Also See: Table of Contents, Endorsements, and Purchase Information
Earth's social, environmental, and economic fabric is being threatened from all sides by such challenges as global warming, violence, poverty, and general environmental degradation due to unsustainable use of the Earth's resources. Nations in the West, whose economies became industrialized early, bear the brunt of responsibility for damage done to the environment so far. Nevertheless, as densely populated countries, like China, India, and Brazil, quickly transition to technology-based, consumer economies, demands for Earth's resources might reach a breaking point.
As Chris Maser puts it, fulfilling our obligation as environmental trustees—of Earth as a biological living trust—requires fundamental changes in our social consciousness and cultural norms. To meet these challenges, we need to fundamentally reframe our way of thinking. Instead of arbitrarily delineating our seamless world into discrete parts, we need a more holistic approach—one that acknowledges the interconnectedness of causes and effects, actions and consequences. Knowledge of systems is essential if we are to pass a habitable, healthy planet to future generations. Proper trusteeship is critical to maintaining the Earth's ability to produce, nourish, and maintain life. Without it, we risk becoming the authors of our own demise.
But what is systems thinking, and how can we harness it to put our planet on a sustainable course? Systems thinking goes to and deals with the root cause of a problem as opposed to symptomatic thinking, which deals with the world in piecemeal fashion. In this book, Maser reviews some of the factors that relate to the workings, services, and resilience of our planet—from nature's biophysical principles to the role of ignorance and knowledge, to the tradeoffs of every decision and action, to ever-changing landscape patterns, to the never-ending cycles of cause and effect, and so on. In doing so, he makes a unique and simultaneous use of both scientific and philosophical reasoning in articulating how the Earth works according to the immutable biophysical laws that govern it. The book goes beyond superficial recommendations, however, to call for self-conquest as a fundamental foundation for social-environmental sustainability, whereby individuals, acting locally, can change the world for the better by having been here.
Sustainability has become an increasingly urgent global imperative. With that goal in mind, Earth in Our Care opens a new chapter in our search for practical solutions to environmental problems, which must include changing the way we think—raising the level of our consciousness—about the Earth as a living system and our place in it.
Executive Director and Extension Professor
Northeast Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnership
University of Minnesota.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1: OF IGNORANCE AND KNOWLEDGE
Ignorance is Simply a Lack of Knowledge
Knowledge is Some Version of the Truth
Everything has a Tradeoff
The Tradeoff of a Personal Decision
The Tradeoff of a Commercial Decision
The Collective Tradeoff of Social Decisions
CHAPTER 2: OUR EVER-CHANGING LANDSCAPE PATTERNS
Economics and Ecology
Human Alteration of Landscapes
CHAPTER 3: HOW SPECIES ENRICH OUR LIVES AND THE WORLD
We Are Truly Alone in Life
Keeping Us Company
Sharing Our Life, Labor, and Strife
Just Being There
Redundancy or Backups?
CHAPTER 4: THE NEVER-ENDING STORIES OF CAUSE, EFFECT, AND CHANGE
The Never-Ending Story in a Forest
The Never-Ending Story in an Ocean
The Never-Ending Story of a Decision
Of People and Soil
Corn as Biofuel
Oceanic Effects of Carbon Dioxide
Direct Human Influence on Oceans
Enter the Insects
Currents in the Ocean of Air
CHAPTER 5: ACT LOCALLY AND AFFECT THE WHOLE WORLD
The First Ditch
Trespassing on the Commons
Dim the Lights
The Damnable Effect of Dams
Our Changing Climate
CHAPTER 6: REPAIRING ECOSYSTEMS
Lesson One: Emphasize Quality Rather Than Quantity
Lesson Two: Recognize That Loss of Sustainability Occurs over Time
Lesson Three: Recognize That Resource Issues Are Complex and Process-Driven
Lesson Four: Accept the Uncertainty of Change
Lesson Five: Stop Perceiving Loss as a Threat to Survival
Lesson Six: Favor Biophysical Effectiveness over Economic Efficiency
Restoration, as We Currently Think of It
Rethinking the Concept of Restoration
The Balance of Nature
We Humans Are a Natural Part of Nature
Why Restoration is Not Possible
Reason One: Change Is a Constant Process
Reason Two: Europeans Fundamentally Altered the New World
Reason Three: No Records Exist of Conditions Prior To the European Immigration
Reason Four: We Cannot Go Back In Time
Basic Considerations in Repairing an Ecosystem
A Model for Repairing Ecosystems
Biophysical Dynamics to Consider When Repairing an Ecosystem
Composition, Structure, and Function
Cumulative Effects, Lag Periods, and Thresholds
Habitat Components and Animal Behavior
Habitat Configuration, Size, and Quality
Mending the Prairie through Fire and Grazing
Monitoring Your Efforts
CHAPTER 7: WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
ENDNOTES (Return to Top of Page)
"Chris Maser, one of the strongest voices in the forestry community, interweaves the cause-and-effect tales of known historical events and the author's own personal journey. While the conservation debate will always exist, this book describes for the general public how seemingly small transgressions lead to irreversible ecological paths. He elevates the need for individual awareness, accountability, and action to emphasize the sustainable vision for our Earth, rather than focusing solely on short-term goals. He asserts that the individual's power lies within the ability to ask relevant questions as the key to protecting the Earth with the utmost humility."—Koeunyi Bae, senior manager, Energy Initiative, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Bethesda, MD.
"Chris Maser is a supreme storyteller, and Earth in Our Care: Ecology, Economy, and Sustainability is a compelling account highlighting the importance of understanding functional ecosystems in the 21st century. Using vivid examples of Nature's blueprint, Maser clearly shows that the integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems depend in their entirety upon healthy individual parts working in concert. This excellent book is a crucial addition to the burgeoning field of conservation biology and a requisite tool for all resource managers."—Reese Halter, Founder of Global Forest Science, Los Angeles, CA.
"Chris Maser brings logic to situations few can. He spent earlier decades learning about biophysical interrelationships and more recent decades attempting to understand how they fit together with humankind so we can create and maintain a sustainable environment for all generations. He brings together a wealth of information from the past that demonstrates the unequivocal value of history's lessons in helping us understand today's problems, the majority of which compound with our increasing human population—the biggest single problem.
"The principal message of the book is for us to examine all data concerning a situation, then listen to and act on its lessons, and particularly ensure these lessons are taught in our schools, churches, and learned by our local and national governments. In essence, we must examine the information, decide how to solve problems, and then have the fortitude to carry out the solutions, including the control of our human population. Thereafter, we must insist that our governments carry out appropriate actions because those taken by some of us affect everyone. It is imperative that all governments work in concert to solve the major problems of our day.
"As Maser says, we often rush to aid a stranded whale, starving deer, or abandoned young squirrel, yet allow entire species to approach the brink of extinction by degrading or usurping their habitat—the biggest threat to most species. Nevertheless, we continue to convert land, including agricultural land, into subdivisions, shopping malls, parking lots, and roads without fully considering the overall consequences to the systems we depend on for their ecological services. As my wife says—we may someday have to 'eat our subdivisions.'
"Maser has presented much information on the today's pressing questions—the most important of which deal with our bourgeoning human population, something seldom mentioned in political circles. In short, this book is an excellent source of information for people wanting to understand the critical questions and help derive the solutions. I recommend it highly."—John O. Whitaker, Jr., Professor of Life Sciences, Indiana State University, Terre Haute.
"In Earth in our Care, Chris Maser transports us to remote wonders around the planet on a journey that ends deep within our individual souls. By exploring the dynamics of interdependence—acacias and ants, figs and wasps, prairie grasses and the giant Palouse earthworm—he hones his message of holism: All life on Earth is connected. We are left with the urgency of taking responsibility for our own relationships with plants, air, water, rocks, time, space, and with our fellow humans."—Jane Braxton Little, Environmental Writer and Photographer, Plumas County, California.
"Chris Maser has a knack for exploring the complexities of ecosystems and the ever-evolving role of humans in the care of the 'good earth' in a clear and entertaining fashion. He weaves a tapestry of knowledge, theory, and wisdom that surrounds the earth's welfare and evolutionary status. He weaves that story and holds the listener the old-fashioned way—through the telling of simple insightful stories to illustrate his points in clear and memorable ways, much as a wise elder talking around a campfire."—Jack Ward Thomas, Forest Service Chief in the Clinton Administration; Boone and Crockett Professor of Wildlife Conservation, School of Forestry, the University of Montana, Missoula.
"Those of you already acquainted with Chris Maser will certainly be interested in his new book [Earth in Our Care]. Maser is a prolific writer having authored or co-authored 31 books and over 250 papers. Maser has over 40 years experience in ecological research. The challenges facing society in this study range from global warming to general environmental degradation caused by unsustainable use of the planet's resources. Maser is one of the global thinkers trying to get his hands around how to address these problems. To quote from the book description, 'As Chris Maser puts it, fulfilling our obligation as environmental trustees—of Earth as a biological living trust—requires fundamental changes in our social consciousness and cultural norms. To meet these challenges, we need to fundamentally reframe our way of thinking. Instead of arbitrarily delineating our seamless world into discrete parts, we need a more holistic approach—one that acknowledges the interconnectedness of causes and effects, actions and consequences. Knowledge of systems is essential if we are to pass a habitable, healthy planet to future generations. Proper trusteeship is critical to maintaining the Earth's ability to produce, nourish, and maintain life. Without it, we risk becoming the authors of our own demise.' Though one may agree or disagree, Maser's book will provide food for thought. A review of the Table of Contents will whet your appetite including: Our Ever-changing Landscape Patterns; the Never-ending Stories of Cause, Effect, and Change; and Repairing Ecosystems."—The Acorn • Spring 2009:5.
"In Earth in Our Care: Ecology, Economy, and Sustainability, Chris Maser sets out to explain the interconnectedness of life on this planet and the importance of promoting the functioning of healthy ecosystems. Rather than being a dry treatise on biological systems, the text is engaging and draws on all kinds of disciplines.
"I consider myself to be an advocate for sustainability, but am not overly familiar with the technical aspects of environmentalism or ecology. Reading this from the perspective of someone who is not a scientist, Maser does a good job of writing in an approachable way that is easy to understand most of the time. He doesn't assume that the reader is already familiar with concepts like feedback loops, the commons, or trade-offs, and takes the time to briefly describe some of these key concepts of ecology. That being said, there are definitely some very theoretical and philosophical concepts discussed in this book that can be difficult to follow. The author draws on history, philosophy, linguistics, biology, and other disciplines in order to make his points, which makes his arguments more nuanced and interesting but can also be a little distracting at times.
"Maser insists that we as human beings are obligated to care about and understand ecology. The last chapter of the book, 'Where do we go from Here?,' gives some recommendations about how to go about changing human culture and society so that we can support the healthy functioning of the Earth's ecosystems. Maser's two main recommendations are that we 'critically examine our situation today' and 'determine where society needs to be at the end of this century if people are to have any kind of dignified life with an overall sense of well-being.' Earth in Our Care makes an important contribution to both of these goals and will likely inspire readers to begin thinking about sustainability in a new way."—Liz Simmons, Feminist Review, November 20, 2009.
"A thoughtful look at sustainability in the context of both economy and ecology."—Wildlife Activist, 2010.
"Earth in Our Care is a compelling study of three interactive spheres of the ecosystem: atmosphere (air), litho-hydrosphere (rock that comprises the restless continents and the water that surrounds them), and biosphere (all life sandwiched in between). Writing in rich detail and using insightful analogies, Chris Maser addresses key issues including land-use policies, ecological restoration, forest management, local living, and sustainability thinking. Exploring our interconnectedness with the Earth, Maser examines today's problems and, more importantly, provides solutions for the future."—Project MUSE (Return to Top of Page)