The Place of Humans in the Ecological Hierarchy
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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Scientists in all fields are now relying increasingly on images of the world as a complex emergent system ‘‘nesting’’ multiple subsystems. Nature consists of communities within communities. It is hard for any finite mind to hold all the levels together simultaneously, but in the intellectual world, and in culture at large, holistic pictures of a dynamic, evolutionary, and richly layered universe are slowly and irreversibly replacing the more mechanistic, static, vertical, and linear models that have been foundational to modern thought.
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Imagine a set of Chinese boxes, beginning with one just large enough for you to stand in and nested within a series of progressively larger boxes stretching out into infinity. If you suppose that if you are in the middle of this set of boxes the world revolves around you and your kind, then you miss the point of this analogy. Your position in that small, central, nested domain is not a statement of your centrality—or that of humankind— to the rest of the world.
1 Developing a Practical and Sustainable Ecology
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One of the truly frustrating challenges confronting those interested in preserving and protecting the planet’s fragile natural ecosystems is how to go about inculcating a sense of ecological responsibility within individuals that will be predictably reflected in their behavior. Even the most strident environmental activist recognizes the inherent difficulties in consistently acting in an eco-friendly fashion in today’s modern human culture. At the heart of this difficulty are the inherent contradictions to be found in functioning as an ‘‘economic’’ versus an ‘‘ecological’’ person.
2 Personal Ecology
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Ernst Haeckel (1866) coined the term ‘‘ecology’’ to describe the study of interactions or relationships among organisms that influence their organismic form and function. This popular term is of great antiquity. Ecology is a derivation of the Greek word, oikos, which literally means ‘‘home,’’ ‘‘household,’’ or ‘‘a place to live’’ and was the principal concern of the ancient Greek philosopher Theophrastus (Anton, 1999). So conceived, to be an ecologist is to be a ‘‘householder,’’ and acting in an ecological fashion is the equivalent of what I call ‘‘householding.’’
3 Social Ecology
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Finding a clear, unambiguous definition for the term ‘‘social ecology’’ can be frustrating. The ‘‘father’’ of social ecology, Murray Bookchin, is more prolific at describing what social ecology is opposed to rather than succinctly stating what it favors, or for that matter what it really is. Perhaps his best and clearest definition of the term comes from his initial essay on the topic (Bookchin, 1964) in which he describes social ecology as ‘‘an outlook that deals with diversity in an ecological manner— that is, according to an ethics of complementarity.’’
4 Environmental Ecology
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Environmental ecology refers to the entire range of natural ecosystems and their constituents—animate and inanimate—residing upon the planet. From this perspective, personal and social ecologies reside within these larger and more complex ecosystems as ‘‘communities within communities.’’ They not only owe their existence and sustenance to these natural ecosystems, they are also significant contributors to their functional character and, in the most primary fashion, are little more than a particular biological species and community amidst a plethora of other biotic entities.
5 Cosmic Ecology and the Ecology of the Unknown
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The most elementary course in biology acquaints students with the basics regarding how the sun interacts with the climate, soil, and water of Earth to allow for photosynthesis and life as we know it (Martin, 1962). The planet is literally bathed in cosmic radiation not only from the sun, but from the depths of the universe itself. In fact, scientists have known since the late 1990s that cosmic rays produced by distant exploding stars interact with airborne particles in the lower atmosphere to create ...
6 Essential Characteristics of Nested Ecology
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In 2006, the University of Guelph hosted an important conference in Ontario on how to promote sustainable livelihoods for humans while ensuring ecosystem health. The meeting drew participants from around the world and its proceedings were recorded and synthesized into a final report. One of the central findings contained within this report was the assertion that ‘‘healthy ecosystems are a pre-requisite for sustainable health and well-being in human populations’’ (Robinson, Fuller, and Waltner-Toews, 2003, 7). In reading this statement—which appears ...
7 The Fundamentals of Nested Ecological Householding
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I have asserted throughout this text that a nested approach to understanding ecology is a practical and functional way of interacting within the world. I have also discussed these nested ecological domains in terms of health and sustainability, pragmatics, and hierarchy. Ultimately, however, a fully functional nested approach must fulfill a set of basic ecological needs and functions at each nested level that promotes the process of creating and maintaining a human household (i.e., householding) in a fashion that is responsive to the householding needs of other people, species, communities, ecosystems, and environs.
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This book has attempted to provide a new perspective on human beings and their place on the planet and in the cosmos. My intent has been to impart a pragmatic ecological cosmology that can be intuitively utilized by persons across a wide array of political, philosophical, and spiritual/religious persuasions. What I have assiduously avoided doing, however, is prescribing a particular ecological philosophy or course of action. More specifically, I have avoided asserting ...
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Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2009