We Live In A Time Of Systems Change
A system is a group of interrelated elements or parts that collectively both include and transcend the parts individually, creating a unique whole. Our families are systems, with individuals and the collective family unit. Our bodies are systems with all their various parts that together make a human body. So are organizations, with all the multitude of roles people hold collectively working together. Thus, our communities, our cities, bioregions, forests, rivers, and weather, etc, are all systems that we engage with in various ways throughout our lives. Due to the increasing ecological, social, cultural, technological and economic pressures society is placing on humanity and our planet, we now live in a time of systems change.
Our Systems Connect Us
The biosphere in which we live is comprised of all of the biological life and the physical environment wherein life exists on Earth. Our biosphere with all its many elements together comprises an amazingly complex, interconnected, and evolving system. The multitude of unique parts — from organisms to oceans, rivers, deserts, plants and animals — all are connected and collectively contribute to the character and quality of life on Earth as a whole.
Similarly to the biosphere, an ecosystem is a biological community in which organisms interact with each other and their physical environment; it is the plants, animals, microorganisms, elements, and the physical environment, all of the parts of the system that together as a whole make up the functioning ecosystem. In essence, ecosystems are complex interrelated living systems in which all of the parts contribute toward the dynamics of that given ecosystem. Energy from the sun, plants and photosynthesis, animals both prey and predators, and the life cycles that are part of ecosystem functions; all of the parts are related in a complex web of interconnection.
The human body can also be seen as a system in which the parts of our bodies act independently and in concert as a whole. Not only are our bodies a system made up of various parts, but our bodies are also made of systems that are in relationship to each other; our bodies have eleven different systems such as the circulatory, digestive, muscular, reproductive, or nervous system, and each of these systems are interrelated aspects of the functioning of a whole body.
We Are Members Of The Biotic Community
Our bodies, natural ecosystems, the biosphere and, by way of extrapolation into socio-ecological systems, our communities, organizations, transport systems, food systems, etc, are each comprised of unique and connected parts that make up unique systems, and these systems, just like the parts of our bodies, are each connected together in such a way as to shape life as we know it today on Earth.
Life is connected within our biosphere at every level, from the microorganisms in our own bodies to the microorganisms in the soil, to the relationships between the animals and plants on land and sea, and the ecosystems in which we live; all play a role in shaping life on Earth.
Humanity has evolved as a member of the biotic community through the evolution of life on Earth. We live in systems and we are systems. At the same time humanity now lives at such a scale that we contribute to the character and quality of the systems within which we live and those that we create at a scale never seen before in our history. We as a species are creating a “technosphere” (1) enveloping the Earth – the sum total of humans redistribution of Earth’s resources to fit our needs through such things as our global transport systems, agriculture and food systems, digital communication systems, etc. through which we are literally reshaping what it means to be alive at this time on Earth and for generations to come.
We Have An Opportunity
As a species, humanity has a unique capability to be consciously aware of our individual and our collective impact on the world around us; our actions shape the future by how we live today and we can observe these impacts in real time. We have the capacity to make sense of our place and time in history, to reflect on where we are today in the evolution of our society and where we may be heading. We can re-learn how to become contributive members of the biotic community of Earth. If the biosphere is the sum total of all life, ethno-botanist and explorer Wade Davis suggests that we also live in an “ethnosphere” which is the sum total of humanities’ cultural and intellectual heritage that forms a complex web of human belief, meaning, and imagination as expressed in our poetry, prose, songs, dances, and human traditions. (2) Humanity today lives in the midst of global socio-ecological systems in which we have a greater influence and impact than ever before both as individuals and collectively.
In the 21st century, we face a context of increasing connectivity, interrelationship, complexity, and an accelerating pace of change. In the midst of this context today and the emerging dynamics we face globally in the future we have the opportunity to:
A) understand and positively contribute to the health of the systems in which we live,
B) care for the ecosystems of our biosphere upon which our lives depend,
C) care for the diverse cultural and creative heritage of the “ethnosphere”, and
D) intentionally design the processes and attributes of our “technospere” to support all life on Earth.
We Are At A Crossroads
Humanity is at a crossroads. We can choose to live self-servingly, by which we try to command and control the biological and cultural heritage of the biosphere solely for our self-serving benefit. Or, we can co-create symbiotic systems through which we relate to and work with our living world and one another in life affirming ways. Given the increasing characteristics of complex interconnection we face moving forward in our global context it is only through the cultivation of a symbiotic approach to life and living that humanity can hope to evolve with the rest of the biosphere into the long distant future.
We have an opportunity to proactively engage in and learn from the complex interrelated dynamics of living systems with the aim of contributing to life-giving processes of the biosphere. At the same time, we have the opportunity to re-imagine our human communities, (cities, schools, and systems at large) in such a way that they foster our cultural, creative, and collective potential through intentional and collaborative systems change. The cultural webs within which we learn and dream can support us to understand how to live in healthy symbiotic relationships that nourish our socio-ecological systems over time. When it comes right down to it, our future as a species may depend on our willingness to live in an intentionally symbiotic future.
Joshua Cubista is an international experiential designer, facilitator and strategist working with communities, organizations and multi-stakeholder groups to advance the field of personal, social, and systemic leadership and collaboratively address the complex challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Joshua is the first Biophilia Foundation Fellow.