Ecological Literacy: Ecosystems, Patterns, and Society Part 1: Introduction to Interconnectedness and Cyclicity

 “Being ecologically literate means understanding the principles of organization of ecological communities (ecosystems) and using those principles for creating sustainable human communities.” -Capra, The Web of Life, 297

One can easily make the argument that the lack of true connection, or even more so, the lack of interconnection, is one of the most ubiquitous conditions of the human experience in contemporary Western society. The most obvious examples of this are the severe lack of connection with food and waste. It has become the norm to not know the origin or ingredients of our food nor do we know where the packaging even goes when we throw it in the trash. This is a linear pattern of sustenance that is unique to only humans.

Nature does not exhibit linear patterns in the functionality of its ecosystems; it exhibits web-like patterns of interconnectedness and interdependence. In this web, there is no waste; one output is the input of another that always produces a surplus. A web is always greater than the sum of its parts- 2+2=5. A very simplified example of this is one male and one female produce one child- 1+1=3.

This is an introduction to deep ecology and systems thinking. (Look out for future posts about systems thinking). We need to revitalize our communities- including our educational communities, business communities, and political communities- so that the principles of ecology become manifest in them as principles of education, management, and politics. (Ibid) In order to accomplish this, we must reconnect with the web of life from which we can design thriving communities that support the current population while preserving the chance for future generations to do the same.

The principle of ecology that we must first examine is the principle of interdependence. All members of an ecological community are interconnected in a vast and intricate network of relationships, the web of life. (Ibid, 298) The very essence of a member of a ecological community is defined by their relationship to other members. The nature of all ecological relationships is interdependence. Therefore, to understand interdependence is to understand relationships.

When we look at the pattern from which these relationships form, we discover the web-like relation of living systems. An ecologically literate society is aware of all relationships, produces creative relationships, and nourishes the relationships of all its members. This requires the shifts of perception that are characteristic of systems thinking- from the parts to the whole, from objects to relationships, from contents to patterns. (Ibid)

Another principle of ecology is cyclicity. The relationships among members of an ecological community are non-linear and contain multiple “feedback loops” or “feedback systems.” (Feedback loops and systems will be further discussed in the future posts about systems thinking). Basically, an action of an ecological member affects multiple other members from which then receives feedback information from this action. This is the beginning of how ecosystems maintain harmony and balance.

There is an overarching awareness of each action and the effect to which that action had. As members of human communities, we need to develop this type of awareness into a conscious awareness of our own actions and their effects. Going back to the example used at the beginning of this post, we need to become aware of where our food comes from and give feedback to the origin of our food, and we also need to become aware of our outputs, i.e., trash, and receive feedback information from the effects of such action.

“The lesson for human communities here is obvious. A major clash between economics and ecology derives from the fact that nature is cyclical, whereas our industrial systems are linear. Our business take resources, transform them into products plus waste, and sell the products to consumers, who discard more waste when they consumed the products…We must fundamentally redesign our business and economy.” (Ibid, 299)

Please stay on the look out for more posts in this series, as we will dive deeper into systems thinking and how we can act on these patterns.


About the Author: Garrett Llopiz is dedicated to exploring paths of achieving socio-ecological justice through ecological inspiration and guidance. He has a degree in Social Philosophy and is a Certified Permaculture Designer. He was led to permaculture through his obsession of social justice and realized that nature has all the answers for social justice while achieving ecological justice. Exploring and nourishing this synergy of social justice and ecological harmony has become his passion. The main output he expresses this passion through is being the Lead Designer and Founder of C4Collective, a direct-action group based in Jacksonville, FL. More info at

Work Cited: Capra, Fritjof, The Web of Life, 1996


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