The Interconnectedness of Everything

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.
—John Muir


The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of its Parts

With any system, the whole is different from the sum of the individual parts, e.g., an ecosystem is not just a collection of species, but includes living things interacting with each other and their nonliving environment.

Systems thinking is essential to addressing sustainability. A systems approach helps us understand the complexity of the world around us and encourages us to think in terms of relationships, connectedness, and context.

Western science has often focused on things that can be measured and quantified. It has sometimes been implied that phenomena that can be measured and quantified are more important—and perhaps even that what cannot be measured and quantified doesn’t exist at all.


Some aspects of systems, however, like the relationships in a food web, cannot be measured. Rather, they must be mapped. Source: The Center for Ecoliteracy

The Center for Ecoliteracy informs us that a systems approach requires shifts in perception—from parts to whole, from objects to relationships, from objective knowledge to contextual knowledge, from quantity to quality, from structure to process, from contents to patterns.

Within systems—including, historically, entire civilizations—certain configurations of relationship appear again and again in patterns such as cycles and feedback loops. For example, the rise and fall of civilizations that over exploit and decimate their environment, is a pattern that has been repeated throughout the history of mankind. However, with the warming of our planet, along with the growing population and lifestyle pressures, resulting in rapidly escalating resource depletion and pollution, never before have the stakes been higher and on a global scale.

A New Way of Thinking and Living

Saving water is an important first step in conservation, but we can go further. For generations we’ve lived with the idea that “more is better.” Americans have spent billions of dollars on new clothes, toys, cars, furniture and other goods that sometimes can be better defined as luxuries rather than necessities. We consider it our right to buy things, regardless of whether or not we need them, and as a result our country consumes more every year.


Many of the products that Americans buy are produced in factories that can be harmful to the environment and to human health. Many of these products are made to be thrown away, so they pile up in landfills, wash into the ocean, or litter the landscape. In order to live more sustainably, we must reconsider our purchases and the use of disposable, low-quality goods that are made to go in the trash. Instead our focus should be on purchasing products that can be reused and, if need be, recycled.


The average single-family house built in 1950 was less than half the size of a house built today. Similarly, our electricity use has grown. We use an enormous amount of energy just to live in our world. The average American today uses about five times as much electricity as Americans did 50 years ago. This increased use is significant because it takes a significant amount of water to create energy. Water is used to cool steam electric power plants — fueled by coal, oil, natural gas and nuclear power — and is required to generate hydropower. Water is also used in great quantities during fuel extraction, refining and production. So, when you waste energy you also, in effect, waste water.


Our food consumption and waste is even more shocking: On average, Americans today eat almost 600 more calories per day than we did in the 1970s and we waste an amazing 40 percent of our food supply. This equates to more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. All that wasted food means wasted water because it takes a lot of water to grow and process food. Water wasted in food now accounts for more than 25 percent of all freshwater consumption per year. It’s an ugly feedback loop because all that wasted food also wastes about 300 million barrels of oil per year and all that oil took water to be produced in the first place.


Every day we vote with our dollars by purchasing food, products and services that have a direct impact on our natural environment. Every item we buy came out of a system — buying that item is equivalent to voting for that system. It’s up to us to decide what makes the most sense for our lifestyle and needs. Saving water, energy and other resources can be as simple as flipping a switch and changing a light bulb, or as high-tech as installing roof-top solar panels or driving a hybrid car. Buying groceries from a local farmer’s market supports local farmers, encourages local and regional food systems to grow and improves the local economy through increased jobs and sales. It also helps bring people closer to their food, which discourages food waste, emphasizes the value of food and introduces people to diverse food options they might not have considered.


Conserving doesn’t have to mean sacrificing. New ‘green’ products show up on the market all the time and living more sustainably has never been easier. Just remember; every little thing we do has an impact and the more we conserve, the less impact we have on the world around us. Source: GRACE Communications Foundation