Time We Learn from Whales

A friend shared a video today about whales, and how we are now discovering that their presence in the oceans is part of an exceptionally complex system. Check out this Facebook page for more information, and a link. This system is surprising because it goes against our food-chain mental map. We learn, in the video, that the more whales there are, the more fish and plankton there are.

My first though was, “well, yeah” which is not meant in any way to sound superior. In fact, as my inner thoughts said “well yeah” I was simultaneously assessing why this made so much sense to me, even though it is counter to what many would call common sense. I have done a lot of work and reading about cyclic systems, communication, circles of influences, and the inter-relation of man and nature (and I hate that phrase because we are nature – might as well say “trees and nature” as if THEY are separate). I find the hierarchical systems to be wasteful and particularly poor for communications and I see repeatedly that top-down management and trickle-down economics are faulty in execution and results. For example, despite our belief that man is the top of the food chain and the evolutionary “ladder”, we must accept that evolution occurs still and we must acknowledge that we are eaten by crows, crabs, worms and bacteria (despite our feeble attempts to stop this). Even our food pyramid has been turned on its head recently.

I heard E.O. Wilson speak at Greenbuild several years ago, and found his explanation that biologists and architects and engineers and inventors should be working together to be a revelation. Of course we should be learning about the uncountable years of nature’s experiences to inform our inventions and our architecture! He made the case that ants have a larger bio-mass on this planet than human beings do, yet ants manage to live and prosper while improving the natural systems they interact with. This speaks to the radical notion that if we do things right, we can prosper without killing off the resources and systems we need to live.

This is the idea illustrated in the whale video. The Japanese promoted their continued killing of whales by saying a reduction in whales would mean a growth in fishes for food, so continued whaling was a good strategy. It turns out a reduction of whales meant a reduction in fish. Anyone living based on a linear definition of related systems, or a hierarchy of power, likely has great difficulty understanding this. In essence, the thought was that fewer big mammals at the top (whales) eating fish will mean there will be more fish. Basic. But nature is actually quite complex, with circles of influence that overlap with each other. In reality, the presence of whales brings huge benefits into the food system as well as the ecological systems of the ocean and air. The presence of whales creates fecal plumes near the surface of the ocean, where algae grow. This nutrient deposition makes for a prolific production of the food that feeds the plankton and fish, creating more of those critters to satisfy, in turn, the whale populations. The movement of the whales also helps to mix the oceans, more than waves and tides do, according to this video. This mixing allows more access to sunlight and photosynthesis for additional growth of algae, feeding of plankton and fishes, and…food for whales. All of this activity helps to capture CO2 emissions as well, by boosting the algae (plant) growth which sequesters CO2. Greater health brings greater health. And this idea of mutual and “cascading” benefits may sound familiar to those who have watched the return of wolves to the national parks of the west. Nature is seriously awesome.

Imagine this cyclic understanding brought to government, to education, to personal health, to financial well-being. What if greater involvement, investment, inclusion helps to create and solidify those ever layering circles of influence, bringing greater prosperity to all involved. We have seen this truth, not just in the whale tale or the ant anthology.

  • We see it in community involvement. Each effort in volunteering, or each investment in community-clean-up crosses our fabricated separations and helps us to make friends, learn more about the workings of our neighborhoods, and improves our security. And inclusion brings inclusion.
  • We see it in investing.  When we diversify our holdings, and pay attention, we have, typically, safer earning potential, more spheres of influence and again, a more flexible and secure financial base, helping us to spend with more confidence. Investment in local, small, diverse companies brings benefits at the local level, and helps with economic resiliency.
  • We see it in government. When we spend on well-run social support programs including health care and education, we are investing in a stable present and future for a greater number of our citizens. This means they can spend their efforts on earning, living, learning, creating, and supporting their own possibly extended families. People can be less concerned about their personal well-being, and they can weather periodic health and earning issues with more security meaning they can focus out and interact with and help their neighbors. A secure life allows for creativity and compassion.
  • We have seen this in businesses. B-corps and other socially savvy businesses are choosing to change the hierarchical structure of Principle or Founder, CEO and VP and layers of top-down influences, to achieve. Some of the most successful businesses are employee owned, with decisions shared or created in systems of dynamic governance or other sociocratic approaches. Success of the whole means success for the individuals, and vice versa which fosters a “stake in the game”. The career becomes a calling; the job becomes a passion.

Sociocracy is a system of governance using consent decision-making and an organizational structure based on cybernetic principles (a system with closed feedback mechanisms).

The biggest change over the next decade or more must entail a growth in understanding this cyclic nature of all things, and the benefit in dispelling our top-down thought process and hierarchical structures. Invariably, if we treat each issue as having a linear path, with a start and finish and inputs that have no effect or burden/benefit from the outputs, we will fail to improve our current situation in business, in product development, in architecture, and in social structure. If we are able to look at the problems and opportunities we face with an understanding of the overlapping cycles of influence and the benefits that transcend a top-down illustration, we can begin to work toward solutions that create no new problems.

It’s time we learn from whales.

Thanks for learning, and thanks to Jeff for the video!


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  • Pingback: Nature-Informed Business | 2bgreener

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