. How Trading, Ecology, and Economics Affect Health, Wealth and Happiness
The words Ecology and Economics have the same root. The Greek word oikos means house. In any house, economy or ecosystem, the flow of energy in and out is crucial to whether or not the house is thriving and healthy. The economy of a nation or region is stagnant when not enough goods, services and money change hands. The significant process in a healthy system is FLOW: receiving and dispensing over and over. Hoarding does not help the whole. Such stagnation affects the members of a community, region or nation, and even the world.
Savings are useful in collecting enough resources to do something big all at once. Trees collect energy all year in order to grow a crop of nuts in Fall. Families save in order to buy a house or car, or send a child to college.
Flow provides jobs, the opportunity for profit, and the chance to exchange goods, services and energy that don't help the individual entity for ones that are useful. It also provides meaningful physical and mental activity; i.e., a sense of purpose, which is good for an individual's psychological well-being.
In an ecological community, the members are the plants, animals, fungi, bacteria and other organisms that live in a defined area. They are born or hatched or sprouted there, they get their sustenance there, and they deposit (release?) their waste products there. They ultimately die there and decompose, releasing all of their energy and materials into their immediate environment.
In order to live, organisms must take in energy (E) and materials (M), utilize them, and release the E and M that is unusable to them as waste. If they fail to do any of these three things properly, they die. If any of the functions is impaired, they become ill. The E they take in may come in one of several forms, depending on the organism in question, and the trophic level at which it functions. Plants take in sunlight E and use it to assemble gases from the air (CO2) and minerals and water (H2O) from the Earth into sugars for food, and plant tissues for growth.
Plant-eating animals (herbivores) consume plant tissues and release the E stored in molecular bonds for their use, to provide E for powering the body's processes. They use E plus building block molecules to build cells and tissues for the body's growth. Carnivores consume animals, break down the molecules, and utilize the E and M for the above purposes.
It is widely, almost universally, accepted among thinking people that every species on Earth has a function, and contributes to the earth's functioning, as it comes into existence, lives, produces wastes, and dies. All organisms continually take in E and M and release E and M in different forms. The wastes of one group represent the needed resources of another group. For example, animals take in O2 and food containing C (Carbon) and they release CO2 and H2O. Plants take in H2O and CO2 and perform photosynthesis, adding Sun's E and creating O2 and C6H12O6 (glucose). This chemical reaction powers almost all life on Earth. As long as the Sun shines on the Earth at a sufficient rate, this can continue, and life more complex than bacteria remains possible.
This constant flow of E and M is what provides a constant, uninterrupted supply of the things organisms need. We all MUST take in AND give out. We are constantly trading molecules and energy with our environment through eating, drinking and inhaling to let things in, and urinating, sweating, defecating and exhaling to let things out. In human terms, this is the same as routinely exchanging precious gifts with those around us all the time, so that we can thrive, and indeed, survive. It's like celebrating everybody's birthday at once, perpetually!
Members of an ecological community cannot all be the same, because each species and group takes in and gives out complementary E and M.
No living organism goes through its life with the same molecules. Each is constantly trading. You are not made of the same stuff you were made of several years ago. In approximately seven years, you have completely exchanged ALL of your molecules for new ones. This thought reaffirms my belief that toxic chemicals should not be used in and around our houses and yards. We would take them into our bodies to some degree.
Human communities share many characteristics with ecological communities. The members are not all alike. There must be diversity in resource demand and uses. A wide variety of jobs must be performed among the members. Complementarity in jobs and their products is very important. For example, you can't have a community where everyone is a carpenter and nobody grows food. The farmer must live in a house and the carpenter must eat.
Jobs correspond to niches in ecological communities. A niche is the collection of ways the species gets its resources, where, and when. If the species lives near another that gets its resources in exactly the same way, there is competition. Nature actually tries very hard to avoid competition. Species either move away from competitors, or choose a different method or time to collect their resources. There can't be so much competition that resources are insufficient to sustain life.
Although members cannot be all alike, it helps any community if there is redundancy. If there are several species or members who can do a job in some way, the community responds to sudden losses with a robust flexibility. Sometimes single members or species have the flexibility to do something new if pressed, and sometimes groups of organisms exploit a resource so that if one drops out, another is already there doing the job. It can just reproduce to fill the need.
The concept of Wealth is significant. Wealth is the condition of having a reliable oversupply of E and M, more than the individual's needs call for. One can become wealthy by increasing the inflow of resources, by decreasing the outflow of E and M (costs), or both. In my experience and observations, a person or family can be wealthy while earning so little money that that they are defined by the government as living below the poverty level.
Money can be defined as an IOU for goods and services (E and M). It is a way of trading one's labor and goods for those of other people without having to carry the goods around with you. It is easier to see the principles explained in this essay if we consider them in terms of bartering or trading actual goods.
As in the ecological community, it is healthier in a human community if the rate of flow is as constant as possible with no bottlenecks or backups. Trade away all of the chairs you make for food, clothing, shoes, medical care, lessons in some skill you or your children want to have, entertainment, a bicycle, etc. Everyone trades often. Become a good neighbor. If both parties walk away pleased from a trade, they are likely to want to trade again sometime. This builds trust.
This concept, carried out on a large scale, became the wampum-based mutual defense agreements and membership in the Iroquois League Six Nations Confederacy. Western industrial nations have currency that is just an IOU for goods and services. A dollar is just a piece of paper. Its value fluctuates with the market; it's worth what people will give for it. Wampum was more than this. Wampum, like a gold coin, has a steady value because it can't be cheaply faked or reproduced. Gold keeps value because it is rare and durable. Wampum is valuable because it takes a long time and a lot of work to make, no matter who makes it. Besides the IOU value, wampum beads symbolized a willingness to be honest and fair in all dealings, and that agreements are meant to be as long-lasting as the wampum beads themselves. Strings of wampum beads and sashes woven of beads were given to seal agreements to trade in the future, to provide mutual aid and defense, and to secure land rights. The agreement between the 6 Nations and the U.S. Government to reserve land for the Iroquois FOREVER is both written on parchment and depicted in purple and white wampum beads. This sash is kept in the Iroquois Museum, and the agreement is to be honored as long as the sash exists. That will be a VERY long time.
An economy that depends on an ever-increasing demand of energy and resources is doomed to fail. Our current economy depends on mining stored resources from the Earth instead of utilizing only the new flow of energy from the Sun and other completely renewable resources. Gravity, tidal flow and wind qualify for this, as they will continue to offer Potential and Kinetic E no matter whether we use them or not, or even whether our species exists or not.
The stored resources we have been using up at an ever-increasing rate are oil, coal, and natural gas. In addition to someday running out, they cost extra energy when used, since we have to spend E to counteract pollution, global warming and threats to the health of humans and the species we rely on.
Eastern Medicine, particularly Acupuncture and Shiatsu, work by clearing and restoring blocked energy flow through the body along known paths called meridians. Blockages of E are said to inhibit organ function and general metabolism. The same issues of blockage and E flow are true on the community level and even worldwide, as seems to be happening today with the banking and worldwide economic crises. Political figures and economists are speaking almost daily about the need to get the economy moving with the massive stimulus spending package. The rate of E and M flow must depend on resources, and the ability to absorb and process these resources. The fact that resources are finite and often non-renewable, we should be very wary of debts we cannot repay.
How Trading, Ecology, and Economics Affect health, and Happiness by Jeff Gottlieb, MS, Copyright © 2010. Used here with permission.
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