OT -- CO-EVOLVING MUTUALISM
A Little Perspective
We humans are much impressed with our impact on the
„environment‟ – the lifeweb surrounding us. We are more than a little
fearful of that impact as well.
But let us start with a little history-of-life perspective. This is not
the first time an innovation of life, a development in life technology, if
you will – has made major changes in life conditions on Earth.
We can go back a couple of billion years, when little single celled
creatures changed the entire atmosphere of earth – giving us the oxygen
in the atmosphere. About 600 million years ago, the development of
large multicellular creatures – in the „Cambrian explosion‟ -- created
an entirely new life zone. We thought of this multicellular domain as the
bulk of „nature‟ before we began to appreciate its single celled
Plants changed the face of the landmasses of the Earth.
The grasses evolved because, in part, they had a protection
against the plant-grazers of Earth – silicon built into their structure.
Hard on teeth. (The grazers, however, adapted.)
Flowering plants made for a new niche for both birds and insects.
Competent biologists could go on along these lines at some length.
(Perhaps we should have a webpage for nominations for life‟s great
Each time this sort of thing happens, the rest of the ecosphere
adapts. The Great Engine of Life throws up a range of life
characteristics which, in effect, collectively probe the new conditions –
the new information in the ecosystem – for life possibilities.
With oxygen came oxygen breathers. With multicellular life came
a range of adaptations at the single cell level, leading to both mutualistic
and parasitic relationships between single cellers and multicellers.
On top of the development of what we recognize as plants came a
proliferation of animals which fed on the plants, and other animals
which fed on the plant eaters.
So let us see the creation of LMMG as another of life‟s occasional
technological innovations. These innovations produce disequilibria,
perturbations, ripples or waves in the sea of life.
We can predict that the remainder of the ecosystem will – in its
decentralized, unplanned way – probe this new development from top to
bottom. The „balance of system‟, so to speak of the life system, will be
inventing new niches, new life patterns, new configurations.
This is easily predictable – unless some big space rock or other
disaster wipes us out and the Great Engine if Life addresses other
Let‟s put it this way -- there will be a co-evolution between
humanity and surrounding nature.
If humans sustain their high density, high energy, high tech
trajectory, that co-evolution will tend to be seen as a dynamic between
densely hived, high energy and materials flow LMMG on the one
hand, and all else in the ecosystem on the other.
This chapter will be given over to the proposition that it is in our
best interests to make this co-evolution mutualistic -- advantageous as
between ourselves and the „balance of nature‟ so to speak. With some
qualifications. Thus the title „co-evolving mutualism‟ for this Chapter.
There is one possibly significant factor present in the
LMMG/ecosystem interaction which was not present in prior Earthlife
developments. That is the look-ahead, plan-ahead capability of
humankind. One can say that our vision ahead is quite limited. But at
least we can bring some intentionality to the game.1
We do not yet know whether our look-ahead, plan ahead
capability will have much actual effect in our social dynamics. We do
not yet know how much this capability will condition our environmental
relations, so to speak.
One might be skeptical, on several grounds, of just how „rational‟
will be our environmental relations. Let‟s just note how difficult is
seeming to be the international effort to control global warming. My
own United States is currently embodying this difficulty.
However, I suggest that substantial effort is going into what we
now conceive as environmental protection. Such efforts may be a little
patchworky around the world. But in the more advanced polities, there
are environmental protection functions at local, state, national and
international levels. There are „private sector‟, or non-governmental‟
organizations designed to protect the environment – all over the world.
I have been a little surprised at the size and sophistication of the
United Nations structure for considering environmental issues. One can
access the UN website at http://www.unep.org/. This website gives an
overview of the program, and can be mined for pointers to affiliated
I will not here attempt a catalogue of efforts around the world.
This would, fortunately, require a considerable effort. Nor will I engage
in general exhortation about the need for environmental protection
efforts. You can get such exhortation in lots of places. Instead, I will
offer a few thoughts which I do not see explicitly treated much in other
The dinosaurs did not, one suspects, engage in urban planning. Nor do
insects, even though they have created their own form of urban conditions. (What
would an ant-hive environme ntal protection agency look like? Can you imagine a
scouting unit among Army Ants sending back information to a planning council to
debate whether to spare an orchid in the line of march?)
The Core Argument for Mutualistic Co-Evolution Between
Humans and Earthlife as a Whole
First, I will offer an highly abstract argument for the proposition
that for humans to have increasingly high levels of organization, we will
need to have a larger, rather than a static or smaller, ecostructure to
sustain those activities.
Please hark back to my suggestion that the potentials for
complexity may be expressed by a log normal curve. Now connect that
to the proposition that any particular portion of the life structure must
fit in a framework of connections which influence its potential for
existence and development. This is an implication of the Ulanowicz sort
of analysis, which I will touch upon later.
With these two things in mind, let‟s look at an interesting
construction which Stephen J. Gould recently offered – with quite
different ideas in mind, I think. 2
In his book Full House, Gould uses a curve to show the
distribution of complexity in a lifesystem. I reproduce the essential idea
Gould might take exception to the libe rties I am taking with his conceptual
apparatus. But that is what happens when you publish. You just can‟t control what
people are going to do with the stuff you put out there.
In this curve, the number of organisms is scaled from bottom to
top, or vertically, and increases in complexity are scaled from left to
right, so the highest complexity zone is in the little tail on the right. The
curve in effect argues that you have lots of relatively simple
organizations, or organisms, and relatively few complex organizations,
Gould in effect argued that life did not, over evolutionary time,
alter the shape of the curve. That is, over time, you did not get a higher
proportion of complex things to simple things. Now, if you hiked up the
curve – got more things under it – then you could get a greater total
quantity of complex life forms, in proportion to the greater total
quantity of all life forms.
Two key assertions underlie this graph. I want to make them
First, Gould is in effect assuming that there is an invariant curve
which expresses the potentials for complexity in the ecosystem. That is,
he is assuming that the shape of his complexity curve is not going to
If a power law applies to complexity – and I think it must -- this
assumption is correct. Gould and I are on the same page, whether we
draw the curve with the same axes and shape as Gould uses in his
illustration. The key assumption is that the curve is invariant – we
cannot change its shape.
Secondly, Gould is in effect arguing that for there to be highly
complex life elements there must be a substructure of less complex ones.
That is, Gould is assuming that there must be lots of microbes,
and small metazoans, for there to be a relatively small number of
LMMGers. The complex stuff is embedded in and supported by the less
Again, I agree. There is considerable evidence to support this
assertion. It is consistent with – though not necessarily obvious from --
the „mutual information‟ pictures of Ulanowicz which I will discuss
Let us assume for the moment Gould‟s premises. This is easy for
me. These premises have been my own premises for some time.
If we make these assumptions, Gould has given us a convenient
way of representing a concept with some very important implications . 3
Let‟s suppose that human life is over on the right hand side of this
curve. We are a large component of the more complex part.4
Here is an inte resting question which the Gould notion raises. How much
complexity can a lifebud or life colony support? If you have a life curve on Mars
with little space unde r it, how much human and technological complexity could the
Mars colony, alone, support? Or a sealed-off spaceship, including the familiar
science fiction (life) Seedship?
This supposition may offend many. I get the clear impression that many
researchers resist this notion. They have good reason, I must concede. A species
which had the sun going around the earth, of which we we re necessary lords and
Now we come to the point of my argument. If Gould‟s construct
is a usable guide, for there to be more of us and our artifacts, there must
be more life structure. We have to hike up the curve to include more life
structure underneath it, for us to have a greater scope of activity.
Either that, or much of us will have to find low-complexity
embodiments and lifestyles. Do you want to live a life about as complex
as that of a cow? For my part, I think not.
Thus, I offer you a straightforward argument for mutualistic
interactions between LMMG and Earthlife as a whole. If we want to
expand our scope, we have to expand Earthlife‟s scope.5
The corollary implication is that if we degrade the ecostructure as
a whole, we will have less scope for the high-energy complex life style we
have come to love.
I recognize that this argument rests large conclusions on a single
chain of logic. However, a theory is merit-ranked by its power – its
masters, de mands some humbling. For our own good, we need to cast a dubious eye
upon, and test thoroughly, assumptions of exceptional status.
But it appears to me that those who have been arguing about the difficulty in
assigning complexity in organisms have not taken into account the hierarchy of life
structures which Buss proposed, others have now implicitly accepted, and I sketch
out in another chapter.
If you follow this approach, complexity is built up in hierarchies. We as
social metazoans are working on a next level of complexity. We are creating some
fairly complex artifacts in this process.
Indeed, taking a big leap forward, if our co-evolution with othe r earthlife,
utilizing artifacts, creates a replication of earthlife, we will have crossed another
major threshold in life organization.
So for the moment, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that we belong in the
right hand sector of the curve.
This raises some challenging perspectives as to colonies of Earth abroad in the
Universe. How complex could Moon and Mars colonies – for example – become? Is
it best to imagine the m as stand alone systems or elements in a larger lifesystem?
What do these different pe rspectives suggest as to complexity capacities in these
venues? What would it take in terms of communication or interaction betwee n the
re mote venues and Mothe r Earth, or in generalized terms Life Central, to allow
sustained high complexity in the remote or small venues?
scope of organization of phenomena -- and its validity. I do not shrink
from or apologize for the power of the logic supporting this conclusion.
I must, however, recognize a large caveat in my argument as seen
from the viewpoint of the environmental protection contingent.
At this time I cannot be definitive about how much carbon based
cellular life and how much artifactual complexity goes under the hiked-
up curve which I project here.
I do suggest that human artifacts will need to be considered as
components in any future ecosystem in which high energy LMMG plays
a large part.6 Such artifacts can be relatively simple components, as well
as complex components.7
At this point, in this manuscript, we leave open this question of
the relative proportions of cellular and artifactual components in our
posited expanded cyberecology. 8
Friends have suggested some arguments against reliance on this
curve construct for the conclusions I have drawn from it.
One argument is that we can change the shape of the curve.
This is easy to see if you look around you today. Have you noticed, looking down
from the airline r, the large green circles on arid western lands where wheel
irrigation us used? Or look at the man-made lakes, behind our dams. When our
descendants look at satellite images of desert lands a millennium from now –
assuming our social rig holds together – will they see seas of blue tinged solar
We all know that many human artifacts appear complex to us, and the rapid
development of computers presents us the possibility that the human brain will lose
its (not fully established) claim to be the most complex 1200-1500 cubic centimeters
If this were the way we should understand this now rathe r heavily worked
complexity curve construct, conceivably the cybe r-ecology might be larger than the
pre-human biological ecology, but the biological compo nent might be no large r, or
be smalle r.
This argument might go as follows. We have come up with fossil
fuel – mining life‟s storage of energy. We have not noticeably expanded
the legacy ecosystem. We have thus arguably built much more complex
activity than previously existed without expanding the legacy ecosystem.
Thus we must have changed the shape of the complexity curve.
But if log normal measures are compelled by the nature of the
universe, what we do must fit within them. One can imagine that we
have – at least temporarily -- expanded the life structure we tap – by
adding the fossil fuel portion. Or one can argue that our complexity
bulge – our increase in complex activity -- will not be sustainable. Many
have argued unsustainability.
Let us suppose that we sustainably expand energy flows not
dependent on fossil fuels. Then we are back to the question of whether
the complex activity built with those energy flows will require a
proportionate (in curve terms) structure of underlying less complex
structures and processes. My argument is that this will be the case.
Let‟s take a different tack. We do not increase the total amount
of complexity in the Earthlife system. We just corner more of the
complex part for ourselves. What we build in complexity among
ourselves we sacrifice elsewhere in the ecosystem.
One might then argue that we can sustain this shift. If there can
be only so much complexity in a given lifestructure, we can claim more
of it for ourselves, greedy sorts that we are.
If this argument is so, then if we build larger energy flows and
larger quantities of complex structure, we might get more complex
activity in our own sector two ways. We create a larger lifestructure
with more total complexity. And we shift shares of the complexity
phenomenon to us and away from others.
I don‟t know if we can pull this off.
Another challenge is to ask what we make of the fact that some
complex phenomena might be considered as energy minimizing aspects
of dynamic activity. All reductions in variance can be seen as
minimizing energy, within the reduced-variance system.
In less abstract language, can we not suggest that social insects,
and other groupish life activities, internalize energy flows in life
structures more efficiently than less-groupish activity patterns? Ant
hives process energy more efficiently – turn it into biomass more
efficiently – than disorganized insects do. So, the argument would go, do
I myself have suggested this view. Others have hinted that
ordering activity may minimize energy flows, or make more efficient
So, an argument might be offered that if you jack up energy flows,
efficient uses of those flows will take manifestations of complexity off an
hypothetical log normal curve.
But my response would be that these energy efficient
developments in the complexity curve are an inherent aspect of the
curve itself. Energy flows allow for complex, efficient manifestations of
structured energy. Energy flows allow for energy density.
As one traces through such arguments and counter arguments,
one is led to fear that the justification for depending on the log normal
curve arguments I have made is both self reinforcing, or circular. It
might seem merely to be an expression of faith.
As to the act of faith issue, the apparent ubiquity of log normal
curves have emerged from highly diverse explorations in a number of
directions. I have suggested that such curves may emerge from
combinatorial requirements of the ordering process.
So rather than building layers of cogitation on unfounded faith --
in an almost religious fashion --I am suggesting that we confront an
evidence-based rubric, or framework, which seems to demand
recognition that it is ubiquitous and enveloping.
And if this is so, then we are compelled to reconcile visible aspects
of its operation within its framework.
Lastly, one friend suggests that we not be slavish in dependence
upon our legacy lifesystem. Let us say that the good old legacy system
got us here, but we can build greater flows and structures in the future
without it, or minimizing it.
So, this argument would go, we should let honest ambition rather
than nostalgia govern our perspectives on our possibilities.
I must confess that I cannot exclude the possibility that this
approach might actually work out. But I ally myself with those who
want to be sure that we fully appreciate just what got us here and
supports us here before we start replacing it wholesale, or aggressively
whittling it away. I don‟t want to cut off the limb upon which I – and
more importantly my descendants -- perch, without knowing surely
where they will next depend.
How Humans Are Likely To Conceive the Greater Ecosystem
We are likely to come at this project – if there is one -- from a
parochial point of view, or course. Our first instinct seems likely to be to
remake the world in our image.
I have elsewhere suggested that we have been doing our
damnedest to make all of earthlife into a funnel for our appetites and
convenience (the Vitousek construct). We have been so thorough about
this that there is little at the metazoan level – the larger multicellular
lifeform level – that we have not affected, or are not in the process of
What is left unaffected: what is it that we call „wild‟?
For great detail, in conventional print format, see the United
Nations‟ 1995 Global Biodiversity Assessment, and follow the United
Nations‟ Environmental Program World Wide Web postings.
For a blunt and brutal overview, in words more honest and
penetrating than the usual, let me quote you an eloquent passage
written by a passionate lover of wild earth, Daniel Jantzen, a professor
of conservation biology9.
The question is not whether we must manage wild
nature, but rather how shall we manage it …
There is no pristine nature to conserve. Only those
unaware of the past can imagine that any ecosystem is
unaffected by humanity….
All conserved wildlands are ecological islands in an
agroscape, an urbanscape, and will be so forever. Even if
they are permitted to survive as self sustaining wild lumps,
which is what we lobby for, these lumps will melt, shrink,
homogenize, evolve, and be washed over, inexorably,
This is cruel language, from one who loves nature. But Jantzen is
trying to be honest, to set a solid foundation for saving what he cares
What is Jantzen‟s prescription for the „wildlands‟ he loves, and
Sustainable agriculture has been around a long time.
Let‟s have sustainable wildlands… They need market
development, crop rotation, experiment stations, subsidies,
insurance, innovations, entrepreneurism – and they need to
pay their bills, be a producer, be open around the clock, and
be welcomed at society‟s table.
Let us be clear: the table he is talking about is human society‟s
This quote is taken from an article called “Wildlands as Garden”, in the “National
Parks” magazine published in the United States, in the November/December
millennial year 2000 A.D. edition.
Often, in the discussions of the importance of „the environment‟ in
the United Nation‟s monumental study of biodiversity, one runs into the
term „environmental services‟.
What are we saying? Our human frame of mind is that „the
environment‟ is there to provide us „services‟.
What are those „services‟? Clean water. Clean air. Food. Fiber.
Building materials. Entertainment. Whatever we want. Whatever WE
Let‟s shift focus. In a book called The Extended Organism, Scott
Turner focuses on how animals create webs, hives, mats, burrows, and
the like, to augment their biological functions. He depicts these
constructions as almost biological extensions of the animal. They shape,
one might say, energy and materials flows around the animal to the
Others, like Kevin Laland from the University of Cambridge, and
colleagues there and abroad, advance the concept of „niche
construction‟. They suggest the following perspective. The creature
affects its environment so as to in effect create a niche for itself.
Broadening the perspective, we can say that the creature and the
niche stay in dynamic correlation, in a sense co-evolving.10
What will be our biological extension? What might be the niche
we humans are so busily constructing?
Here we are, global, mobile, dominating the large metazoan level
of life. Clearly, the niche we seek to construct, and co-evolve with, is
earth as a whole. We seek to make our niche earthlife as a whole.
There are some pleasingly neat resonances to this idea. In “Increases in Biological
Organization: How Does Adaptation Fit”, in Evolutionary Systems, Kluwe r, 1998,
John Collier uses information theory notation to express how the genome encodes
information about the environment, in the sense that there is correlation, or mutual
information, between the order in the environment and the information in the
genome. Ulanowicz, in his Ascendancy book, uses information theoretic constructs –
the Boltzmann formula slightly adapted – to s how how „mutual information‟
develops between biological nodes in an ecosystem.
In a sentence, we seek to make the entire ecosystem EarthPark.11
Who is to tend this park? We have appointed ourselves the
groundskeepers, game wardens, gardeners, overseers.
Does this sound grandiose? Yes. But looking around you, can you
deny that this is what we are about, whether we say so or not?
We Will Be Led to Think In Terms Of a Maximum Output Function for
The balance of nature has no interest in our ambitions. In all its
various parts, each part of „nature‟ can be counted on simply to go
about its own business.
„Nature‟ cannot, of itself, seek to cope with us, to cooperate
willingly with us, to complement us, or, perhaps in its own best interests,
to shed our meddlesome selves.
Since it is every microbe for itself, we might be inclined to see
much of what „nature‟ does as countervailing our efforts. Look for
example at the evolution of microbes‟ resistance to antibiotics. Look at
the „weeds‟ which encroach upon our cropland. Look at the „parasites‟
which infest our domestic animals.
So upon us falls the self-assigned burden to account not only for
ourselves, but for the remainder of nature as well.
That larger ecosystem which I suggest can come into being is
likely to be realized only if we midwife it12.
If and to the extent we are successful in this undertaking, one will be able to make
an exact analogy to Collier‟s observation in the relationships – the mutual
information relationships – between the societal codes we use in human organization
and the ordered relationships of Earthpark.
. And we are likely to find, I suggest, that often brute human force may not work
as well as seeking to guide and entice nature into comple mentary patterns.
This leads to the next substantial conclusion I want to urge upon
you. The logic of the situation I am outlining leads to a surprising
I suggest, that over time, if we keep the LMMG act together and
evolving, we will be impelled toward creating a sort of global
maximization function for Earthlife.
On its face, this goes counter to the thesis put to the public
persuasively by Richard Dawkins, to the effect that life has no „utility
function‟. Dawkins in effect argues that nature has no single over-all
maximum output goal or tendency.
I am inclined to concede substantial substance to Dawkins‟ view –
in that each bit of life is solely oriented to reproduction of itself --
though I suggest major qualifications. 13
But to the extent I agree, it is only up to the point of human
intervention. When LMMG gets involved in trying to plan Earthpark,
things may change.
Let me try to give a sketch of some basic political dynamics, using
current institutions in more-developed venues. Local planning bodies –
say municipal and county, or regional – have decisions to make about
quantities of parkland, allowable vegetation, allowable „wildlife‟,
population density, air purity, water purity, etc. They must, explicitly or
implicitly, try to integrate these decisions into over-all well being – we
might call it quality of life – for the local citizenry.
On top of these bodies are broader organizational units – larger
regions, states, watersheds – up to nations and international levels.
At each of these more or less hierarchical levels of organization,
the preferences of the constituent units must be integrated and
As to the qualifications, as I have noted before, it does appear that life has a
tendency to create aggregations. And the higgle-jiggle of competing and
complementary life forms may have patterns which tend to yield stable struct ures,
as Ulanowicz and othe r theoretical ecologists have suggested. I will discuss that
At the global level, we have relatively little use of legally
authorized force, at this point. The instruments of coordination may be
less rigorously defined. The United Nations is a rather weird lash-up, as
„government‟ bodies go. So global integration of preferences may be a
rather messier affair than at lower levels – though it can get pretty
messy at all levels.
But we do attempt to deal with global warming, fishing,
biodiversity, parklands, movements of species, and a wide variety of
other topics in an international framework. We have a substantial
number of international bodies dealing with a large range of subject
matters of consequence to the various elements of the global population.
Thus, we can see even today a basic logic pushing for
harmonization of preferences from locality to globe.
That logic will be working against an extensive range of
decisionmaking procedures and metrics of merit in the world. In
Thomas P. M. Barnett‟s phrase, one could say that there is considerable
diversity in „rule sets‟ in this world. But there is pressure to reconcile
In sum, if and as we continue to have a globally integrated
ecumene, or interlinked global community, we will have continuous
pressure to integrate, or reconcile, our various preferences, our various
decision rules, and our various measures of merit.
Let us suppose that you concede this point. Still, one can argue
that this tendency will not take us all the way to a global, cleanly
conceived and cleanly executed „utility function‟, or production
function, for Earthlife.
One might argue this on various grounds. Some can be put in
For example, absent an attack from Mars, or other threat to the
globe, in terms which humans can see and feel as „clear and present
danger‟, the Earth may simply never get very well organized.
There are so many parochialisms of so many kinds. There are so
many tendencies to parasitism in human organization. We may forever
be like warring ant heaps or Indian tribes, writ large. Maybe
Huntington‟s Clash of Civilizations will go on forever.
The things that push us together may never push us into a full
global conciliation of all our disparate tendencies, in a way leading to
global maximization of life potentials.
One can imagine more abstract problems.
We may have big problems figuring out what and how to
There is a considerable body of scholarship on complex systems,
including „complex adaptive systems‟. The involved researchers
struggle with achieving predictability in observing and functioning in
systems which embody many, intricate, varying interactions.
The researchers to whom I tend to give some credence tend not to
assure you that they can reliably predict how the complex human
society, and the complex Earth ecosystem, will behave over generations
or millennia of time.
True, we have some considerable baseline history.14 But detailed
bets on the future are hard to make.
Nor will the more responsible researchers assure you that they
know how reliably to control the LMMG system and the Earth‟s
If that is not tough enough, mathematical reasoning constructed
by David Wolpert and William Macready, in their „no free lunch‟
There are some observable regularities in the way ecosystems have been built on
this Earth, and I have tried to point to some of the m. And the re are, I suggest, some
regularities in the way s uccessful human social systems have been built, or evolved,
though there may be more controversy about this proposition, and the languages
used to describe human organizations are less organized and less clean cut than the
languages of „science‟ used in describing ecosystem structures.
thesis,15 might be construed as arguing that when we seek to find
objective functions to maximize some measurable result, we cannot
devise search systems to find those functions which will be better than
chance, over all conditions which might be encountered.
In other words, one might argue that we may not be able to find a
system to guide us to maximum results, if we could define maximum
results, better than blindly throwing darts.
All this said, the logic of our ambitions seems likely to lead us to
try to define a global maximization function for earthlife, if we can keep
a global, interconnected civilization on the playing field.
How Do We Get From Here To A More Grand Earthpark?
Just about everyone who looks at evolution, following the Darwin
paradigm, concedes that life got to its current dimensions without the
benefit – or liabilities – of central planning.16
But, as I suggest above, we are going to have to use our unique
group construction and look-ahead abilities if we wish to create and
sustain a larger ecosystem with progressively (at least for a while)
greater scope for human undertakings.
As I have suggested, this means we are going to have to try to
compose preferences, and set directions, at levels ranging from the
village to the globe, integrating those preferences and directions across
the range of levels.17
Wolpert, D.H., and Macready, W.G., "No Free Lunch Theorems for
Search", IEEE Transactions on Evolutionary Computation, 1, 1997.
I know that the „creationists‟ and „intelligent design‟ folk are abroad in the U.S.. I
expect, or at least hope, that this expression of human vanity, or humanity‟s
desperate search for a security blanket, or both, will eventually subside.
This proposition implies that I think the „invisible hand‟ of free ma rket thinking is
not solely a sufficient guide. In a book dealing with my personal experience in
industrial organization, I have advocated greater use of markets as opposed to
commission-like detailed supervision of price and service offers. But markets are
the mselves social constructs designed to foster mutualistic transactions, as I will set
out in a late r section. To make market systems work to incorporate the „balance of
At this point, there is considerable disarray at the nation-state
level. But the most visible and comprehensive challenge is the
international level. It is easy to see some current Big Issues at this level –
e.g. global warming, the overfishing of the oceans, and control of
weapons of mass destruction.
At this point, in this Chapter, I would like to deal with a few
concepts which could be seen to operate at all organizational levels.
One can imagine a few contributions of homo sap.
One is management. (Note that I say management, rather than
better management, since there has been no management of Earth.)
Another is devising new life technologies, using, for example,
genetic manipulation, and cyborg life processes.
Another is adding to the total resource available to life. Like
adding energy flows.
A fourth, more conjectural, is preventing major wipeouts, such
as, for example, wipeouts from space rocks.18
A fifth is the possibility of exporting life off the Earth.
I will take up some of these challenges in later sections.
So we can see at least the conceptual possibility that LMMG could
expand the scope of earthlife, in one or more of the five ways I have here
suggested, and particularly by adding to life‟s energy budget. 19
life‟ in mutualistic transactions, we would need to do some fairly crafty
reconstruction of and broadening of the market mechanis m. I do not argue against
this. I simply note that it is a socially determined strategy.
At present, both markets and hierarchies coexist in human society. The use of the
market mechanism is not likely, I theorize, to do away with the need to have an
hie rarchy of levels of human organization, and to integrate „ecosphere‟ inte ractions
at all levels.
I call this conjectural because life seems to have bounced back pretty completely
from previous major asteroid impacts.
Some Types of Ecomanagement issues
OK, let‟s put you, at least momentarily, in the role of Chief
Ecomanagement Czar for your neighborhood, your nation, or the
United Nations. Take your pick of organizational level, to suit your ego.
You have a lot of stuff at your disposal, whether fortunately or
unfortunately. There is a network of data gathering on plants, animals
and microbes, from a variety of organizations in governments,
international institutions, specialized think tanks, and academe. This
network seems to be growing steadily, at the moment.
To make some sense of these data, you have an ecomodeling
section, with a resident mathematical dweeb.
There are advocacy groups out there, of a variety of types. There
are neighborhood watches, and nation watches, and satellite eyes in the
sky, and so forth. The Press is writing about one issue or another
All this is in some ways very healthy. If you had wanted a quiet
life you should have chosen another occupation.
What are some of the persistent or frequent types of issue you
have on your desk Monday morning?
We have a wide variety of ways of characterizing the issues. Let
me, as your special assistant, set up a few for you in the Monday
morning briefing memo.
Some may see an inconsistency between trying to avoid disasters and
adding energy to the system. But brakes are not inconsistent with engines, in cars,
trains, planes, etc. We love powe r. But we have to have it controlled. In traditional
terms, we pervasively try to „channel‟ nature, in shaping Vitousek‟s funnel. Life
feeds off energy, but it does so by entraining it in patterned, constrained systems .
One persistent issue, or goal, is stability. We are much concerned
these days that we don‟t collapse life‟s jerry rigging. We don‟t want to
lose the honeybees and find that the plants can‟t otherwise pollinate
themselves efficiently. If the flowering plants can‟t reproduce, we‟ve got
a real problem. We don‟t want to warm up the earth so much that
Greenland melt water messes up the Gulf Stream, with the result that
Europe – and Canada – plunge into a new ice age. Bad for international
trade, and we get a lot of previously highly paid and newly needy
refugees. (Though the ever-poor South might take a little quiet pleasure
about earth turning the tables on those overweening Northerners.) We
don‟t want to kill off so many mussels in the bay that the water doesn‟t
get cleaned and turns all yucky on us.
There are so many threat warnings on the desk – those memos
with the yellow and red stickers on them. It seems some fear that if we
mess with the Infinitesimal Insect Gut Mite the whole damned ecorig
will collapse by next week, or the week after. It seems the professional
ecoprotectors just don‟t want to let us endanger Anything, for fear that
if we do we will lose Everything.
The more you look at those stacks of yellow and red flagged
memos, the more it looks like it all adds up to a big yearning for
homeostasis. We don‟t want the ocean to rise, or we will lose coastal
dwellings and developments, not to mention entire islands. We don‟t
want the temperature to rise too much, because that might set off
droughts, and storms, and God knows what. We‟d rather not have any
more of those horrendous Ice Ages, either.
What‟s wrong with that yearning? Don‟t the termites keep the
temperature pretty constant in their mounds? Same for bees in
beehives. Why do we have thermostats in our houses?
So we are likely to have a constant, strong impulse toward having
Earthpark be a stable place.
On its own, before you took over, Earth, in the long view, has not
been all that stable. We have had ice ages, and periods of higher
temperatures, and horrendous extinction periods. Species have
constantly come and gone. Even the continents are engaged in a slow
motion dance. Volcanoes periodically blow their tops – sometimes
affecting climate for years. Tsunamis ripple our oceans regularly.
We are, after all, just tiny mites riding on this huge ball in infinite
space. How much can we ask of ourselves?
Notwithstanding our mitehood, I suggest, we may constantly be
impelled to try to maintain as much stability as we can, and to try to
have good coping mechanisms for occasions when we can‟t keep things
Aside from workable stability, there is the constant issue of how
we divide up the goods. Who gets how much of the water in the
watershed? A particularly acute issue when we build a dam or divert a
river. Who gets ocean fishing rights, and how? We are continually
jockeying around such issues today.
How do the producers of ecogoods – like for example oxygen from
tropical rain forests20 – get paid for those ecogoods? Do we try to raise a
global budget, using a global sales tax, to pay Brazil to stop developing
its rain forest areas? How do we have „wildlands‟ pay their way, in
Jantzen‟s phrase? User fees? Taxes? Private foundations?
These, too, are very real issues today, not merely speculations for
Let us now come to the efficiency issue. If we are trying to
construct an Earthpark, we will be measuring the yield to us, the
managers. What are we going to do with the animal producers of
nutrients for us, when we can get more calories from plants, or even
microorganisms? How many and what sort of animal products do we
want, on the land and in the Ocean? Are we going to keep our erstwhile
competitors as harvesters -- like the whales and the bears -- as pets?
Will we use them as ecosystem stabilizers?
My example supposes that we need the Amazon rain forest for oxygen. This is
vivid – that is the reason I use it as an example – and might be so, but is not
necessarily so. Indeed, I have found it interesting that though many fear that
mankind is adversely affecting the scope of life on earth, I have not been able to find
any indication that the oxygen percentage of the atmosphe re has changed in recent
years. If that pe rcentage does change, we have something major on our hands.
Those pesky parasites. Would we mount a global campaign on
parasites? We now try to keep down weevils, mites, rodents and plant
blights. How much more thorough are we going to get? What would
happen if we tried to mount a global campaign against parasitism, and
thus do away with one of the great themes in life development?
We will be measuring efficiency, and this will lead to pressure to
define the output we are trying to maximize, as I have argued above.
Some Current Concepts For Ecomanagement
There are some generalized thoughts on how we should approach
ecosystem management. These approaches can be considered at any of
several levels – wherever you happen to function.
These concepts come into play when we want to do things like
build a new dam, or decide how to release water from existing dams, or
genetically modify crops, or put roads into or eliminate roads from
parklands, or plant new species in new settings, like introducing pest
species to control pest species. We make such judgments all the time.
Let‟s spend a little time on some approaches to making decisions
which affect the ecosystem.
Some students of the ecosphere urge upon us the Precautionary
Principle (or PP). The rough idea is that if we don‟t understand the
possible effects of our expansionist push, in a given ecosystem, err on
the side of caution until we do.
We have ignored this principle repeatedly in the past. But we
have been trying to take more account of it in recent decades. Consider
the widespread efforts to catalogue, characterize, and preserve plant
and animal types at the metazoan level. We have become more
conscious that we inherit a treasure chest of biological invention.
In support of the precautionary principle, one can observe that if
we wish to make the most of „nature‟s‟ potentials, for humankind and
hopefully for future more ample lifesystems, we need to be neither
ignorant nor wasteful of our legacy system‟s contents.21
Can there be any question that we need to understand much
better Mother Earth‟s rhythms, her cycles, her huge system of mutual
dependencies, of correlated states, if and as we go about changing,
transmuting, building upon those correlations?
But the Precautionary Principle, alone, seems to me to be too
constricting. If it is tightly applied to the point of inducing paralysis, it
would allow little scope for the potentials of humankind.
I have an affinity with a broader and more flexible approach.
Ludwig, Wilborn and Watson offer a synopsis of an „adaptive
management‟ approach, as follows
…consider a variety of plausible hypotheses about the
world; consider a variety of possible strategies; favor
actions that are robust as to uncertainties; hedge; favor
actions that are informative; probe and experiment;
monitor results; update assessments and modify policy
accordingly; and favor actions that are reversible”22
Perceptive authors of the UN Biodiversity Assessment also offer
the following advice –
However, I cannot forego commenting that simply classifying and preserving does
not take account of life‟s dynamic. The Great Engine of Life, described in an earlier
chapter -- the biological reproduction system with its inbuilt library of routines – is,
I suggest, the fundame ntal life resource. The way forward cannot be found by
trying to carry with us all the life assemblies of the past. This has never been the
way of life. If we seek to find more fruitful and ample scope for life, to play a role in
creating greater realms of life, we will need to think in terms of opening doors and
of elaborating structures. And we will need to be acutely aware that we are, we are
part of, and we work with an opportunistic medium, which is always probing,
shifting, trans muting itself.
Ludwig, D, Wilborn, R, and Walte rs, C., 1993, “Uncertainty, Resource
Exploitation, and Conservation; Lessons from History”, 3 Ecological Development
547-549. I would have to note, however, that the branching pathway vie w of life
development indicates that the „reversibility‟ preference would face significant
“…successful human adaptation to global change may
depend on ecosystem management for the values of variability
and resiliency, rather than predictability, as has been the trend in
the past”.(p. 802)
“Efforts to stabilize and ecosystem or preserve individual
plant or animal species may be counterproductive, since
ecosystem processes are the most critical value in conservation”(p.
Chapter 7 of E. O. Wilson‟s most recent book, “The Future of
Life” proposes some interesting challenges, but I prefer the more
nuanced adaptive strategy perspectives noted above.23
To track global thinking on strategies for looking after other
earthlife while human activity continues and probably expands, you
might want periodically to look in on at the United Nation‟s UNEP
You will be able to see that the „adaptive strategies‟ approach
embodies a form of search strategy consistent with our uncertainty
about our possible futures and how to reach any we might prefer.
Now let us step up a conceptual level.
What if, notwithstanding the „no free lunch‟ thesis, ecosystems do
show forms of ordering which can be systematically characterized?
What if there are regularities in the life process which can be defined,
and if then defined offer some mapping for our searches? What if such
regularities can be identified in terms tracking the fundamentals of the
To give you a little preview, Wilson suggests that we salvage the world‟s hot spots
(regions of very high biological diversity), keep intact the world‟s five major frontier
forests, cease all logging of old growth forests, concentrate on protecting the
biological carrying capacity of the world‟s lakes and river systems, complete the
mapping of the world‟s biodive rsity, create a world conservation strategy, make
conservation profitable, use biodiversity to benefit the world economy, initiate
restoration projects, increase the capacity of the word‟s zoos and botanical gardens
for breeding, and support population planning.
ordering processes of the Universe? Should we not consult these
regularities, and use tools which help orient us in our trek into the
I advance for consideration as a candidate for modeling
ecosystems and the effects of what we do in them, at scales from local to
global, concepts which have been developed by Robert Ulanowicz, a
theoretical ecologist at the University of Maryland. 24
Ulanowicz has given us a scheme for tracing out and quantifying
the development of reduced variance, or correlated, interactions in
„ecosystems‟ – systems containing many elements (living elements) but
not yet of a coherence entailed in reproduction as a whole.
In doing so, Ulanowicz has demonstrated that „indirect
mutualisms‟ lead to increases in order in the system as a whole. (By
indirect mutualisms he means mutually reinforcing interactions, or
interactions which both mark a reduction in variance and a tendency to
maintain the participation of units in the system.)
Speaking in terms of the legacy ecosystem, that increase in
organization over the eons created the conditions in which we exist.
Let‟s briefly follow Ulanowicz through his investigations, or at
least some of the highlights. The path will give us access to many
fascinating insights into the „environment‟ --the ecosystems in which we
participate. And it will, I suggest, offer some clues about where co-
evolving mutualism with the legacy system might take us.
Bob Ulanowicz has a propensity for tracing flows of materials and
energy in ecosystems. He, like many other investigators, will identify
the organisms in an ecosystem, like a bay or estuary, or land based
plant and animal community, and map out the materials and energy
flows among those organisms.
Many of the mainstream students of evolution do not seem to speak much
of the Ulanowicz construct. They seem to concentrate more on the straight line
development of Darwin‟s concepts. This is understandable, but I s uggest Ulanowicz
offers something of value coming from a different angle.
In doing this, one becomes aware that the materials and energy
flows are not entirely random. You may remember references to food
chains and food webs, for example.
Ulanowicz was struck by the work of E.P. Odum and others.
Odum, without the mathematical tools which Ulanowicz brought to the
game, showed that ecosystems tended to evolve in ways which entailed
greater degrees of order, or structure.
This is a powerful observation. What did Odum mean by it, in
concrete terms? For some very general observations, as ecosystems
There was an increase in amount of biomass (living
matter) per unit of energy cycled through:
total organic matter tended to increase:
the possible niches available for life tended to get
filled up, and this divided up space, time and function more
finely, and thus:
species diversity and biochemical diversity tended to
mutually beneficial relationships between elements in
the ecosystem tended to be developed:
nutrients tended to be kept in the system to a greater
extent, and recycled:
and the systems tended to be more resilient to
Are these not some very interesting pointers as to where we might
like an energy augmented, human-hyped, cyberecosystem to go, over
time, if we were successful in fostering it?
Ulanowicz looked around for a mathematical way of expressing
such developments, and assessing the degree of organization of an
ecosystem at any given point. His happy choice was an equation form
extensively used in information theory, following the lead of Claude
Shannon, and derived from work on „statistical mechanics‟ done by
Ludwig Boltzmann, whom we have discussed before.
Roughly, the formula, as applied by Ulanowicz, says, in words,
that if you have a system that can have many states, and you want to
determine the degree of organization in it – the amount by which it
departs from sheer randomness – you multiply the probability of each
state extant by the logarithm of the probability of that state, and sum
over all the states. 25
This much is pure Boltzmann and Shannon. Ulanowicz then
added to this the operation of multiplying the measure you get in this
way by the total throughput of the system, to give you a scale, or size, of
the organization. 26
So now we have an interesting tool. We can speak in terms of the
total development of the ecosystem, or indeed any dynamic multi-
component system, in clear quantitative terms, expressed as degrees of
order and the volume of ordered activity.
And Bob Ulanowicz points out that the degree of organization in
the system is directly proportional to the amount of „indirect
mutualism‟ in the system.27 Are we getting a clue here?
Why use the logarithmic operation? As many have pointed out for some
time, when you are dealing with large numbe rs of combinations of factors, taking
the logarithms provides a nice, simple, manageable linear expression related to the
combinatorial possibilities. You will recall the log normal curves we talked about in
the chapter on the fundamental characteristics of order.
Why use the probability measures? Because they provide a succinct statement of
the extent to which there is variation in the frequency with which possible or
conceivable states actually obtain – for example, a low probability for each state
corresponds to a lot of states, and thus presumably to the degree of randomness in
If we were dealing with an equation which expressed degrees of correlation
between definable elements in a collection of elements which we called a system,
without reference to any process which produced those correlations, we would think
Why am I trying to bring Ulanowicz‟s work to the fore, given that
there is a great deal of research into ecosystems to which I am not giving
equal time? Why do I suggest further pursuit of its possibilities as a
means of shedding light on our human organizational systems and our
interactions with the lifeweb? Here‟s why.
This system is based on concepts related directly to
the fundamentals of correlation, or order. It brings to
understanding relationships in life structures some of the
most powerful mathematical forms of expressing
correlation, and thus the fundamentals of organization of
matter, that humans have developed to date.
The system directly and clearly points up the
fundamental importance of mutually reinforcing
interactions in ecosystems. It thus gives us fundamental
clues about how to have our individual and collective
activities factor into sustainable and expandable life systems
larger than ourselves -- as all life systems must be.
Ulanowicz and collaborators have made the
mathematical tools into working instruments usable in real
ecosystems. For example, they have applied them to
systems like the Chesapeake Bay and the Baltic Sea. In
doing so, they have come up with some fascinating insights
as to how ecosystems are built. So we are looking at a
The power of the mathematical analysis allows its use
to describe, and potentially to work with, systems which
me rely in terms of statistical incidences. If we address ecosystems made up of
„autonomous agents‟, in Kauffman‟s phrase, which taken in each other‟s laundry, so
to speak – one using the excretions of another or riding on the back of or cleaning
the teeth of the other, etc – then we can see how „animate‟ elements can build
correlated relationships, orde r, into an ecosystem, as Ulanowicz projects (but these
examples are only a very s mall part of what he pictures in statistical form). If we
imagine either „inanimate‟ or animate elements, or both, interacting so as to
catalyze each othe r and produce a reproducing unit comprising the set, then we
have a life unit, as described before.
embody artifacts as well as cellular, carbon based life forms.
Thus, we should be able to use these techniques to work
with the „cyberecologies‟ which we imagine constructing in
the future. 28
For one limited but significant example, we can consider the use
of Ulanowicz‟s ideas to describe and work with human economic
Let‟s look for just a moment at what we might get out of the
information theory/organization theory approaches which Ulanowicz
and collaborators have employed. In working with ecosystems,
Ulanowicz and collaborators have investigated quantitatively a
number of interesting features of complex ecological systems. Following
are some of the topics, and a very brief note as to why we might be
interested in using such tools.
The effects of scarcities on system organization and
throughput. (As to human systems, what happens when oil
and coal become scarce? As to ecosystems, what happens if
we choke down nutrients?)
On the other hand, the effects of increasing elements
used in a system beyond current capacity to use them, in a
way which leads to system degradation (In ecosystems, this
is called eutrophication. Can we get eutrophication in
I here talk about „living things‟, but re member that Kauffman‟s modeling
started with „inanimate‟ molecules, and if we build „cyberecologies‟, (and
beyond that cybe rentities), we will include in the mutually reinforcing
elements artifacts which will then participate in the feedback loops.
Igor Matutinovic has pioneered this direction, to some extent, and has come up
with some interesting connectivity patterns in inte rnational economic systems in
“The Aspects and the Role of Diversity in Socioeconomic Systems: An Evolutionary
Perspective”, 39 Ecological Economics 239-256 (2001).. I am hopeful that
Matutinovic will continue his explorations, others will critique the m, and other
economists of various backgrounds and orientations will join the game.
Very generally, the effects of perturbations. (E.g. as to
both ecosystems and human systems, droughts, tsunami,
major temperature changes, major system dynamics
The characteristics of mature, or fully developed,
systems, including the degree of mutualistic interactions in a
system, as I noted above (Wouldn‟t it be nice to know be
able to measure well, in terms of fundamental organization
criteria, development status in both economic and
The degree of randomness necessary for system
The quantities of system output which can be
extracted from the system by any given element (Aren‟t we
frequently, and necessarily, concerned about overfishing,
overcropping, and otherwise overburdening the ecological
If we are looking ahead to how we may be affecting an ecosystem
– and more generally building an Earthpark – these are things we want
to know – „scientifically‟, like an engineer knows, if possible.
Some Illustrative Projections of Co-Evolving Mutualism
I have argued that whatever the shape of our ecosystem
endeavors, we will have to aim for a mutualistic relationship between
LMMG and other earthlife.
Matutinovic, for example, argues for some redundancies in the global economic
system, and sounds cautionary notes about it possibly becoming too brittle to cope
well with major energy source changes
Can this long string of arguments be brought down to anything
nice and concrete – anything we can look at and say that is mutualism at
Let‟s take just a few gross and highly simplified examples, just to
Let‟s start with the mega-engineering type of theme. Suppose the
peoples living near the arid areas of Africa and the Middle East, but
near the surrounding bodies of water, were to use solar energy to
desalinate sea water and start nibbling away at the deserts, increasing
carbon based, cellular life in these areas.
Suppose North Americans used solar and nuclear energy, and
treaties (mutually beneficial agreements, remember) between US
citizens and Canadians, to bring large amounts of freshwater from
Canada into the arid areas of the American West?
Take a step further. Imagine all the river systems of Earth as
extensively managed: a freshwater circulation system with surface life
wringing the maximum from it.
What if the deserts of earth were massive energy generation
machines, with the energy piped, in electrical or hydrocarbon or
hydrogen form, throughout the life mass of the continents?
What if we were able to stop devastating the ocean ecostructure,
learn more thoroughly how that vast ocean system supports life, and try
to maximize the ocean yield of life rather than simply rape the seas?
What if we were able to make greenhouses on the Moon? Seems
difficult to imagine, now. But lots of sunlight up there. Or what if we
had underground greenhouses on the moon powered by above ground
Moving to the genetic engineering sort of thing, what if we
managed to tweak photosynthesis so as to increase the efficiency of that
fundamental energy generation process?
What if we were able over time to have plants grow with salt
water irrigation? What if we could feed salt water to desert plants (like
cacti) which store water inside, thus making biological desalinization
What if we were able to tailor bacteria and plants to produce
plastics, drugs, better building materials, and other things of use to us,
as we do so adding rather than subtracting from biomass? We are
already doing this to some degree.
These are bold, cartoon like pictures. But human beings, other
lifeforms, and the ever-probing life process are constantly engaged at all
scales. I expect they will create many smaller, more subtle, more
intricate patterns of mutual advantage. Indeed, for the mutualism
picture to work, they must.
My imagination is too limited and my attention span too short to
make a catalogue here of visions for the future. I am confident that
present and future generations can muster massive amounts of
I am perhaps an ambitious dreamer, but not an wholly naïve one.
I have recognized how little we know and how complex is the ecosystem.
I have noted that Bob Ulanowicz, whom I have recommended so highly,
is keenly aware that he cannot guarantee that any given ecosystem will
maximize any given function we might assign for it. Ulanowicz has far
too much sense to be dragooned into attempting to create a manual for
constructing Earthpark today. He offers tools for inquiry, not off the
shelf ecosystem solutions.
And I have presented a major conceptual problem -- the Wolpert
and Macready „no free lunch‟ challenge – the disturbing question
whether we can define strategies to guide life which are better than
random stabs in the dark.
I recognize that we are apt to look with a jaundiced eye at many
of the grand visions I have offered in this Chapter, given the failure of
many visions in the past, and given life‟s complexity.
Still and all, in advancing the suggestion that the universe is a
correlation machine, and offering the information theory based means
of probing and anticipating ecosystem development, I am in effect
suggesting that the universe has a bias in the topologies it offers to be
I am also suggesting that the universe has invented a machine for
searching those topologies – life. And that life-machine is now trying to
create a formalized search and construction system which will be more
economical of materials and find more direct routes to order
construction – at least local order construction -- than the sprawling
evolutionary system unrefined. 31
I find it interesting to compare Ulanowicz‟s approach to ecosystem construction to
Kauffman‟s. Kauffman imagines a constantly shifting „fitness‟ landscape, where
each „autonomous agent‟ adjusts its formula (one may think in terms of genes), or
adjusts expressions of its formula, so as to maximize its chances, its own fitness
elevation, in the context of the relationships created by the existence and actions of
others. His mathe matical work suggests fitness landscapes with a s ubstantial
amount of correlation in them. They are not just random jumbles, or even sets
composed exclusively o of jagged heights and fissures. He seems to propose that life
has escaped the „no free lunch‟ problem by devising search mechanis ms which both
investigate and create orde red – correlated – relationships. Ulanowicz observes
ordered collections of life units, and uses information theoretic tools to measure the
degree of order in the system as a whole created by the interactions of the
interacting life units. Perhaps the comparison might be that Kauffman talks about
life in the trenches, Ulanowicz the over all field of battle. Ulanowicz seems to propse
that combinatorial processes permit and create available levels and types of
organization – predation, symbiosis, competition or exclusion relationships and
relatedly niche creation, etc. He also seems to suggest that these combinatorial
potentials in effect marshall the gene sets which organize the activities of the
interacting units. (Think about the many instances of „parallel evolution‟, like the
multiple creation of sabre toothed tigers and of social insects.) These two wise men
are seeing the elephant from different angles, it seems to me, and the observations of
each can be related to the other. I find the Ulanowicz pe rspective more helpful and
hopeful in addressing the question whether life faces proble m sets which are a
subset of the hypothetical full set of all proble ms, and can devise search, or
construction, strategies better than random.
So let us grope our way toward Forward, and try to keep our wits
about us as we go.
It may seem that I am ambivalent or janus-faced about going
Forward. On the one hand, I have suggested at the outset of this
chapter that we can take a sort of comfort from the view that the Earth
will probably outlast our errors. Life has survived most of its surface
area going to ice, we now believe, and a number of mass extinctions in
the multicellular era. Can we insult life more than the Universe already
has, and will again? I doubt it. So one might think that I would counsel
just plunging ahead full speed.
On the other hand, we could and probably will make major
errors. We can easily mess up much of life. I do suggest that if we
simply rape the Earth, and reduce the scope and fecundity of our legacy
life system, we are likely to do great damage to ourselves and to our
In urging that we should achieve co-evolving mutualism with our
legacy ecosystem, I in effect suggest that if we do not do so, we are apt to
suffer more lasting damage to ourselves than to the ecosystem. I fear not
so much for earthlife as I fear for our own driven but vulnerable selves.
If we squander our inheritance, we will be the losers. Life will go
on until the Universe which created it demolishes it.33 But we may find
our high density, high energy hives to be only a rapidly passing chimera,
an hubristic bubble quickly popped.
Also, if we do not protect both our inheritance and our place in it
from the random insults of the Universe, we may soon or late get
scraped off Earth‟s face in a cosmic accident.
Arguably if we add as much or more in artifact as we subtract in biology, the
earthsystem and we may come out ahead. I do not know if we can pull that off. I
warn of squandering rather than building on our inheritance.
There is a way we could do more for life than it could do without us. We might to
extend life‟s scope. Whether we can protect it from a runaway Sun is yet to be seen.
So, I urge, if we want to survive long and prosperously, we must
honor life in all we do, and find ways to serve and enhance it instead of
merely parasitizing it.
And that may not be easy. In the Abrahamic folklore, we were
banned from Eden, and told to make our way by the sweat of our brow.
Now we seek to reconstruct Eden, to our own liking. That is going to
take a lot more sweat.