Ecology: A Pocket Guide

Ecology: A Pocket Guide draws attention to the complex networks of life forms found within the natural world. By defining a vocabulary of natural systems, Callenbach aims to increase the reader’s ecological knowledge and consciousness to be better positioned to protect ecologies found on planet Earth and to defend against their degradation. While this book does less to propose a specific theory of change, it encourages us to change our way of thinking about the natural world, from a belief that humans and the natural world are made up of individual or separate parts, to understanding the “ceaselessly changing, interconnected, incredibly intricate flow of life in Earth’s ecological systems” that exist across planetary, bioregional, ecosystem, human, and microscopic scales. In this way, Callenbach posits ecological definitions for us to consider (1) our dependence upon the natural world for our survival; (2) our interconnection with the natural world and therefore, our accountability to it; and (3) the way in which ecological processes include human processes and therefore, how we must transition to more holistic views of ecology to solve the sustainability crises. 

Callenbach, Ernest. 2008. Ecology: A Pocket Guide, Revised and Expanded. University of California Press.

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Thinking in Systems: A Primer

Donella Meadows is an acclaimed writer and thinker on systems modeling. This book, published posthumously, presents the core of systems theory. In the introduction, Meadows posits a central insight of systems theory, that the way a system behaves is a result of its structure, not a result of outside influence. (1) This notion shapes her definition of a system as follows, “A system is a set of things–people, cells, molecules, or whatever–interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior over time.” (2) Meadows acknowledges that understanding a system in such a way may be counter -intuitive as we have been taught to think rationally and analytically, to see cause and effect in a linear way, and to look at problems in small, manageable pieces. (3) We have a practical understanding of systems because we are complex systems. Systems thinking/systems seeing complements reductionist thinking/seeing. This book provides a glossary, a bibliography of systems thinking resources, a summary list of systems principles, and equations.  

Meadows, Donella. 2008. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. Edited by Diana Wright. Chelsea Green Publishing.

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Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System

In this paper, Meadows defines leverage points as “places within a complex system ​(a corporation, an economy, a living body, a city, an ecosystem) where a small shift in one thing can produce big changes in everything” (1) Similar to Thinking in Systems: A Primer, this paper reviews the basic tenets of systems by explaining parameters, stocks, delays, flows, feedback loops, etc. Meadows then posits twelve ways to intervene in a system in order of effectiveness. Each of the twelve interventions are fully articulated and their level of effectiveness explained. While the list is tentative, and Meadows qualifies it by stating that each system is unique and that there are exceptions, this paper lays the groundwork for systems intervention and for the reader to understand different avenues for affecting change. 

Meadows, Donella H. 1999. Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System. Sustainability Institute.

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