This video shows 32 metronomes synchronizing on a surface that responds to their oscillation. (They won't synchronize on a rigid surface.)
Christian Huygens noticed in the 1600s that pendulum clocks on the same wall synchronized, because the wall responded to the pendulums.
As long as the springs powering the metronomes don't run down, and the suspension of the table doesn't wear out, the synchronization we witnessed is both irreversible and spontaneous. It's a provocative and visual demonstration of an emergent order, given a flow of energy through the system from the wound-up springs of the metronomes.
The processes of life work like this. But we may have trouble grasping it, and instead default to some kind of conspiracy theory.
NASA recently put out a lovely video showing ocean currents over time. While human decisions may not affect ocean currents very much, human decisions certainly affect carbon and water cycling. While carbon and water cycling are difficult to see, as complete cycles, the ocean current video may serve as a kind of visual representation, with a similar kind of turbulence or fractal geography, if you will. Click the picture below for one version of the video.
In my engagements with people and groups of people around the carbon cycle, I encounter beliefs that appear to be stages along a continuum. The following diagram and table is not intended to be a simple judgment of good/bad, but is an attempt to give context to ongoing shifts in beliefs by describing or signposting the endpoints of the shifts. This description is always rough and premature.
On earth, we have solar energy coming in and longwave radiation or heat going out.
Life is a passenger on a basically dead planet, with humans an aberration or disturbance.
The biosphere does work, a lot of it. Life is the most potent geologic force.
Creation was a long time ago, and the earth has been degraded since then.
Creation is now.
You can't unscramble an egg.
A hen can unscramble an egg.
The world, and life, consists of things, which we can divide into good and bad, and act accordingly.
The world is primarily processes and relationships. How are they functioning?
Input-output system. Greed and scarcity rule.
Carbon and water cycling are emergent: the result of the decisions, choices, and metabolisms of trillions of self-motivated, autonomous organisms, most of them microbes.
Manage the carbon cycle with emissions control and carbon "sequestration."
Enhance and maintain healthy soils, using current solar energy.
Structure of knowledge gives leadership to expert, concentrated power, often based on rules.
Knowledge can be localized, flexible, adaptable.
Manage against problems.
Manage toward desired results.
Try to achieve change by threats and predictions, and make people do the right thing.
Change by creating new models that make the old ones obsolete. Let people do the right thing.
Let's wreck the world slower (or faster). Time is a cost.
Time is an opportunity to maintain and restore function.
Lots of research in earth systems and biology tends to shift us toward the right but in many cases we continue to interpret things from the left side. The insights on the right are in many cases quite old, but these shifts are often slow to occur, and we can straddle the gaps for centuries.
It's not about right or wrong here, or blame. How do these approaches function? Where does the greatest opportunity lie, for moving toward what we want and need?
In 2005 Laura Jackson of University of Northern Iowa gave an outstanding and insightful presentation to the Leopold Center on the ecological ramifications of Iowa agriculture. It is no less timely today. Highly recommended. Download the pdf here.
Part 2: Hut With A View - Community Visits - 9/13/11
I don't even know how to start. The words that come to mind are hot, dust, sand, water, bare ground, struggle, promise, thirst, water (again), team work, manure, lions, fire, driving, children, bye bye, hello, and "What is the weather like in America"?.