the question that since entropy is related to the arrow of time, and entropy measures the speed at which irreversible processes happen; can life actually slow down or speed up time? One way to look at this is to recognize that human activity is currently speeding up the irreversible entropy process through extravagant use of energy, and extremely rapid destruction of ecosystems that took eons to evolve. The wisdom of ecology tells us that life wants to head in the opposite direction and slow down the effects of entropy and the speed of the arrow of time.

1.3.2 Metabolism

Building with the tools of emergence and entropy we turn to metabolism which is the cornerstone off of which all of life´s emergent properties have evolved. As the philosopher Hans Jonas so elegantly puts it:

I refer to metabolism, the exchange of matter with the surroundings. In this remarkable mode of being, the material parts of which the organism consists at a given instant are temporary, passing contents whose joint material identity does not coincide with the identity of the whole which they enter and leave, and which sustains its own identity by the very act of foreign matter passing through its spatial system, the living form. It is never the same materially and yet persists as its same self, by not remaining the same matter. Once it really becomes the same with the sameness of its material contents, identical with each other and with the slices between them—it dies (Jonas, 1966, p. 75).

Arne Johan Vetlesen claims that Hans Jonas should be considered the “philosopher par excellence in the field of modern environmental thought”. Jonas´ insight “amounts to the reversal of the ontological relationship: form becomes the essence, matter the accident. So instead of saying that the living form is a region of transit for matter, it would be truer to say that the material contents on their succession are phases of transit for the self-continuation of the form” (Vetlesen, 2015, p. 136).

Metabolism (the Greek word for exchange) is the way in which organisms avoid decay by eating, drinking, breathing and assimilating. An organism avoids death by continually “freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive” (Schrödinger, 1944), by maintaining a high level of orderliness which it sucks from its environment, generating heat in the process, which is an externalization of entropy.

The link between metabolism as entropy offsetting (an order from disorder production process), and the reproductive order from order processes lies in the fact that “living systems are dynamic dissipative systems with encoded memories, the gene with its DNA, that allow the dissipative processes to continue without having to restart the process via random events” (Schneider, 1994, p. 36). Through metabolism life bridges the gap between the chemical/physical level and its emergent genetic informational biological level. Each level relies on the other to form a web of life that covers both time and space. “A gene by itself is not a self; it replicates only as a part of the reproduction of a thermodynamic system sufficiently coherent to access energetic gradients” (Schneider & Sagan, 2005 p. 311).

1.4 Evolution

1.4.1 Ecological Self

In the paradigm of New Ecology there is a breakdown in the distinction between the self and nature. Where modern thought presumes the thinking individual as the premise for being (as in Descartes´ I think therefore I am), ecological thought sees consciousness as a recent emergent property, not based on the individual, but on the matrix of life itself. As Callicott puts it “At both the organic and the microphysical levels of nature, things are what they are because of their relations with other things—in quantum theory with other physical states and processes… in ecology with the physical, chemical, and climatic regimes of their niches… the mind of a primate is an extension of natural complexity… the variety of plants and animals and the variety of nerve cells are extensions of each other” (Callicott 1989, p. 172).

This allows for the speciation idea at the crux of Deep Ecology called the Ecological-self in contrast to the idea of the Ego-self (Naess, 2010). Examining the heart beat or the breath, Deep Ecology observers that each individual unit of life is but one link in an unbroken chain of breath and heart-beats going back to the origin hundreds of millions of years ago. All selves also hold the potential for more or less endless heartbeats and breaths continuing on into the future, provided we do not destroy the ecosystem of which we are a part. This is a psychological break, a gestalt switch, from the ego-self idea at the core of modern individualism which abstracts only that which makes up an individual from his birth to his death and opposes it in a struggle with other individuals and “nature”.

The modern individualistic paradigm is rooted in the axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man, with the idea of “nature” originating in the creation myth as separate from man (White, 1967). Deep Ecology points out how anthropocentric dualistic belief systems are at the root of our abstracted ego view of the self and “nature” in opposition to the self. In contrast, the ecological-self idea is rooted in a biocentric tradition which has shared origins with other branches of ecological thought (such as ecofeminism) through the monistic tradition in philosophy dating back to Spinoza (Braidotti, 2013 & Naess, 2010).

To experience nature through the ecological-self is to be a resonation of an evolving form that is rooted in geological time and embedded in a context out of which it is impossible to be abstracted. Each breath exchanges matter, changes content, links to the ecology in a process of gradient reduction. Each thought supervenes on the breath of metabolism in a matrix of symbols from which it also is impossible to abstract the ego without destroying it. Ego-centric values and concepts of modernity become meaningless from the perspective of the ecological-self. It is not sufficient to say that the ecological-self and ego-self are speciation ideas; these two divergent paths of thought are incommensurable. An ecologist speaking from the perspective of the ecological-self is unintelligible to the modern ego-centric mind that has not made the gestalt switch.

A related idea from a different sub-culture in ecological thought is the Gaia Hypothesis, formulated by Lynn Margulis and James Lovelock. It takes the emergent property idea one step further and posits that life is a synergistic self-regulating co-evolving total system aiming at maintaining the range of temperature, chemical and other critical conditions that permit the continuity of life.

Common to these speciation ideas in the Genus of ecological thought is a perspective of ecological time in which time is not individually or socially constructed, but rather seen from the geological perspective. An excellent example of ideas that originate from the ecological time perspective is Lynn Margulus´ symbiogenesis which posits that two distinct lines of eukaryotes merged to form mitochondria some 2 billion years ago. Symbiogenesis is the most accepted scientific explanation of the origin of mitochondria, essential to the evolution that lead to the three main branches of multicellular life: plants, animal and fungi (Margulis & Sagan, 2002). Mitochondrial DNA form a critical function in energy transfer in most cells and are not a part of the double-helix. They are usually passed on from mother to offspring through maternal inheritance with mutations only ever 3500 years on average (compared to several per generation in the double-helix). This rate is used to map the evolution of the relation of life over time.

1.4.2 Microbiome

The speciation idea of symbiogenesis lead to the evolution of an entirely new field of science of the microbiome that looks at the symbiosis of all the microbial life living within and on an individual animal as a total system or micro-ecology. It is said by microbiologists that we are on the verge of a new era comparable to that of the time of Darwin in terms of the breakthrough in our understanding of the complexity of life (Begoin, 2016). Science has shifted its focus from the human genome, to the collective genomes or “hologenome” which is the host genome and the microbiome in one symbiotic assemblage. Looking into any animal, this is what we find. The human genome for instance, has some 23,000 genes, but the holobiont has millions of genes made up of our microbial symbionts and our mammalian genes. These together make the ecosystem, which is the human. An ecological self indeed! (Collaborative Research Centre 1182, 2016)

1.4.3 Relatedness

The language of physics and chemistry alone will never be able to totally explain realities on the supervenient levels in which life evolves. For that we must move beyond and look at life as ecosystems in vastly complex networks of inter-tangled levels of relatedness.

Schrödinger explains how organisms could not have evolved without supervenient properties because “Physical Laws rest on atomic statistics and are therefore only approximate. And why could all this not be fulfilled in the case of an organism composed of a moderate number of atoms? Because we know all atoms to perform all the time a completely disorderly heat motion, which, opposes itself to their orderly behavior and does not allow the events that happen between a small number of atoms to enroll themselves according to any recognizable laws. Only in the cooperation of an enormously large number of atoms do statistical laws begin to operate and control the behavior of these assemblies with an accuracy increasing as the number of atoms involved increases” (Schrödinger, 1944).

In other words, life supervenes on physics and cannot be reduced only to the molecular laws upon which it has emerged. It takes a critical mass and order for life to emerge and it could not have emerged on a simpler level. Likewise, the emergent properties of society must not only be viewed in abstraction through the ego-self lens. It is critical to recognize that enlightenment values centered around the ego-self still dominate the structure of society, (much as geo-centricity continued to dominate society decades after science proved the Earth was not the center of the universe). It is still the liberty of the individual and his decoupling from the cosmological order that defines modernity. This idea of the ego-self evolved from its Greek roots where man is the measure of all things, into the Protestant rejection of the need for an intermediate link between man and the divine, and on to the self-made man of the American dream (Braidotti, 2013, p. 47). The ecological self, on the other hand is far more complex and has relatedness with all life as integral to the composition of the self.

Critically, the ego-centric view of the abstracted individual is at the crux of the crisis of Global Warming. Relatedness not only binds us to the web of life, but in essence is what it means to be a self in the first place. Ignorance of our relatedness is why the warning signs of the threat to our ecological-self continue to go unheeded. We do not feel the threat, because we are desensitized to how it relates to our very existence—since our concept of the self is not complete and is abstracted in a tiny sliver of our existence in the here and now. Ecological-self in ecological time breaks down the barrier between man and nature, between form and matter, between past and future and values the continuity of the evolving form as essential. It must not be compromised by the drives of individuals.

When we combine the idea of life as primarily form, with the ecological-self in ecological time the whole paradigm of modernity melts before our eyes. The crux of life shifts from individuals forming social groups in a struggle against nature for survival, to one where the generational boundaries become blurred: endless heartbeats, endless metabolism and reproduction of cells with a form that evolves slowly over geological time. Checks are built into the system to ensure the long-term evolution of the form. Individual competition is but one such check, not the defining characteristic of life. “Organisms are not isolated Platonic abstractions, but centers of flux messily interacting in evolving populations. Selfhood, over evolutionary time, is not stable” (Schneider & Sagan, 2005, p. 312).

1.4.4 Human Evolution
Relatedness was a key concept to the ecosystems perspective that was the foundation of Darwin´s theory of evolution. Contrary to the lay focus on competition, it was the “web of complex relations” of “beautiful co-adaptations” that showed the “grand scheme” of cooperative integration (Worster, 1977, p. 156).
The biocentric perspective can be traced to Darwin who writes “animals, our fellow brethren in pain, disease, death, suffering and famine—our slaves in the most laborious works, our companions in our amusements—they may partake of our origin in one common ancestor—we may all be netted together”. Darwin describes how “the enormous number of animals in the world depends on their varied structure and complexity. As their forms became complicated, they opened fresh means of adding to their complexity… without which it is impossible to cover the whole surface of the earth with life.” (Darwin, 1837)
This is a non-competitive aspect of evolution of new divergent patterns that complement and create new niches and eventually even new ecosystems. Darwin concluded that nature could be said to have a goal of increased diversification. Competition, variation, individuality and deviance are thus all a part of ecology. Continuing this line of evolutionary thinking we can see that key elements of “higher consciousness, tend to increase access to existing gradients and the chance of recognizing new gradients. Consciousness is not separate from but deeply a part of the physical world of equilibrium-seeking systems” (Schneider & Sagan, 2005, p. 321).

Although Darwin was the spark that formed the core of the biocentric ecology that formed The Genus of ecological thought, it was Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-75) who formed the Modern Synthesis of Evolutionary Theory in genetic terms. Dobzhansky held that, in man, biological evolution has transcended itself into the realm of self-awareness and culture. He believed that somehow mankind would eventually evolve into higher levels of harmony and creativity. He viewed human evolution as having ‘‘two components, the biological or organic, and the cultural or super-organic. These components are neither mutually exclusive nor independent, but interrelated and interdependent. Human evolution cannot be understood as a purely biological process, nor can it be adequately described as a history of culture. It is the interaction of biology and culture. There exists a feedback between biological and cultural processes’’ Dobzhansky, 1962, p. 15-18). In humankind then, evolution reaches yet another emergent level which, although built on the organic and dependent on it, has properties that are more than the sum of the parts.

Chapter 2: Ecological Ethics

2.1 Core Ethics of Ecology

Traditionally, ethics has either been grounded in divine authority (religion), or in reason (modernity): both of these foundations are anthropocentric. On the contrary, ecological thought, grounds ethics on the eco-centric emergent properties that evolved out of the level of social interaction (Callicott 1989, p. 80). From this non-anthropocentric view, ethics simply is a code that regulates behaviour that increases the stability of the form for which it has evolved. As Hans Jonas puts it: “Through the continuity of mind with the organism with nature, ethics becomes part of the philosophy of nature. This is out of tune with modern belief… For man alone, so we have been taught for some centuries now, is the source of all demand, command, and call with which he finds himself addressed…Only an ethics that is grounded in the breadth of being, not merely in the singularity of man, can have significance in the scheme of things…An ethics no longer founded on divine authority must be founded on a principle discoverable in the nature of things, lest it fall victim to subjectivism or other forms of relativity” (Jonas 1966, p. 282).

The speciation ideas of ecological ethics are founded on an ontology of metabolism, entropy, relatedness and process of matter through form. Living individuals are viewed as events or momentary configurations or flow patterns in a flux of solar energy which courses through a network, rather than as static units. As Aldo Leopold puts it:

Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals. Food chains are the living channels which conduct energy upward; death and decay return it to the soil. The circuit is not closed […] but it is a sustained circuit, like a slowly augmented revolving fund of life (Leopold 1949, p. 216).

Just as the trend of evolution is towards diversity of biota as a hedge against extinction; an ecological ethic places increased biodiversity of the biosphere as of highest value. Mass extinction is devolutionary, speciation and increased variation are evolutionary.

Ecology views consciousness as an emergent property of life and not merely as a property held by free-thinking and acting rational individuals (as is the case in classical Enlightenment ethics). Consciousness links to the entire biotic community as a recently emergent property of evolution as a whole. Clearly, the seat of consciousness is in minds of humans, but it does not follow that an ethic should therefore be limited to the actions of humans as separated to the rest of evolution. On the contrary, it is our “inner width which can make man an event of cosmic importance. The reflection of being in knowledge may be more than a human event: it may be an event for being itself” (Jonas 1966, p. 283).

For the first time in the evolution of life, consciousness comes to encompass the entire web of life out of which it has evolved and within which it is situated. Environmental ethics expands the code that regulates behaviour from its anthropocentric roots, into a biocentric holistic ethic. Individuals must not be abstracted from their relationships to the web of life to which they are linked in thermodynamic systems. It is one’s embeddedness in the flow of energy and matter that are the essence of ones being, and a holistic biocentric ethic must reflect that embeddedness. As Rosi Braidotti puts it, consciousness is “embodiment of the mind and enmindment of the body” (Braidotti, 2013, p. 86).

The ignorance of thermodynamics prior to the Industrial Age, and the obsession of intellectual history since the Renaissance with self-interests (enlightened or otherwise), has skewed ethics towards inter-human relations. The New Ecology paradigm sees the forest and the trees, along with the mycorrhiza as equally valuable units of consideration in a flow matrix of life situated in evolution over the span of billions of years: it is holistic, not solely atomistic.

Thus, nature is not a value free canvas upon which humans paint their anthropocentric ethic. Instead, the Genus contains the evolution of an ethic that is truly holistic and grounded in an ontology that covers all levels of existence from physics, through biology and on to consciousness.

Three key examples of ecological ethical principles from different sub-cultures of ecological thought are:

  1. Albert Schweitzer´s Reverence for Life, which claims that:

“Good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil” (Schweitzer, 1923).

  1. Aldo Leopolds Land Ethic which holds that: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” (Leopold, 1949).
  2. Hans Jonas´s Supreme Principle of Morality which is to:

“Act so that the effects of your action are compatible with the permanence of genuine human life” (Jonas, 1984).

Although these three ethical principles come from three different ecological sub-cultures, they share a common goal which is to maintain the vigour of the biosphere.

Although an ethics of ecology is non-anthropocentric, it is not misanthropic (Sessions, 1995, p. 279). Taking humans out of the centre does not take us out of the web; rather, it finds an appropriate place for humankind, which often—due to the immense power our intellect has given us—places us in a position of prime importance to our ecosystem. Indeed, humans form the lynchpin in the age of the Anthropocene and it is essentially up to our species to decide the fate of our ecology.

As the vast majority of mankind remains anthropocentric, our value systems tend to place humans at the centre of our ethical systems. In contrast—for ecologists—knowledge about ecology is accompanied with an expanded consciousness about our interconnection to all life. Ecologists from all sub-cultures share a concern for the direction in which the world is heading, while finding themselves in the minority in a world dominated by anthropocentric values rooted in a digitalized individualized world, broken up into parts. What´s more, that world shows little sign of developing a more mature eco-centric ethic. Ideas like Reverence for Life of Schweitzer, or the Ecological Self of Næss are sadly not commonly grasped.
But in the Genus of ecological thought, the biocentric ethic has been a binding force that weaves the web together. Darwin´s strain of biocentrism, perhaps the most imposing version, expressed the belief that when man has reached that capacity to feel for everything that moves and lives—for being in general, not just one´s own family, nation, or even species—then he will have become truly civilized (Darwin, 1871, p. 471-511). By no means all species of ecological thought agreed with Darwin that civilization was the evolutionary path to go down, despite sharing the biocentric ethic. Anarcho-primitivism for instance questions the utility of civilization itself (Zerzan, 2005). Paul Shepard goes so far as to equate civilization´s drive toward ecological destruction as “a kind of failure in some fundamental dimension of human existence, an irrationality beyond mistakenness, a kind of madness” (Sheapard: 1982, p. 5).

2.2 Kinship Ethics and Deep Ecology

Viewing ethics from the perspective of kinship with the entire biotic community can be traced back to Darwin and Ernst Haeckel—who coined the word ecology. Haeckel´s kinship-based perspective on the evolution of life in turn inspired both Rudolf Steiner and Albert Einstein (Taylor, 2009, p. 157). In the 20th century, biocentrism evolved through several lines of ecological thought into what is known as Kinship Ethics which is perhaps best summed up by the following quote by Albert Einstein:

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty” (Suzuki, 1999, p. 26).

The speciation ideas of biocentrism and Kinship Ethics provide the context out of which the Deep Ecology Platform evolved. Arne Næss, perhaps the most well-known Deep Ecology philosopher, traces his intellectual heritage to Racheal Carson and on back to Spinoza´s Monism. In Silent Spring Racheal Carson links back to Albert Schweitzer who she quotes in her dedication as having said that “Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth” (Carson, 1962).

Building on Spinoza´s psychology Arne Næss claims that ethical behavior entails avoidance of passivity and the cultivation of activeness and joy. Næss holds that active joy is critical to environmental ethics because if we feel forced to sacrifice for nature we will not be motivated to live ethically. Instead, through identification, humans “may come to see that their own interests are served by conservation, through genuine self-love, the love of a widened and deepened self” which he terms the Ecological Self (Sessions, 1995, p. 193 & 229).

Næss also often spoke of gestalts and held that what the world desperately needs is a new awakening or enlightenment based on a gestalt switch to the perspective of Kinship Ethics where “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Næss called this “a maxim of ecology that “everything hangs together” (Sessions, 1995, p. 240). Næss believed this perspective to be at odds with the economics of industrial societies which do not appreciate that that wholes be taken seriously, nor acknowledges the “hierarchies of wholes and their non-external, non-extensional, internal relations.” Although Næss does not use the word supervenience, the gestalt he is trying to portray is clearly built on supervenient properties.

Common to all sub-cultures grounded in Kinship Ethics is a sense of responsibility to the biotic community to which we are directly related. In Hans Jonas´s The Imperative of Responsibility he states in unequivocal terms that “we may risk our own life—but not that of humanity. We do not have the right to choose, or even risk, nonexistence for future generations on account of a better life for the present one” (Jonas, 1984, p. 11).

2.3 Permaculture

An ecological sub-culture that grew out of the biocentric Kinship Ethics paradigm was Permaculture, which was co-founded by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Holmgren´s focus was an energy conservation reaction to the Club of Rome´s report Limits to Growth (Meadows, 1972) and followed in the footsteps of the New Ecologists—notably Howard T. Odum, the brother of Eugene Odum. Mollison, on the other hand followed the lineage of Steiner and Schumacher´s appropriate technology (Schumacher, 1973) to construct a natural design-based vision of working with nature to build ecologies with humans in symbiosis with the environment. This was in direct opposition to the techno-optimistic mainstream consumerist culture.

David Holmgren´s pivotal paper Crash on Demand argues that “radical, but achievable, behavior change from dependent consumers to responsible producers has a chance of stopping the juggernaut of consumer capitalism from driving the world over the climate change cliff” (Holmgren, 2013). Holmgren argues that by reducing consumption and capital we may trigger a crash of the global financial system. This may be enough to open the bottleneck of the sixth extinction to the point where critical amounts of diversity can pass to create a sustainable entropy offsetting ecosystem in its wake. Holmgren is hoping to avoid ecological collapse and instead achieve an “energy descent” future where entropy is offset more efficiently, and humans can live in a state of permanent symbiosis with their ecology.

Chapter 3 Ecology of Action

3.1 Bottlenecks

Modern economic man´s obsession with exponential growth has driven the industrial revolution towards ever greater heights of production and wealth creation. The tradeoff of this one-sided focus on growth has been the creation of ecological bottlenecks. Global warming, loss of biodiversity, loss of genetic resources in cultivars, water scarcity, over-population, pollution and scarcity of key nutrients are some of the bottlenecks the biosphere must urgently deal with, which all have their origin in industrial exponential growth.

An ecological ethic based on a deep understanding of integrated levels, entropy and metabolism, which puts stability for the whole biotic community as its overriding concern holds that addressing bottlenecks is of far greater importance than continuing to search for exponential growth possibilities for which humanity can direct its energy and economic resources.

A re-alignment of priorities is urgently needed. We cannot afford to externalize key biosphere functions when making economic or political choices. Ecological thought prioritizes opening predictable bottlenecks that will reduce the bio-diverse entropy offsetting ability of a stable ecology. Stable reproduction rates must always come before exponential production rates. The cost-benefit analysis of any potential exponential growth opportunity must always be weighed against the ecological tradeoffs, and the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts. Thus, economic growth of individuals or companies is subservient to the needs of the biotic community. Those needs include long term genetic dynamic evolution towards increasing complexity, and access to resources that can maintain this evolution more or less indefinably.

3.2 Ecosystems building

Ecologically sound agricultural practices must take building and maintenance of stable ecosystems as its core responsibility. Todays globalized agricultural system is at odds with stable ecosystems. It separates man from his environment, consumer from producer, nutrient sources from nutrient sinks and increases instead of decreases the speed of entropy. It decreases diversity and genetic resources, creating bottlenecks that are massively destructive to the long-term evolution of life.

Agriculture must swing its pendulum away from its short sighted chemical and economic focus, to a paradigm that encompasses all levels which it directly effects and is built on. It must move toward integration of social needs with ecological needs, people with land, producers with consumers. It must integrate ethics from the symbolic level, with action on the biological level: reducing ecological harm must trump increasing economic value. A genetic diversity and reproduction ethic must enter the praxis of all farmers, and agricultural managers must become enlightened as to the ecological function and interaction of the genes on the biological level, with metabolism on the chemical level, and entropy on the level of physics. Without an awareness of the total effects on our ecology, the roots of the genetic evolution of the life we manage as farmers, and some sense of the effects our practice will have on future generation, we will continue to create bottlenecks instead of building ecosystems.

3.3 De-growth

The models that have most drastically shaped our world come from an intellectual history grounded in ideas that either externalize or entirely ignore the critical link between entropy and long-term ecological stability. The ethical and economic systems that have dominated have all been anthropocentric models which in large part exclude calculations of the health of the entire system from value calculations used to make key decisions.

The global environmental movement has for the past fifty years tried to nudge humanity towards a deeper understanding of the web of life within which we are embedded. The organic movement and the science of ecology have tried to point out flaws in the myopic thinking of industrial “conventional” agricultural practices, and science for the past 150 years.
As a result of humanities choice to ignore key aspects of the biosphere, we are rapidly approaching enormous bottlenecks of our own making.

De-growth is opposed to the current practice that “see no better use for the “surplus” than to be fed back into the active process, generating disequilibrium resulting in progress—a self-feeding automatism without limit […] The idea of potentially infinite progress permeates the modern ideal of knowledge with the same necessity as it permeates the modern ideal of technical civilization” (Hans Jonas, 1966, p. 206).

Had humanity recalculated and realigned itself with ecological wisdom when it was first warned, we would have avoided the worst of the exponential growth driven bottlenecks.
De-growth holds that if we put the long-term stability of the biotic community first, we must actively move away from the exponential growth driving models that have caused the bottlenecks we face. To open these bottlenecks, we must not only equalize but counter-act the negative effects the current global system is having on the biosphere.

The De-growth movement wants to substitute the specialization logic of modernity with a more complex system. As Kirkpatrick Sale puts it “I wish to complexify, not simplify. It is our modern economy that is simple; whole nations given over to a simple crop, cities to a single industry, farms to a single culture, factories to a single product, people to a single job, jobs to a single motion, motion to a single purpose. Human organizations are healthy, and they survive when they are diverse and differentiated, capable of many responses. They become brittle… when they are uniform and specialized” (Sale, 2017, p. 262).

De-growth also aims to de-intensify by rebuilding the informal economy of communal self-reliance and taking energy out of the destructive parts of the globalized economic system. It is not focused on the de-growth of the market economy, but rather focused on growing the informal economy. The de-growth movement sees that if de-intensification is not achieved the crash of the economy and population is inevitable. As David Fleming puts it “we have inherited a system that depends on growth. That growth will end, by accident or design, and soon. Probably growth will go into reverse, without the need for assistance. And more decisively than any zero or negative growth program could accomplish. Whatever the cause, the system that develops without it will not be a revision of what we have now, it will be a complete rewrite” (Fleming, 2016).

Chapter 4: Conclusion

4.1 Reproduction

Let us repeat Schrödinger´s key insights:

  1. Order from disorder comprise the entropy-offsetting production processes on the level of individuals such as photosynthesis and metabolism through which solar energy is converted to chemically stored and then consumed energy.
  2. Order from order processes are on the emergent inter-generational, reproduction level of genetic information.

As opposed to the conventional view where reproduction is an epi-phenomena of production, Schrödinger places reproduction as the process of life on which science must shed light. He concludes that these two processes happen on different emergent levels; reproduction being a biological genetic process, and production being a biochemical process.

Reproduction is a critical element of entropy offsetting: “reproduction provides stable means of gradient reduction. But the variation that occurs as organisms reproduce, and which natural selection requires to produce change, is also thermodynamic. Indeed, seen thermodynamically, variation is inevitable” ( Schneider & Sagan, 2005 p. 239).

Reproduction is always accompanied by production, but it is critical not to confuse the two processes. In our machine-driven world, where production is the primary logic, and where taboos about reproduction are deeply entrenched in our collective psyche and cultures, it is essential that an awareness of the constant inter-play between these two processes of life be enhanced. A one-sided focus on production processes is one of the root causes of human’s misalignment with our ecosystem.

The diversity that reproduction creates is a natural result of the evolution of life towards more efficient means of entropy offsetting of stable ecosystems. As modern society has focused its energy on competition and the survival of the fittest individuals over the past two hundred years, it has depleted the rich diversity that life had evolved over countless generations.
Monoculture-production based on the capitalist model is in direct opposition to the spreading of risk that life has built up over the past 500 million years in genetically diverse ecosystems. As capital gain pushes more and more acreage into ecologically poor monocultural ecosystems which are as a rule less efficient in entropy offsetting than mature ecosystems, the web of life´s drive to stable entropy reduction is reversed.

With a switch from a production to a reproduction focus, we can return to a more scientifically founded paradigm for interacting with our environment, in contrast to the simplistic models used by bankers and investors in the commodification of agricultural real-estate and technology.

One example of this switch is the growing popularity of Community Seed Banks indicating that consciousness is shifting towards an awareness of the importance of reproduction to stable ecosystems. That consciousness contends that we must return to a world where farmers and gardeners are aware of and interact with all cycles and flows in ecosystems, not only those of nutrient and energy.

Consider the fact that each individual human life has about four mutations on average, and males have thirty times more mutations than females (Yale University, 2009). The modern production driven global system reduces the amount of random mutations and sexual reproduction that used to occur in massive areas of the planets most productive ecological zones, by reducing entire ecosystems to monocultural production zones; in the process, the natural variations that are a part of the ecosystem’s stability are reduced if not removed entirely. As this trend increases, it also drives global warming, since maintaining mono-cultural non-reproductive zones is energy demanding and that energy is fueled by fossilized carbon. As global warming increases, the need for reproduction to re-stabilize and adjust to the changes that occur increases in a positive feedback loop. Thus, modern agriculture is for the most part working in opposition to the needs of ecosystems to evolve to the rapidly changing environmental conditions. We need to change our focus from that of individual production to ecosystems reproduction. If our production is at odds with our total reproduction, we will stop evolving to the changing conditions and the environmental collapse will be all the steeper.

In Fundamentals of Ecology we are taught that “productivity increase almost always decreases biodiversity […] Humans are causing a worldwide eutrophication that is the greatest threat to ecosphere diversity, resilience, and stability—essentially a “too much of a good thing” syndrome. Global warming, which results from CO2 enrichment to the atmosphere, is one aspect of this overall perturbation, whereas nitrogen enrichment is increasingly responsible for worldwide disorder in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. We have here a paradox in which our efforts to feed and produce market goods and services for ever-increasing numbers of people is becoming a major threat to the diversity and quality of our environment” (Odum & Barret, 2005, p. 101).

The monoculture production focus of conventional agriculture is based on an abstraction logic that replaces a world with populations that reproduce in dynamic ecosystems, with hybrids and varieties that are developed in scientific research centers. This logic is focused on economic returns for shareholders, which it does in part by controlling the means of re-production. Although the conventional model undoubtedly increases economic wealth here and now, the externalized cost is that it creates genetic reproductive bottlenecks that are at odds with the core principles of ecological ethics. Speciation and evolution are replaced by digitalization and trait specific selection aimed at higher production or other anthropocentric aims. The cost to the biosphere is enormous and potentially devastating. If mankind does not remodel its agriculture on a paradigm that encompasses the entire web of life, we will continue to eat away at diversity until the 6th extinction destroys the very foundation of the web of life itself.

Agriculture, seen from the perspective of ecological ethics, must not decrease diversity in the processes of improving life through the application of science and technology. It must shift from an individualized perspective to an ecology perspective with the stability of the biotic community at its core.

4.2 Confusion of supervenient levels

When conventional agriculture equates and compares application of artificial fertilizers with application of organic fertilizers it is in fact conflating phenomena at two different levels of existence. Artificial fertilizers are synthesized only on the chemical level whereas organic fertilizers are synthesized on the biological and chemical levels.
The creation of organic fertilizer is a process of metabolism at temperatures close to body temperature of a synthesis of microbial activity either in the guts of animals and/or in compost piles. The organic process emerges out of physics, chemistry and biology in the arena of plant/animal/fungi interaction.

The synthesis of chemical fertilizer requires a combination of 1) heat in orders of magnitude larger than found in biological metabolism, 2) technology that requires knowledge on the symbolic emergent level, and 3) raw materials such as gas or coal which combined create a sterile chemical product which is a chemical extraction from its ecosystem. Both chemical and organic fertilizers, it is true, once applied return to organic states in plants and eventually the animals that eat them. But synthetic fertilizers go through an abstraction into pure chemical form that is not the case with organic fertilizers. The conventionalist would say that this abstraction is of little consequence, and that the end result is a healthier biology overall. There are several objections from the ecological perspective:

  1. The most frequent objection is that adding chemical fertilizers bypasses the biological level and tries to reduce plant health to purely the chemical level. Plants get their nutrients from two main sources in natural ecosystems, microbes and mycorrhiza (two distinct branches on the evolutionary tree of life (Margulis & Sagan, 2002)). Since their evolution, microbes, plants and mycorrhiza have been in constant co-evolution, feeding off of each other in the network of life. It is true that on occasion water soluble nutrients do become available to plants directly such as nitrogen after thunderstorms. However, this is the exception, not the rule. A focus on plant health from the chemical level primarily decontextualizes the health of individual plants from their ecosystems long-term health.
  2. The bypass of the organic level by the Hyber-Bosch process that now accounts for over 50% of the total nitrogen circulating through life on Earth is one of the characteristics of the Anthropocene. It is by no means, a part of a natural balanced ecosystem and is one example of many geo-engineering projects that humans are currently conducting on the planet. The total effect of this change on the biosphere was a concern for Vernadsky already in 1925 and should continue to be accounted for by any proponent of conventional agriculture (Vernadsky, 1925).
  3. Artificial nitrogen accounts for 3% of the direct CO2e equivalent emissions globally due to its high energy needs, and the raw materials used for synthesis are based on fossilized carbon. This is not a sustainable feedback loop to add to a world that desperately and urgently needs to reduce its CO2e footprint.

Sadly, conventionalists tending towards anthropocentric utility and viewing science in abstraction, tend to externalize the total effects of synthetic fertilizers. Increased yield, simplicity of application and production, precision and short-term economic factors weigh heavily. Eco-centric concerns, seen from the perspective of the biosphere in ecological time, are not factored into the equations. The most frequent criticism of organic agriculture is that it cherry picks its science. This criticism is far truer of conventional approaches which externalizes the negative ecological impacts of its practices.

4.3 Adapting Ecosystems to Global Warming

Organic agriculture is currently under attack from multiple angles. Without a strong grounding in the key ideas and ethics of ecology, organic agriculture will increasingly be seen as an outdated paradigm stuck in old traditional ways of thinking that result in lower yields and is resistant to the benefits of modern technology. The true value of organic agriculture will be lost, unless its approach to its subject matter is a holistic way of being in the world and acting ethically towards ecosystems on all emergent levels of life.

The organic movement must emphasize the scientific origins of the historical evolution of ecology for it to gain acceptance and adoption of a larger portion of the world’s population. It must work together with the sub-cultures that are most closely linked to it which also share this ecological world view. A healthy agriculture is not only about producing toxin free, nutrient dense organic food for healthy people. At its core, organic agriculture is non-anthropocentric; but few practitioners seem to be aware of this and it is rarely mentioned. Organic agriculture is about the life in the soil, the plants and animals it manages and the ecosystems it is situated in. It is about reducing the negative impacts that humans are having on the land and the biosphere.

Organic agriculture must be regenerative, soil and ecosystem building and bio-diversity enhancing. Above all else, organic agriculture must address the urgent challenge of global warming by promoting the ethical foundations of the paradigm from which it has been borne.
It must not attempt to compete with conventional agriculture on its terms, as it has done to a large extent in recent decades. Its strength is in presenting a scientific alternative to the short-term anthropocentrism of conventional agriculture.

It is ethically impossible for any sub-culture rooted in the Genus of ecological thought to stay inactive in relation to the climate crisis, since we are situated both in a scientific tradition as well as an ethical tradition that links human action to the protection of the entire biosphere. To put it bluntly, one cannot serve two masters, claiming both to be a member of the organic/ecological agricultural tradition while ignoring the effects of one’s practice on the biosphere as a whole.

Organic agriculture has traditionally used individual health arguments to convince consumers to choose organic. Despite its strengths this tactic has left the organic community vulnerable to attack. Without a deeper grounding in eco-centric ethics it is easy for both consumers and producers to forget what differentiates ecological practices from conventional practices. It is not the effects on individual health that are at the crux of the difference, but the impact of the practices on the biosphere as a whole. Moving forward, all sub-cultures of the global organic community must unite around its core ethic which places as prime:

“the permanence of genuine human life […] that tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community […] and refuses to destroy, to harm or to hinder life as a whole.” (Jonas, 1984 , Leopold, 1949 & Schweitzer, 1923)

Armed with an eco-centric ethic that binds all threads of the Genus together the global organic community will be able to unite in the fight against man-made global warming and emerge as the higher form of consciousness that resonates with a reverence for life and a desire to be a part of a web that works together to offset the effects of entropy.

Currently, ego-centric ethics dominate the legal systems, political structures, and markets that control the trajectory of the biosphere. Science confirms that the trajectory is headed towards mass extinction at an exponential rate. The eco-centric ethic refuses to accept this trajectory and demands urgent action to create a stable biosphere for as much diversity of life as possible. It is towards this eco-utopic bio-active ethically driven reality Ecological Thought has been trying to move mankind. If it succeeds it will be because of an emergence based on countless enlightened acts of awareness of the depth of what it means to be alive.


Alle, W.C., Park, O., Emerson A.E., Park, T., Schmidt, K.P. (1949) Principles of Animal Ecology. Philadelphia and London: W.B. Saunders Company
Begoin, S. (2016) Bacterial World: Microbes That Rule Our World [Motion Picture]. France: Grand Angle Productions.
Bello-Morales, R & Delgado-Garcia, J.M. (2015) The Social Neuroscience and the Theory of Integrative Levels. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience doi: 10.3389/fnint.2015.00054
Braidotti, R. (2013) The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press
Callicott, J. Baird (1989) In Defense of the Land Ethic. Albany: State University of New York Press
Carson, R. (1962) Silent Spring. Houghton Miffin
Collaborative Research Centre 1182. (2016, 23. September). Seth Bordenstein, Vanderbilt University, on Phylosymbiosis [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.metaorganism-research.com/videos/seth-bordenstein-vanderbilt-university-on-phylosymbiosis/
Darwin, C. (1837) Notebook on Transmutation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Darwin, C. (1871) The Descent of Man. UK: John Murray
Dobzhansky, T. (1962) Mankind Evolving. Yale: Yale University Press
Emmeche, C., Køppe, S., Stjernfelt, F., (2000) Levels, Emergence and Three Versions of Downward Causation http://www.nbi.dk/~emmeche/coPubl/2000d.le3DC.v4b.html
Fleming, D (2016) Surviving the Future. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.
Goldstein, J (1999) Notes on Emergence as a Construct: History and Issues, Emergence 1(1), 49-72
Grossman, J. C. (2014). Thermodynamics Four Laws That move the Universe [Audiobook] https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/thermodynamics-four-laws-that-move-the-universe.html
Holmgren, D (2013, December) Crash on Demand. [Retrieved from] https://holmgren.com.au/crash-demand/
Jaegwon, K (2006) Philosophy of Mind. New York: Routledge
Jonas, H (1966) The Phenomena of Life. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press
Jonas, H (1984) The Imperative of Responsibility. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press
Leopold, A (1949) A Sand Country Almanac. US: Oxford University Press
Lotka, A. J. (1945) The Law of Evolution as a Maximal Principle, Human Biology 17: 167-94
Margulis and Sagan (2002) Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origin of Species. Michigan: Basic Books
Meadows, D. H., Meadows, D. L., Randers, J., Behrens III, W.W. (1972) The Limits to Growth. Potomac Associates
Miller, J. G. (1978) [Retrieved from] https://www.panarchy.org/miller/livingsystems.html
Naess, A (2010) The Ecology of Wisdom. Counterpoint Press
Novikoff, A. B. (1945) The Concept of Integrative Levels and Biology, Science 02 1945, Vol 101, Issue 2618, p 209-215
Odum, E. P., Barrett, G, W., (2005) Fundamentals of Ecology. Belmont, Ca: Thomson Brooks/Cole
Pietzsch, J. (2019) What is Life? https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1962/perspectives/
Sale, K (2017) Human Scale Revisited. White River Junction: Chelsea Green Publishing Co.
Schneider, E. D. & Kay, J.J. (1994) Life as a Manifestation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Mathematical and Computer Modeling Vol 19, Issues 6-8, 25-48
Schneider, E. D. & Sagan, D (2005) Into the Cool: Energy Flow Thermodynamics and Life. Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press
Schrödinger, E. (1944) What Is Life? UK: Cambridge University Press
Schumacher, E. F. (1973) Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As if People Mattered. Blond & Briggs
Schweitzer, A. (1923) Civilization and Ethics. London: Unwin Books
Sessions, G. (1995) Deep Ecology for the 21st Century. Boston: Shambhala Publications
Shepard, P. (1982) Nature and Madness. Athens Georgia: The University of Georgia Press
Suzuki, D. (1999) The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering our Place in Nature. Vancouver: Greystone Books
Taylor, B. (2009) Dark Green Religion. London: University of California Press
Vernadsky, V. I. (1926) The Biosphere. New York: Copernicus
Vetlesen, A. J. (2015) The Denial of Nature. New York: Routledge
Wheeler, W. M. (1927) Emergent Evolution and the Development of Societies. London: Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner
White, L. Jr. (1967) The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, Science, Volume 155, Issue 3767, pp. 1203-120
Worster, D. (1977) Nature´s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas. UK: Cambridge University Press
Yale University Sterns, S. C. (2009) Principles of Evolution, Ecology and Behavior: Lecture 8 – The Expression of Variation: Reaction Norms [Video file]. Retrieved from https://oyc.yale.edu/ecology-and-evolutionary-biology/eeb-122/lecture-8
Zerzan, J. (2005) Against Civilization. United States: Feral House