Posted by: chrismaser | December 14, 2016




Rachel Beck, Gazette-Times, November 24, 2009

Chris Maser’s connection to the natural world is long and deep.

As a young boy, his mother tethered him to the clothesline of their southwest Corvallis home to keep him from wandering off into the woods. In later years, he spent many hours playing in a neighborhood ditch with his best friend.

“It was a marvelous place,” he said. “The ditch was filled with life. That’s where I began to understand relationships in nature.”

But whether you grew up playing in a forest or a concrete jungle, Maser wants you to care about the natural world and work to preserve it for future generations. In some form, that is the message of most his books, which number 31 and counting.

His latest, “Social-Environmental Planning: The Design Interface Between Everyforest and Everycity,” recently was published by CRC Press. It is the first book in a series on social/environmental topics. The next, about sustainable community development, will be out in January. Maser believes that the world could be better if people would take responsibility for their actions – and how those actions impact others.

Preserving the Earth for future generations will require a radical shift. People are afraid of change, he said, because they are comfortable with what they know – even if the alternative is actually much better.

Maser hopes the series he’s currently working on will help people understand what to do when they’re forced to change how they live.

One of the biggest challenges to sustainability is population, Maser said. Population control can only be achieved by honoring women and creating equality.

“Equality starts at home,” he said. “I see very little equality in this country. We give it lip service.”

“Earth in Our Care,” which was published last summer, focuses on the conflict between money and nature.

“In the money chase, we’re making war on nature,” he said. “Why? Because we’re terrified of not having enough.”

In “Trees, Truffles and Beasts,” published in 2008 by Rutgers University Press, Maser and two other authors compared a eucalyptus forest in Australia with a conifer forest in the United States, focusing on the relationship of the forest and the soil and the myriad parts of the ecosystem affected by it.

If that relationship isn’t protected, Maser said, the forests will disappear. If the forests disappear, so does the water.

“We’re doing this to ourselves,” he said. “We’re the authors of our own demise.”

Not just our own.

“Every decision we make has a trade-off,” he said. “What we have got to understand is our decisions become the children’s consequences and we don’t give them a voice. They have to live with the consequences.”

But Maser believes firmly that it can be different.

For his 2004 book, “The Perpetual Consequences of Fear and Violence: Rethinking the Future,” Maser asked fourth-graders at Harding Elementary School what they wanted the world to be like when they grew up. Answers included peace, clean air and clean water.

“There’s nothing the kids want that we can’t do,” Maser said. “What they have identified are basic human values.”

Maser has visited numerous foreign countries, but it was a trip to Mount St. Helens in 1961 that left an impression that made him want to share his thoughts with the world. He hiked into the backcountry, only to find that an area of old-growth he loved had been logged. It was disheartening, but made him realize he needed to do what he could to prevent others from experiencing the same sense of loss.

His work is a way of “just saying ‘thank you,’ by leaving the world a little better place,” he said. “By helping people understand there are other choices.

“I will live and die, writing,” he continued. “Sharing ideas and never know if I’m right. I just do the best I can.

“That’s the joy of living.”

Related Posts:

• Is World Peace Possible?

• Knowledge Is Some Version Of The Truth

• A Prime Directive For Healing The Earth

• Climbing Mt. Consciousness

• Do We Owe Anything To The Future?
— Part 1

• Do We Owe Anything To The Future? — Part 2

• Earth Is A Biological Living Trust

• Global Commonalities

• How We Participate

• Making Enough, Enough

• Why Make Life a Battlefield?

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Posted by: chrismaser | November 15, 2016




Cameron La Follette and Chris Maser



The crises of climate change and ecosystem disruption are true planetary emergencies. Given the magnitude of these problems (and many others), old thinking will not be enough. Only bold new approaches will suffice.

This wonderful book proposes a new framing that provides some questions that we need to ask—and some answers that may be the ones we need. It is not surprising that such new ideas would come from Cameron La Follette and Chris Maser.

Nearly 40 years ago, Chris Maser (a Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist at that time) helped open my eyes at a week-long “short course” in the ecology of old-growth (ancient) forests. The course was held at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest in the summer of 1978. He and other scientists associated with Oregon State University’s Department of Forestry had started to untangle the puzzles of the ancient forests, which the timber industry viewed as simply a source to be exploited and which the industry called a “biological desert.” Maser and his colleagues showed this was far from the truth.

A few months later, the Lane County Audubon Society organized a series of evening lectures on the ecology of old-growth forests. One of those lecturing was a college student named Cameron La Follette, wise beyond her years, who was in the process of publishing a small book titled “Saving All the Pieces: Old Growth Forest in Oregon.” She pointed out that the “first rule of intelligent tinkering is saving all the pieces,” a paraphrase of the advice of conservationist Aldo Leopold. Cameron later went to law school, but decided to devote her life to other ways of saving all the pieces.

Cameron and Chris have long challenged us to think in new ways. This book is their latest effort, and it is one of stunning scope. Both of them have always exhibited passionate creativity. Their thinking was indispensable to the reframing of lawsuits and politics that led to new visions of the disappearing ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. They are now embarking on a new journey with this book—one that asks us to redesign legal approaches and reimagine the tools that we need to craft solutions. The heart of their vision involves ecosystem rights—rights for Nature itself.

In recent years, the linkages between human rights and environmental protection have been increasingly recognized around the world. Over 100 countries have embedded a right to a safe and health environment in their national constitutions—as have five states of the U.S. in their state constitutions. Books, articles, and journals are being published on “human rights and the environment.” The organization that I co-founded, the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide, has lawyers in countries all around the world who litigate and advocate on behalf of human environmental rights. But Chris and Cameron ask us to look beyond “human” rights. They ask us to look even more deeply at nature, ecology, and law.

Laws in numerous countries and international agreements have evolved to give citizens the right to file lawsuits against government bodies or polluters for causing environmental harm. United States laws since 1970 have provided for “citizen suits” in the fields of air pollution, water pollution, endangered species, and many other areas. In Europe, the Aarhus Public Participation Convention, now nearly 20 years old, states explicitly that a right to a healthy environment exists and requires that the 45 countries that have ratified or acceded to it must open their courts to citizen groups that are defending the environment, without having to prove an economic or personal interest will be affected before suing.

Various experts have talked about “legal standing” in court for natural places, about the glacial pace of environmental regulation, about the difficulty of getting political bodies to react with urgency to the loss of biodiversity and the looming tragedy of global warming. What La Follette and Maser do in this exciting book is to bring these problems together in a new synthesis and to describe a radically new solution that is already forming in a few scattered countries and cities—recognizing that Nature itself could have legal rights. They also demand a radical (that is, fundamental) understanding of true “sustainability”—not as a political or economic magic phrase, but as a truly ecological concept. They take their vision and work through its implications in a multitude of contexts. One need not subscribe to every argument they offer in this book. But one cannot read this book without opening one’s eyes to new insights and new possibilities.

When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 was drafted, there was little thought that it would apply to issues of clean water, clean air, and other environmental matters. Yet decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and other bodies have interpreted older human-rights language to extend to environmental rights for human beings. Who is to say that this process is complete—or that it must stop with “human” rights? Reading this book will raise new questions. Will Nature’s own rights—to be free from excessive and debilitating human contamination and pollution, for example—be next in the evolution of ideas? Is it possible to create a legal and sustainable order in which Nature can continue its own natural processes without its protectors being restricted to narrow, 17th-or even 20thcentury conceptions?

If Nature’s rights are to be recognized, who would have the status to defend Nature’s rights in courts or other bodies? Will it be government entities, conservation groups, or individuals? Will development in law and consciousness be limited to litigation in the courts set in place, or will there arise something new, like Nature Tribunals? And who will be the lawyers, scientists, politicians, and citizens who drive us toward a new generation of rights?

Read, admire, argue, challenge, and enjoy this statement of a new vision for Earth. And, consider ways to make this kind of vision real. The life of Planet Earth depends upon new thinking, such as this.

John E. Bonine
B.B. Kliks Professor of Law, University of Oregon
Founder, Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW)

Editor’s Note for the “CRC Press” Book Series, Social-Environmental Sustainability:

In reading this book, keep in mind that our earthscape is composed of three interactive spheres: the atmosphere (air), the litho-hydrosphere (the rock that constitutes the restless continents and the water that surrounds them), and the biosphere (the life forms that exist within and between the other two spheres). We humans have, however, arbitrarily delineated our seamless world into discrete ecosystems since the advent of agriculture, as we try to control—”manage”—the fluid interactions among the nonliving and living components of planet Earth for our material benefits. If you picture the interconnectivity of the three spheres as being analogous to the motion of a filled waterbed, you will see how patently impossible such divisions are because you cannot touch any part of a filled waterbed without affecting the whole of it.

Together, these three spheres form myriad interactive, self-reinforcing feedback loops that affect all life on Earth. It is the degree to which we humans either honor or defy the reciprocity of these feedback loops that form the legacy we leave—one that either liberates or progressively impoverishes all generations. The choice of how we, today’s adults, behave is ours—either with psychological maturity and our respectful treatment of Nature through sacred humility or continued self-indulgence through unbridled materialism, profit seeking, and their ensuing environmental violence.

Where in the United States today are there unequivocal voices that speak for protecting the sustainability and productive capacity of Nature, as our bequest to all children—present and future? Without such voices of consciousness, courage, and unconditional commitment to the Rights of Nature through the present into the future in all ranks of leadership, we, the adults, are increasingly condemning our children, grandchildren—and every generation yet unborn—to pay a progressively awful price rather than accept the sometimes-difficult choices of our adult responsibilities, as trustees of our home planet’s social-environmental integrity.

The psychologically maturity choice to become a truly peaceful society for the rest of the world to emulate requires that we, in the United States, transcend the environmental violence of our often-declared “war” on Nature. To rise above this violence, we must focus first and foremost on the “Rights of Nature” by accepting and honoring Nature’s Laws of Reciprocity with total dedication and persistence in our economic/political/legal systems and our common social systems.

Peace will reign only when there is no longer any thought of abusing Nature for personal gain. But, to eliminate this linear, economically oriented mentality, its environmental violence, and its intentional overexploitation of dwindling resources, we must shift the economic/political/legal systems from their current focus on acquiring money and power to a single, integrated, social-environmental system that fully protects and prioritizes Nature’s right to flourish as a living entity.

Finally, this CRC series of books on the various facets social-environmental sustainability is a forum wherein those who dare to seek harmony and wholeness can struggle to integrate disciplines and balance the material world with the spiritual, the scientific with the social, and in so doing expose their vulnerabilities, human frailties, and hope, as well as the wisdom of their visions for a viable future.

Chris Maser, Series Editor


Sustainability and the Rights of Nature: An Introduction is a much needed guide that addresses the exciting and significant paradigm shift to the Rights of Nature, as it is occurring both in the United States and internationally in the fields of environmental law and environmental sustainability. This shift advocates building a relationship of integrity and reciprocity with the planet by placing Nature in the forefront of our rights-based legal systems. The authors discuss means of achieving this by laying out Nature’s Laws of Reciprocity and providing a roadmap of the strategies and directions needed to create a Rights of Nature-oriented legal system that will shape and maintain human activities in an environmentally sustainable manner. This work is enriched with an array of unique and relevant points of reference, such as the feudal notions of obligation, principles of traditional indigenous cultivation, the Pope Francis Encyclical on the environment, and the new Rights of Nature-based legal systems of Ecuador and Bolivia that can serve as prototypes for the United States and other countries around the world to help ensure a future of environmental sustainability for all living systems.”

Publisher’s description


“As an avid reader, now in my seventies, I have found that only about twice a decade a book comes along that challenges the foundation of what I know and provokes me to think afresh. ‘The Rights of Nature’ is such a book. La Follette and Maser have used the lens of systems theory to capture the history, ecology, geography, technologies, laws, and politics, as well as challenges and solutions, to the relationships of people to the planet. The book consolidates the complex dimensions of human and natural systems to support a paradigm shift, which embeds the Rights of Nature in national and state constitutions, to create the essential reciprocity between people and the planet.

“Systems theory, which is about understanding relationships among ‘things’—not the things themselves—grew out of the theories of Ludwig Von Bertalanffy, George Miller, Kenneth Boulder, and others, surrounding World War II. As a self-described ‘systems wonk,’ it was heartening to me to find a book that offers system concepts in the 15 ‘Laws of Reciprocity.’ These laws remind us that everything is related to everything else, and that one can not only analyze and explain systems relationships but also geometrically expand the understanding of problems, and hence, solutions. If one thinks that problems are unidimensional, then one proposes a single ‘silver-bullet’ solution, and often causes yet another problem or problems. The authors’ approach reminds us that not only is there complexity in the system but also cumulative effects over time, which are understandable, if we think systemically.

“For all of their concern about the environment, La Follette and Maser are not anti-people; indeed, they recognize, honor, and incorporate people into their analyses, recognizing that ultimately it will be people who create the change that leads to a harmonious relationship with the planet. The authors are clear that we are locked with nature toward a future in a reciprocal relationship, a species with rapidly increasing brawn now needing sufficient brain to understand who we are and what we do to our essential partner. While other species have created massive die-offs and changes in natural systems, we are the first species that has created the very-real risk of making our planet uninhabitable.

“Change in systems can be slow in terms of a human life, but very rapid in terms of historic time. Through my own training in landscape architecture and natural resource management, I’ve often wondered what part of this planet we will leave untouched. My landscape-architecture training, in the 1960s, valued nature only as a substrate to grow ornamental plants; there was little concern for wildlife (even bees and birds), much less for soil or water. That profession, and many others in natural resources, has grown much over the past 50-plus years, and now there are green roofs, bio-swales, native plants, and home landscapes planted for wildlife. There are a host of environmental regulations at both national and state levels to protect the environment. In natural resource management, there is far more concern for sustainability with its myriad meanings than there is for nature as a ‘resource’ having its own intrinsic value.

“Although change within professions, institutions, and cultures is slow, I would argue that it is inexorable. Embedded in the 15 ‘Laws of Reciprocity’ is the reality that human systems do not like change unless it is safe, incremental, and rewarding, but change is happening nevertheless. There are always people who push the frontier of what we know and do, who define new values and ways of achieving those values.

“The incorporation of Rights of Nature into national and state constitutions has already begun. The authors review in detail how Ecuador and Bolivia have made this change, and how the United Nations and other entities have entered the discussion, providing both hope and incentive to continue the effort. The authors have, in what must be a unique synthesis of the literature, pulled together in their ‘endnotes’ the diversity of efforts occurring on the planet, providing a comprehensive and integrated review for anyone working on a specific issue or cluster of issues.

“For those who wish to sustain the status quo, La Follete and Maser are dangerous: They propose the kind of fundamental change that will upset disciplines, corporations, organizations, institutions, and people who benefit from current circumstances. They are not bound by an orthodoxy and doing what has always been done. While I would not agree with all statements they make or solutions they offer, I appreciate the opening of a much broader and deeper discussion of the relationships between people and the planet.

“I agree whole-heartedly with their concern for Indigenous peoples and their Native ways. From my own years in Alaska, teaching co-management of natural resources, I know that the loss of Native ways, including their languages, leaves the world poorer for ideas about how we might fashion a new relationship between Western culture and the planet. This is no small matter, because how we think and how we assign value defines how we act; if the environment is made up of resources without souls or purpose other than those we give it, there is little room for the new thinking and new ways.

“The book is not simple, but La Follete and Maser use a five-part structure to move the reader carefully through the 16 chapters. Part I addresses the systems theory, the Laws of Reciprocity foundation of their logic, and the emerging legal paradigm centered in Ecuador and Brazil. Part II concerns building blocks for rights of nature system, such as private-land ownership. Part III describes stumbling blocks, notably a diverse array of technologies and one of the most challenging—corporations. Part IV shifts into possible solutions in application of Rights of Nature for land, water, and air, whereas Part V adds discussions of food supply, energy, mining/drilling, and trade.

“Parts IV and V are particularly rich for their discussion of ‘management considerations,’ what is working now or could work. Each chapter concludes with scores of references that make the book the center of a much greater worldwide discussion. Here, the professor in me wants students to pick one of the dozens of subjects and grapple with issues and solutions, to go beyond doing what society, or their profession does now, but looking toward what is possible tomorrow. Indeed, I would want students to look back 50 years to what was, and then look forward 50 years to what could be. I would ask them to use this book to be part of the paradigm shift that La Follete and Maser imagine.

“The health of the planet has never been as threatened as it is now, largely by new technologies distributed by larger-than-government corporations. ‘Modernity,’ with all of its products, expectations, and values is changing and spreading with unimaginable speed. Such rapid change has become the norm and is threatening many, if not most, people and societies, promoting often dramatic and hostile feedback from those who feel threatened, left aside, or who cannot compete. There is tremendous pressure for countries, religions, and more broadly cultures, to accept the Western paradigm to develop their natural world in Western ways. Yet, to do so may be to come onboard a sinking ship. There are no easy answers, but there needs to be an in-depth and fact-based discussion. This book serves to both initiate and support that discussion.

“Good books are provocative and often require several readings. Sometimes they are ‘right on’ and fit our personal views, while other times they can be annoying or feel mistaken or biased, but often on a second or later pass they make sense, good sense. As an academic and practitioner who feels proud to be shunned by both ‘deep’ environmentalists and aggressive ‘developmentalists,’ this book is refreshing, but not easy: the simile that comes to mind is of diving into a cold mountain lake—awakening, something you don’t forget, something that helps you find feelings and senses that have become dormant. As much as the problems feel overwhelming and apocalyptic, on one hand, so the solutions, including those the authors point out have already happened, encourage us not to despair, on the other. Where Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson helped me to a greater appreciation of nature over 50 years ago, La Follette and Maser help me to think about that nature with new insight, information, and hope today.

“We are, as noted, the one species that can destroy itself and all others. We are a young species that, by one definition, is only recently conscious. I would argue that most of what we think and do is rote, stamped into our right brains by our culture through our parents, religion, and social norms. We learn a way of thinking that makes response easy, but unreflective and often wrong. It is heartening to see Pope Francis mentioned as a proponent of what this book is about. It also gives me hope to know that some corporations are seeing the inevitable—we need to go beyond who we have been and how we think about nature to who we can be. We need to know our limits and ourselves. Perhaps most importantly, we need to get past what the authors call our ‘self-righteous arrogance.’ And, we need the planet to hang with us a little longer while we grow the humility to become part of long-lived and diverse ecosystems, rather than the invasive species we are today.

“Looking back over my lifetime, I can see clearly that there has been a paradigm shift in our culture and our society, but it is not enough. Now, on what corporations would call a ‘just in time basis,’ arrives La Follette’s and Maser’s book, providing a summary of where we’ve been, guidance on where we need to go, and how to get there. I heartily recommend this book for concerned citizens and students. In addition, having served as the director of a division of a family foundation, I strongly encourage leaders of corporations, foundations, universities, and organizations to read this book and reflect on their own orthodoxy and whether they represent an obstacle to change or are open to developing a reciprocal relation with nature.

“One of my favorite sayings is: We all live in an economy; we all live in a community, and we all live in a watershed. These three systems form, for me, a Venn diagram of overlapping circles, each with its own interior relationships and each with relationships to other circles. La Follette and Maser have described the nature of these relationships, providing a ‘go to’ book for understanding, planning, and action. In the conclusion, the authors review doomsday scenarios that have been written, but they end on a strong note of hope, that ‘courage and altruism are two indomitable human traits that will lead us to repair … severed relationships with courage, responsibility, and a deep commitment for one another and all life.’ Amen.”

Dr. Thomas J. Gallagher
Professor of Natural Resources Management, University of Alaska, Fairbanks,
Scholar with the Western Rural Development Center, Oregon State University, Corvallis,
Founding editor of the Journal of Leadership Education,
Director of the Ford Institute for Community Building of The Ford Family Foundation, Roseburg, Oregon.

“With a great sense of relief and hope, I endorse SUSTAINABILITY AND THE RIGHTS OF NATURE: AN INTRODUCTION. Esteemed authors Cameron La Follette and Chris Maser have gifted the world with a roadmap for ecological and social resilience based on a thorough understanding of ecology and ethics favoring the common good. The often-detailed concepts of environmental science are accessible to a broad readership, and the legal contexts are clearly presented. I also see it as an excellent textbook for college students, for all branches of science—environmental, ecological, historical, political, physical, sociological, technical, and engineering—and for economics, arts, and humanities. The book touches down into details about places around the world, which exemplify both grave predicaments and attainable solutions for the pathway forward. The losses of habitat and ecosystem integrity are staggering, yet there is hope for protecting what remains. By following the ‘blueprint’ outlined in this book, we can find ways to ‘retool’ by instituting laws, policies, and practices based on ‘The Rights of Nature.’

“In following the work of Chris Maser since the late 1980’s, I see that he is continuing to produce timely publications of crucial information needed by organizations, institutions, and communities facing choices between natural resource sustainability and the path of further destruction of the planet’s life-support systems. This new book provides ecological, historical, legal, and contextual information about the wide range of seemingly insurmountable challenges we face around the planet. Thankfully, along with in-depth analyses of the problems and causes, the recommended solutions seem attainable. The lists of specific recommendations for management, restoration, research, and governance, all emphasize justice. Indeed, ‘The Rights of Nature,’ as an overarching framework for choice-making at all levels of governance, from personal to global, is a greatly needed manifesto.”

Judith Ann Wait

Ph.D. Candidate, Environmental & Natural Resource Science
Agroecology & Urban Ecosystems
School of the Environment
Washington State University, Vancouver.

Sustainability And The Rights Of Nature: An Introduction. 2017. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.

Text © by Chris Maser 2016. All rights reserved.

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Posted by: chrismaser | July 13, 2016



One day, while taking a walk, I saw a paper clip lying on the sidewalk, and I thought to myself, “I don’t need that.” As I walked past it, the voice of my heart said, “Go back and pick it up.” So I did, and walked on wondering what on Earth a paper clip lying of the sidewalk had to do with anything.

My heart said, “This paper clip represents the Path of the mystic, the one you begin to walk in this material world.”

“How?” I asked.

The voice continued, “First of all, the paper clip represents you, as a self-contained, spiritual being in the physical world, wherein you are surrounded by the millennia-old, human belief in the power of materiality—which lies beyond the outer perimeter of the paper clip. Look carefully at the picture of the clip. The world’s belief in materiality is depicted by the seemingly random, confused pattern of the concrete. Secreted within the clip’s outer perimeter is the mystical Path, the entrance to which is the narrow opening near the bottom of the left side.”

Indeed it is! The narrowness of the opening is exceedingly rigid and taut.

“That is precisely why so few even notice the entrance, in the first place, let alone choose to enter this spiritual Path of self-discipline, as it leads ever closer to consciousness that allows you to experience the infinite beauty and spiritual freedom of Creation. At this point of attainment, you begin to transcend the unconsciousness of the material mind.”

“But what,” I asked, “is the purpose of the open area at the top within the clip? What happens there?”

“When you reach that upper space where this new vista begins to open out,” came the answer, “you have reached a critical place of indecision and choice—a juncture that will determine the outcome of the meeting of the socially conditioned, material mind of the ego and the unconditioned, spiritual mind of the heart. In other words, it’s a time of struggle between needing to see in order to believe and believing without needing to see—the ‘dark night of the soul.’ It’s a spiritual ‘tar pit’ in which a person is challenged on all levels and can flounder blindly for years.”

“So, if one chooses to stay on the mystical Path after this heroic, internal brawl, why does the Path once again narrow into yet more constraint and patience?”

“Look at it this way. If the spiritual mind of the heart wins this extreme tussle, the person has had to die daily to himself or herself (meaning letting go of long-cherished worldly beliefs, possessions, and outer identities). Thus has the spiritual mind grown leaner through a singular focus and simplification, becoming receptive to the silent spaciousness of the Eternal. Then the purpose of the winnowing hardships of the journey becomes clear.”

“So, if one stays the course, what is to be found within the center of the clip?”

“Once inside,” comes the answer, “you are surrounded by the light of Grace, and your inner eyes are fully opened to the spiritual beauty and wonder of Planet Earth. You are truly in the world—but not of it.”

Related Posts:

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• I Love The Seasons

• The Fire Of Life

• Today I Go Hungry

• For An Instant

• Keyboard Of The Winds

• My Lesson In Humility

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• What A Stream Taught Me

• Musical Corridors

Text and Photo © by Chris Maser 2015. All rights reserved.

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Posted by: chrismaser | January 23, 2016


I have often wondered how would it feel if I was aware of being the last, living individual of my human race or, even more profoundly, the entire human species? Being the last of my race or species would constitute a “double extinction”—that of a single, millennial, genetic experiment of me, as an individual, as well as that of a collective, millennial, genetic experiment of humanity as a whole.

Prior to now, there were five geological periods in which “great extinctions” took place: the Ordovician (about 435 million years ago), the Devonian (about 357 million years ago), the Permian (about 250 million years ago), the Triassic (about 198 million years ago), and the Cretaceous (about 65 million years ago). Today, we are facing what some scientist term “the sixth great extinction,” which began about fifty thousand years ago with the undisputed dominance of humanity on the world scene. But what, exactly, does it mean to become extinct—to be the last individual of a species, such as the last “taimen” or giant salmon of the Uur River in Mongolia, or the last of a race of people, such as James Fennimore Cooper’s “Last of the Mohicans?”


Extinction means that something no longer exists in its living form; its spark of life has died out like embers of a dying fire. Extinction is generally thought of only in terms of the disappearance of a living entity. But, the concept of extinction goes far beyond living things. The disappearance, the irreparable alteration of a nonliving component of the environment is a “hidden extinction” linked inseparably to the extinction of living things. What, you might ask, does he mean by all this.

Well, look at it this way. While I was working in Nepal in the early 1960s, a helicopter crashed and killed two people. A helicopter has a great variety of pieces with a wide range of sizes. The particular problem here was with the engine, which is held together by many nuts and bolts. Each has a small sideways hole through it so that a tiny “safety wire” can be inserted and the ends twisted together to prevent the tremendous vibration created by a running engine from loosening and working the nut off the bolt. The helicopter crashed because a mechanic forgot to replace one tiny safety wire that kept the lateral control assembly together. A nut vibrated off its bolt, the helicopter lost its stability, and the pilot lost control. All this was caused by one missing piece that altered the entire functional dynamics of the aircraft. The engine had been “simplified” by one piece—a tiny, hidden length of wire.

Which piece was the most important part in the helicopter? The point is that each part (structural diversity) has a corresponding relationship (functional diversity) with every other part, and they provide stability only by working together within the limits of their design, whether natural or artificial.

So, one small alteration in the aerial habitat of two unmarried men caused their extinction, as well as that of the unbroken, millennial, genetic experiment that each man represented. In addition, whatever offspring they might have fathered will never materialize, nor will whatever skill or service the offspring might have offered the human ecosystem and the world. Moreover, one unnoticed, forgetful moment caused the absence of a tiny piece of wire to irreparable altered a critical structure that, in turn, caused the extinction of a vital function—lateral control—within the hidden systemic region of their aerial habitat.

It’s these “hidden extinctions,” the ones of which we are almost always unaware, the ones to which we pay no heed, that cause habitats to change. As a habitat changes, so does its ability to function as it once did. In essence, some functional component has become extinct, which in turn affects the species that are dependent on it. If a habitat changes enough, the species that are adapted to that specific habitat in a certain condition become extinct, because the habitat’s ability to fulfill their requirements became extinct. For an example, let’s consider the rain forest in Gabon, Africa, where to biologist Louise Emmons its fascination lies in “its stunning complexity.”


In this forest, says Emmons, “You can stand anywhere and be surrounded by hundreds of organisms that are all ‘doing something,’ going about their living in countless interactions—ants carrying leaves, birds dancing, bats singing, giant blue wasps wrestling with giant tarantulas, caterpillars pretending they are bird droppings, and so on.”1

In Gabon, Emmons found that nine species of squirrels all live together in one forest. Each is a different size; three species have specialized diets or habits, which leaves six that feed on nuts, fruits, and insects and could therefore be potential competitors for food. But a closer look reveals that three of the six species—a large, a medium, and a small—live exclusively in the canopy of the forest, with the largest one, a “giant” squirrel, feeding primarily on very large, hard nuts while the smaller ones eat proportionally smaller fruits and nuts. The other three species—again a large, a medium, and a small—live exclusively on the ground, where they eat the same species of fruits and nuts as do their neighbors in the canopy, except they eat the fruits and nuts after they fall to the ground.

The forest in Gabon is evergreen, and fruit can be found on the trees throughout the year, but any one species of tree produces fruit for only a short period each year. To support three species of squirrels, eight species of monkeys, and eight species of fruit-eating bats (and so on) in the canopy, the Gabon forest must have a wide variety of species of trees and lianas (high-climbing, usually woody vines), each producing fruits and nuts in its own rhythm. The varying sizes of the fruits and nuts can support different sizes of squirrels with different tastes, whereas these same fruits and nuts when they fall to the ground can feed a whole analogous array of species.

But just how rich in species is a tropical rain forest? Alwyn Gentry of the Missouri Botanical Garden had for many years been counting the species of trees and lianas in tropical rain forest. The richest site he found was a plot two and a half acres in extent near Iquitos, Peru, where he counted an amazing 283 species of trees over four inches in diameter. There were 580 trees of this size in the two-and-a-half-acre plot, which means there was an average of only two individual trees per species, and there were an astounding 58 species among the first 65 individual trees that Alwyn counted.

Worldwide, tropical rain forests seem to have from about 90 to 283 species of large trees within every two and a half acres, and this is not counting the other plants and the animals. Even the “poorest” of tropical rain forests have an average of about five individual trees per species every two and a half acres.

In contrast, a dry tropical forest, such as ccurs in northern India, has about half as many species of trees as does a wet, tropical forest. And the richest forests of the United States have about twenty species of trees over four inches in diameter, with an average of about thirty individuals per species, in each two and a half acres of ground. But most temperate forests are much poorer than this.

So it seems clear that tropical rain forests are amazingly rich in species of trees. But not just any trees: especially those trees whose fruits are eaten and dispersed by birds and mammals. Not surprisingly, therefore, tropical rain forests also are rich in species of mammals and birds. But not just any mammals and birds: especially those that eat fruits and disperse their seeds. There are, for example, 126 species of mammals within a single area of forest in Gabon and 550 species of birds within a single lowland site in the Amazon basin of Peru. Further, the life cycle of each species is interdependent on the life cycles of the other species. The enormous number of vertebrate animals appears to be supported by the large number of species of plants acting as sources of food the year round.

If all this biodiversity is to be maintained, each tree must succeed in leaving offspring. Seeds and tender young seedlings are amongst the richest foods available to forest animals, and their succulence greatly increases their chance of begin eaten by the large numbers of hungry animals searching for food around the bases of fruit- and nut-bearing trees. Likewise, such organisms as fungi, worms, and insects soon accumulate where the seeds and seedlings are concentrated, and they spread from one seed or seedling to another.

Under such circumstances, seeds carried away from such concentrations of hungry organisms are more likely to succeed in germinating. Another major benefit of seeds being carried away from the parent tree is the availability of a wide variety of places with different conditions into which a seed is likely to fall. A new condition might offer a pocket of better soil on a mound created by termites, or in a spot where a dead tree has created a hole in the canopy, a hole that emits sunlight.

It is certainly no accident that about eighty to ninety-five percent of the species of trees in tropical rain forests produce fruits that are dispersed by birds and mammals. By dispersing those seeds, the birds and mammals also are maintaining the rich diversity of species of trees, which not only formed their habitat in the first place but also perpetuate it. This is an ideal example of a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

Many species of trees in the tropical rain forests, especially those germinating in the dark understory, have large seeds that carry enough stored energy to put out leaves and roots without much help from the sun. Such fruits and seeds are often so large that only proportionately sized birds and mammals can swallow or carry them. In Gabon, for example, monkeys dispersed sixty-seven percent of the fruits eaten by animals in Emmons’s area of study.

Seed-dispersing animals, like large birds and large monkeys, are the most important animals for replacing the large trees and lianas of the forest canopy and thus helping them survive. Those animals are, however, the first species to disappear when humans hunt them for food. These species, along with elephants, have already been hunted so heavily that have they either been drastically reduced in numbers or eliminated completely over vast areas of African forest, and the situation in the tropical rain forests of Central and South America is much the same.


A male African elephant reaching up to break a branch off for food.

Foresters, for the most part, have overlooked the whole subject of the way the interdependency of plants and animals affect biodiversity of a plant community. Elephants of the Ivory Coast, for example, disperse the seeds of 37 species of trees. Of those, only seven species had alternate ways of being dispersed—by birds and monkeys. In one study area, out of 201 individual trees, 83 species were dispersed by elephants, which are increasingly on the verge of extinction due to illegal hunting for their ivory tusks.

The illegal trade of elephant tusks is primarily driven by a burgeoning demand for ivory in China, where it has played a centuries-old role in Chinese. And, still today it is seen as an important medium in art and as a symbol of wealth. Hence, the rapidly growing Chinese middle class is fueling demand and escalating the price of ivory ever higher.2


East African Ivory trade in the 1880s/1890s.

In one forest where humans had eliminated elephants a century earlier, few juvenile trees of the elephant-dispersed species were left, and the two major species had no offspring at all. One of these two species just happens to be the single most important species for the two largest squirrels that Louise Emmons studied in Gabon—the one that eats the large, hard nuts in the canopy and the other that eats the same nuts once they’ve fallen to the ground.

Once the large species of birds and mammals are gone, the stunningly rich tropical rain forests will change and gradually lose species of trees, lianas, and other plants. Smaller seeds dispersed by wind will replace large seeds dispersed by large animals. Those species of plants whose seeds grow in the shaded understory will not survive, and the land will gradually be forested by fewer, more common species.

As the forests become poorer in species of plants, the number of species of birds, mammals, and other creatures will decline accordingly. The entire complex of interconnected, interdependent feedback loops among plants and animals will gradually simplify. The species of which the feedback loops are composed will be lost forever (= extinction)—and the feedback loops with them. This is how the evolutionary process works. Ecologically, it is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, but those changes may make the forest less attractive, less usable by species, such as humans, that used to rely on it for their livelihoods and for products. So, if we want to think about the survival of humans, we have to think about all interrelationships of animals with plants.

The same types of self-reinforcing feedback loops that take place in tropical rain forests occur also in the temperate coniferous forests of the world, and they represent the same four basic elements of diversity: genetic, species, structural, and functional. Genetic diversity is the way species adapt to change; it is the hidden diversity that is so often subjected to the “secret extinctions” mentioned earlier. The most important aspect of genetic diversity is that it can act as a buffer against the variability of environmental conditions, particularly in the long term. So healthy environments can act as “shock absorbers” in the face of catastrophic disturbance.

Here looms a critical concept: the past function of an ecosystem determines its present structure, and its present structure determines its future function. This means that structure is defined by function and function is defined by structure! So, as we alter the composition of species in an area (however that is done), so we at the same moment alter its function in time.

Consider, for example, that all white storks in Europe have traditionally flown south to spend the winter in Africa, but in recent decades an increasing number have stayed closer to home, drawn to the food discarded at garbage dumps—a changed in their behavioral patterns due to human influences. This shift in behavior allows birds that stayed north of the Sahara to survived by feeding on human refuse, enabling them to obtain food without the added energy expenditure of long-distance flight.3 However, the ecological services the storks had traditionally performed on their African wintering grounds now go unfulfilled.


European white stork.

Over time, this new arrangement of species will respond to conditions differently than the original arrangement of species would have—often to our human detriment with respect to the ecosystem services we rely on for a good quality of life.

Related Posts:

• Biodiversity—Our Social-Environmental Insurance Policy

• Principle 1: Everything is a relationship

• Principle 2: All relationships are inclusive and productive


1. The following discussion is based on: Louise H. Emmons. 1989. Tropical rain forests: why they have so many species, and how we may lose this biodiversity without cutting a single tree. Orion, 8:8–14.

2. Wildlife Conservation Network.
(accessed January 13, 2016).

Andrea Flack, Wolfgang Fiedler, Julio Blas, and others. 2016. Costs of migratory decisions: A comparison across eight white stork populations. Science Advances, 2(1) e1500931 DOI:10.1126/sciadv.1500931 (accessed January 23, 2016).

Text © by Chris Maser 2016. Photos gratefully used from Wikimedia Commons. Photograph of elephant eating by Charles J. Sharp. Photographer of ivory trade unknown. Photograph of European white stork by Ron Knight. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Posted by: chrismaser | May 4, 2015


We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.—T. S. Eliot1

Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.—Marie Curie2

Change often occurs on the brink of disaster between need and fear. On the one hand, we know we need to do things differently. On the other hand, we are terrified of facing the unknown, unfamiliar, and uncertain. To change our direction and accommodate a potential future, however, we must suspend our conventional notions about change and our ability to learn because there are no problems to resolve other than those we perceive as manifestations of how we think and act—a notion aptly expressed by Henry David Thoreau, “Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.”3 The problems we face are a matter of who we are consciously. And, many people prefer to err again and again rather than let go of some cherished belief, pet notion, deified assumption, or staunchly defended position. Others err because they are pessimistic in their outlook and are thus blind to viable options.4

Social-environmental sustainability demands that we, as every-day, human decision makers, go beyond our immediate valuation of a given resource to examine and disclose the fundamental issue of how its use will affect the long-term, biophysical sustainability of the system of which it is an inseparable part. One must also recognize and disclose the long-term, social-environmental issues that need to be dealt with concerning the method by which a resource is extracted. This is necessary because the overall integrity of our biophysical system, its productive capacity, and the sustainability of its resources will determine the array of options passed forward to future generations.

As long as the human population was but a fraction of its current size, Earth’s resources were considered by most “civilized” people to be unlimited and free for the taking. But even then, “The history of almost every civilization,” observed British historian Arnold Toynbee, “furnishes examples of geographical expansion coinciding with deterioration in [environmental] quality.”5 In this brief statement, Toynbee illuminated the interconnectedness of the “waterbed principle of consciousness,” which simply demonstrates that you cannot touch any part of a filled waterbed (or any biophysical system, for that matter), regardless of how gently you touch it, without affecting the whole of it.

Today, there is much talk about “renewable” resources but no longer so much about “unlimited” resources. Ultimately, however, all biophysical resources are finite—with the exception of solar energy, at least for the next several millennia. Not only can we run out of a resource by literally exhausting its earthly supply, such as oil or the extinction of a species and its attendant service to humankind (say the provision of coffee or chocolate), but also can we so alter an existing resource base as to render it useless to us, such as poisoning our drinking water through pollution of various kinds. And, we are increasingly doing both.

Moreover, as the burgeoning human population continually demands more and more material commodities from a rapidly dwindling supply of an increasing number of vital necessities (such as potable water, the supplies of which are decreasing with global warming6 ), the ratio apportioned to each human declines. This decline is further exacerbated by the progressively longer lives of today’s humans and their prolonged demands for these same necessities. Further, those resources currently deemed “renewable” are only renewable as long as the system that produces them retains its biophysical integrity and is used in a sustainable manner—both ecologically and socially, as clearly stated by T. N. Narasimhan of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment:

Historically, science has pursued a premise that Nature can be understood fully, its future predicted precisely, and its behavior controlled at will. However, emerging knowledge indicates that the nature of Earth and biological systems transcends the limits of science, questioning the premise of knowing, prediction, and control. This knowledge has led to the recognition that, for civilized human survival, technological society has to adapt to the constraints of these systems. Simultaneously, spurred by explosive developments in the understanding of materials (non-biological and biological), applied scientific research pursues a contrary goal of controlling the material world, with the promise of spectacular economic growth and human well-being. If adaptation to Nature is so important, why does applied research pursue a contrary course? . . . Also, in a world dominated by democratic ideals of freedom and liberty, the discipline required for adapting to Nature may often be overridden by competition among various segments of society to exercise their respective rights.7

Is it really so imperative to change my behavior, you might ask, if it infringes on my personal rights? That choice is yours, of course, but remember that you irreversibly bequeath the consequences of your choice to all generations. Therefore, it would be well to consider the counsel of professor Johan Rockström and his inter-disciplinary team of 29 scientists:

Although Earth has undergone many periods of significant environmental change, the planet’s environment has been unusually stable for the past 10,000 years. This period of stability—known to geologists as the Holocene—has seen human civilizations arise, develop and thrive. Such stability may now be under threat. Since the Industrial Revolution, a new era has arisen, the Anthropocene, in which human actions have become the main driver of global environmental change. This could see human activities push the Earth system outside the stable environmental state of the Holocene, with consequences that are detrimental—or even catastrophic—for large parts of the world.8 [Holocene comes from the Greek holos, (“whole”) and cene (“new”). Anthropocene9 comes from the Greek anthropo (“human”).]

Dawning of the Anthropocene Epoch represents “a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other [the waterbed principle]. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet.”10 Consider, for example, that today’s rising air pollution affects the Earth from the top of the highest mountain and beyond into the deepest parts of the world’s oceans. It is everywhere and will worsen as long as decisions to placate corporate industry and national politics continually trump a global pursuit of dramatically cleaning the world’s air. Here, it must be stated in fairness that our material appetites feed the corporate drive for more, whereas the corporate drive for more—ever more—stimulates our material appetite for more—always more—through advertising in a self-reinforcing feedback loop.

I used air pollution to illustrate that our earthly survival, and that of our children and their children unto all generations, ultimately depends on clean air. We are, after all, sandwiched between two oceans with currents that circumnavigate the world—one of air and the other of water. Of the two, air is the initial, interactive thread that connects the soil, water, and all life; in addition, it affects how sunlight and climate interact with the Earth—again, the waterbed principle of consciousness.


Yet, we, as a society with our myriad data bits and seemingly vast, ever-increasing knowledge, listen to the world’s traditional economists and the corporate/political elite and assume they are correct—despite the inviolable waterbed principle—when they take such biophysical variables as air, soil, water, sunlight, biodiversity, genetic diversity, and climate and convert them, in theory at least, into independent variables, economic constant values, or discount them altogether as “externalities.” Biophysical variables are therefore omitted from consideration in most economic and planning models and even from our thinking—to say nothing of the political decisions rendered by today’s global leaders. Moreover, biophysical diversity itself is euphemistically discounted as an “externality,” when any facet of its consideration interferes with monetary profits.11 On top of it all is the nagging problem of our rapidly growing human population. We talk about it and worry about it. But, in the end, we give only lip service to the one solution that can control it—total, real, gender equality for women.

That said, all relationships are in constant flux, as complex, biophysical systems arise from subatomic particles in the giant process of evolution on Earth. At each higher level of complexity and organization, there is an increase in the size of the system and a corresponding decrease in the energies holding it together. Put differently, the forces that keep evolving systems intact, from a molecule to a human society, weaken as the size of the systems increases, yet the larger the system the more energy it requires to function. Such functional dynamics are characterized by their biophysical diversity, as well as by the constraints of the overarching laws and subordinate principles that govern them—once again encompassed in the waterbed principle of consciousness.

Related Posts:

• The Essence Of Spiritual Ecology

• My Mystical Journey Begins

• Does Size Determine A Gift’s Value?

• Valley of My Youth

• Valley of Fire

• A Death Valley Story


1. Karl von Eckartshausen. Magic: The Principles of Higher Knowledge. Merkur Publishing Co. Ltd., Scarborough, Ontario, Canada. (1989) 316 pp.

2. T. S. Eliot. (accessed March 18, 2011).

3. Marie Curie. (accessed March 18, 2011).

4. Henry David Thoreau. (accessed April 30, 2012).

5. Russ Beaton and Chris Maser. Economics and Ecology: United for a Sustainable World. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. (2011) 191 pp.

6. Arnold J. Toynbee. A study of History, Volumes I-VI (abridgement by D.C. Somervell). Oxford University Press, New York, NY. (1987) 7,000 pp.

7. (1) James Painter. Peru’s alarming water truth. (accessed on April 10, 2010); (2) Water supply and sanitation in Peru. (accessed on April 11, 2010); and (3) Quelccaya Ice Cap. (accessed on April 11, 2010).

8. T. N. Narasimhan. Limitations of science and adapting to Nature. Environmental Research Letters, 2 (July-September 2007) (accessed September 5, 2013).

9. Johan Rockström, Will Steffen, Kevin Noone, and others. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461 (2009):472–475.

10. Jan Zalasiewicz, Will Steffen, and Paul Crutzen. The New World of the Anthropocene. Environmental Science and Technology, 44 (2010):2228–2231.

11. Dawn of the Anthropocene Epoch? Earth has entered new age of geological time, experts say. (accessed on February 4, 2011).

Text © by Chris Maser 2015. All rights reserved.

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Posted by: chrismaser | March 19, 2015



I used to study tiger beetles, which are in the family Cicindelidae and are cosmopolitan in geographical distribution. One of the things I found fascinating is they are devoid of pigment and yet are arrayed in brilliant, metallic hues. But, how can that be, one might ask. Rather than pigment, the colors exhibited by tiger beetles are created by light refracted off the minute structural topography of their wing covers and external skeletons. The day I first noticed this, I was examining an Oregon tiger beetle under a binocular scope. Although the background color of the beetle appeared dull brown to my naked eye, under the scope, every color of the rainbow dazzled my view, as I turned the beetle this way and that in awe of its brilliance. Its beauty was breathtaking.


Like the background color of the Oregon tiger beetle, which is a composite of its biological and physical aspects, our world is filled with unseen wonders, one of the most phenomenal of which is the often-hidden beauty of the biophysical diversity that surrounds us. Although most people speak of “ecological this” and “ecological that,” I have begun using the term “biophysical” (“bio” from the Greek bios, “life” + “physical” from the Greek physis, “nature, matter”) to instruct that all Earthly relationships involving humans are composed of inseparable, interactive, biotic (living), and physical (non-living) components. I do this to foster systemic thinking, while precluding the symptomatic thinking that is the cause of our worldwide, social-environmental problems.

In other words, biophysical understanding not only spans all levels of biotic (living) and physical (non-living) interactions, from the molecular scale to whole organisms, landscape, seascapes, and Earth’s relationship to the cosmos but also shares significant overlap with such fields of study as: biochemistry (the study of chemical processes within and relating to living organisms), biology (the study of living organisms), nanotechnology (manipulation of matter at the atomic and molecular scale), bioengineering (the employment of engineering’s analytical and synthetic methodologies to solve practical problems related to life sciences), agrophysics (the physical aspects of using plants for food and fuel), and biophysical systems (the dynamic, ever novel interface between the biotic and abiotic components of our home planet). When taken collectively, these fields of study provide a reciprocal link between the living (biotic) and non-living (physical) components of Earth.

To illustrate, arsenic occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust, but if it leaches into groundwater, long-term exposure can have serious consequences for human health. Natural, arsenic-contaminated groundwater used for drinking in China is a health threat that was first recognized in the 1960s. Moreover, it is thought that China has more than 10 million wells used for domestic water, thus exposing 19.6 million people to unsafe levels of arsenic, according to the World Health Organization guideline and current Chinese standard for drinking water. And, China is not the only place arsenic contamination of groundwater is found. It occurs in central Europe and South America, as well as parts of the United States and Asia.1

On the other hand, the usual understanding of the term “ecological” (from the Greek oikos “house, dwelling place” and logia “study of”) is the relationship between organisms and their immediate environment. As such, “ecosystem” is a group of interdependent organisms taken together with the environment they inhabit (their “house” or “dwelling place,” + “system”)—delineated within a human, intellectual fence of spatial and temporal scale.

As such, it does not enlighten our understanding of the seamless union between the living and non-living aspects of our dynamic, ever-changing, ever-novel world—a biophysical system—impregnated with the wonder of life, as it spins miraculously in space while orbiting the sun from whence it draws energy. Moreover, I have over the years found the notion of “ecosystem” too-often ensconced in the symptomatic-quick-fix thinking of politics, as opposed to the unavoidable systemic thinking of a “biophysical system,” which is seamless in scale, whether spatial or temporal.

Apart from the beauty biophysical diversity affords our lives, however, there is the functional aspect of that is absolutely necessary to the sustainability of life itself. It is the functional aspect of biophysical diversity that is the true wealth of each and every village, town, city, and nation. It is the functional aspect of biophysical diversity that is the soil in which the taproot of social-environmental sustainability grows. It is the functional aspect of biophysical diversity that causes us to plumb the depths of our imaginations, where, enshrouded in that depthless place we call ignorance, bubble the mysteries we try so hard through science to unveil that we might understand their significance in and to our lives.

There is more to diversity, however, than just the biophysical dimension with which we are so often preoccupied in the sciences. There is also a human dimension, which extends beyond the physical to include the realms of perception and spirituality. “We don’t see things as they are,” wrote American author Anaïs Nin. “We see things as we are.”2 To this, American clergyman Henry Emerson Fosdick might have added, “I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.”3 I am of like mind.

In dealing with biophysical diversity, as best I understand it anyway, I find it to be the currency of social-environmental sustainability, both locally and globally, because it adds and subtracts pieces of a living system in such a way that manipulation of those pieces causes a continuum of events to occur in the form of directed change, often of unknown magnitude. In turn, every change is beneficial to some organisms and detrimental to others. Whether a particular chain of events is beneficial or detrimental to humanity depends on how the outcome either adds to or subtracts from the necessities of human survival and the potentialities of human values in time and space.

The dimension of time is important because an outcome that is apparently beneficial in the short term can prove detrimental in the long term—well after the decision makers are deceased. On the other hand, the dimension of space is critical because a decision that is seemingly beneficial in a local area can, and often does, have detrimental effects many miles away, unbeknownst to the decision makers. In either case, the outcome affects the social-environmental sustainability of human communities at the local level—often without recourse to rectify negative impacts, even life-threatening ones.

Today’s social problems are based largely on a bourgeoning human population that is increasingly degrading the Earth’s biophysical systems by polluting the air, water, and soil; acidifying the oceans; overexploiting natural resources in the name of economics, and thereby accelerating not only global warming but also the rate of biotic extinctions—none of which can be mended with scientific Band-Aids or technological quick fixes.4 Nevertheless, out of the current social turmoil can come a society with a better balance between the scientific and the social, the materialistic and the spiritual, the masculine and the feminine, the intellectual and the intuitive, the unconscious and the conscious, the present and the future, and local and the global. To achieve that better balance, however, we must view the world and society differently, including the varied dimensions of biophysical diversity.

Humanity has taken for granted the world of nature and has exploited it in such a way and to such an extent that human society cannot long endure with any sense of well-being and dignity on its present course. People within a community compete with one another for the goods and services of nature. In turn, each community competes with every other community within a society and each society competes with every other society for the same goods and services. In that competition, each community within a society—and therefore the society itself—has become so needy and so specialized in the materialistic sense that today we live in a global collection of competing societies, which stands like a house of cards. If one society’s economic prowess falters, even momentarily, the ripples of fear are felt throughout the world, at times with stunning rapidity.

The day must therefore arrive when the citizens of this planet come to understand that, if local communities and their societies are to survive, we must set aside our historic, exploitive, environmental competition and begin instead to cooperate with one another. Only then will we be able to bring our various cultures into social-environmental harmony so there will be room for all planetary citizens, both human and nonhuman. Only then will planet Earth be adaptable to changes shaped by the hand of humanity and be at least benign to human existence within the realm of sustainability allowed by the cosmic, biophysical principles that guide this grand experiment called “life.”

Related Posts:

• Why Be Concerned With The Building Blocks Of Sustainable Planning

• The Law Of Cosmic Unification

• A Lesson of Consciousness From the California Condor

• The Link Between Nature’s Commons And Our Cultural Commons

• The Essence Of Spiritual Ecology


1. (1) Luis Rodriguez-Lado, Guifan Sun, Michael Berg, and others. 2013. Groundwater Arsenic Contamination Throughout China. Science, 341:866–868; (2) Rebecca Morelle. China’s arsenic contamination risk is assessed. (accessed August 23, 2013); and (3) Laura E. Erban, Steven M. Gorelick, Howard A. Zebker, and Scott Fendorf. 2013. Release of arsenic to deep groundwater in the Mekong Delta, Vietnam, linked to pumping-induced land subsidence. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110:13751–13756.

2. Anaïs Nin.

3. Henry Emerson Fosdick.

4. Chris Maser. 2014. Interactions Of Land, Oceans, And Humans: A Global Perspective. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 308 pp.

Text © by Chris Maser 2015. All rights reserved.

Tiger beetles of the genus Cicindela. Photographs by David L. Pearson, University of Arizona, Tempe.

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Posted by: chrismaser | February 7, 2015




Chris Maser


Friendship is one of the rare, beautiful gifts of life. I am fortunate to have you as a friend. Although I know the richness that your friendship gives to me, I can only guess what richness my friendship may give to you. But, if I could, I know what I would give you to make your life as beautiful as mine.

I would give you the excitement of each sunrise-the birth of each new day. I would give you the seasons in all their splendor. I would give you the May perfume of a high desert morning, as the sun dries the dew from sagebrush, bitterbrush, and juniper. I would give you the July scent of ponderosa pine; the August fragrance of warm, ripe blackberries; and the October aroma of a thicket of mountain mahogany. I would give you the sharp, clean odor of spruce in the cold, thin air of a high mountain winter.

I would give you the colors of flowers and the songs of birds. I would give you the infinite beauty of the drifting clouds, the symphony of canyon winds, the orchestration of thunderstorms, the eternal tempo of the sea.

I would give you the coolness of clear mountain streams, the tenderness on new grass. I would give you the freshness of summer rains, the silence of winter snows. I would give you the wonder of rainbows and of northern lights, and I would give you the majesty of snow-clad mountains. I would give you the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the rain, the snow. I would give you the fertility of the earth, the wisdom of eons entombed in rocks.

And, I would give you the peace of each sunset-the reflective beauty of the land at day’s end.

But I cannot give you these things. They are not mine to give. So, my friend, I offer you my hand. Take it and come back in time with me as I paint for you with words the beauty and dignity of the land as I have seen it. Then, in small measure, I can share with you the richness that you have shared with me—friendship.

My friend, I once took you on a journey through a forest of a thousand years. Now, come with me and witness the birth and life of a mountain meadow and its cirque.

Before we begin our journey, however, there are a few things I must explain to you. First, to fully appreciate the grandeur of the meadow and its cirque, it is vital to understand how they came into being, because they represent a historical archive of events in the flowchart of time. Second, they are today a dynamic, living system-a library of Nature’s wisdom wherein we can search for knowledge and understanding. Third, because Nature’s creativity is forever changing and novel in the eternal moment we call “life,” what we witness each moment of each day in the cirque will be a singular, unique experience not only in our lives and the world but also in the universe forever. Fourth, the human heart of our story takes place in the year 1575 in the form of Storm Hawk, an American Indian youth of 19 summers who searching for an ancient hunting camp of his people. And fifth, the magnificence and wonder of Nature’s creative artistry is beyond words, beyond thought, and will therefore be most fully understood in the spiritual silence that surrounds us.


Secreted within these covers is the story of a primeval mountain meadow and the life histories of its creatures—from earthworms tending the soil to bugs that can skate the lake, shrews that can sit on the water of the stream as it flows downhill, bats patrolling the night skies, ravens trying to outsmart one another, and the chorus of wolves as they hunt deer and elk. This book is but an infinitesimal glimpse of the beauty and wonder of Nature that is irretrievably slipping away in our increasingly competitive race to commercialize the world. In the meadow, however, we can feel our spiritual roots and momentarily reconnect with the eternal cycle of life of which we are an inseparable part.


In 1989, I wrote “Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest,” which was published by Sierra Club Books, and is in libraries throughout the world. Today, however, I find no academic or non-academic publisher willing accept a book on natural history beyond an identification guidebook to plants and animals. Yet, an understanding of natural history is not only the essence of life itself but also the foundation of our human existence on Earth.

I chose the path of self-publishing because an understanding of natural history, which is all but ignored, continues to be the imperative message that instructs us on how to care for our magnificent planet in a sustainable manner. Fortunately, I found Luminare Press ( in Eugene, Oregon. Patricia Marshall, the owner, and her excellent team are quality oriented, easy to work with, and in my case produced a stunning book. I whole heartedly recommend Luminare Press to anyone interested in self-publishing a book that is important to them.


“Chris Maser has masterfully conjoined and interwoven the disciplines of natural history, species ecology, and ecosystem science with the arts of comprehensive description and inspired storytelling in this one-of-a-kind book about a Cascades montane ecological system. After reading this book, you know not only the life cycles and natural history of key species but also their personalities and functionalities. But, the book is less about teaching ecological details than about expressing the immense importance of the interactions among species and between each creature and its habitat. Equally useful for embryonic scientists-in-training and those seeking a deeper spiritual connection with the planet, this is a delightful read.”

Dr. Nick Brown,
Scottsdale, AZ.

“Amidst the vivid imagery and intimate detail of a place virtually untouched by man lies an elegant allegorical expression of the human condition, not only through the trials of young Storm Hawk, but also the complex system of living beings inhabiting the meadow and its cirque. Glimmering in the eyes of every member of the ecosystem is a spark of humanity that will bring readers closer to the wildlife than a documentarian could ever imagine. The youth’s journey to adulthood is portrayed again and again through the lifecycles of the numerous meadow dwellers, varying with each account by the creature’s specific background, status, and fortune.

“Chris Maser’s expertly crafted book presents a ‘coming-of-age’ and ‘finding-your-niche’ narrative alongside an information-rich guidebook befitting top-tier adventurers, sportsmen, and wildlife enthusiasts. Each page is radiant with his tremendous passion for the outdoors, and I have no doubt that anyone enjoying this marvelous book will be struck with the overwhelming urge to go camping—as I was, and ultimately did—if only to re-experience nature through a newly developed lens. Truly, this work is a gift to the reader.”

Martin Now
Corvallis, Oregon

The Natural History Of A Mountain Meadow And Its Cirque. 2015. Luminare Press, Eugene, OR. 425 pp.

For your convenience, this book comes in two forms, a printed copy with numerous black and white photos and a full-color e-book. If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website and scroll down to “Natural History.”

Text © by Chris Maser 2015. All rights reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

Posted by: chrismaser | August 16, 2014



Think and Act










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• Why Make Life a Battlefield?

• The Link Between Nature’s Commons And Our Cultural Commons

• Nature’s Rules of Engagement

• Children Deserve A Voice In Their Future

• A Woman’s Melody

• Making Enough, Enough

• Trip To Slovakia

Text © by Zane and Chris Maser, 2011. Photo © by Chris 2011. All rights reserved worldwide.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

Posted by: chrismaser | January 4, 2014




Chris Maser


In reading this book, keep in mind that our earthscape is composed of three interactive spheres: the atmosphere (air), the litho-hydrosphere (the rock that constitutes the restless continents and the water that surrounds them), and the biosphere (the life forms that exist within and between the other two spheres). We humans, however, arbitrarily delineate our seamless world into discrete ecosystems as we try to understand the fluid interactions among the nonliving and living components of planet Earth. If you picture the interconnectivity of the three spheres as being analogous to the motion of a waterbed, you will see how patently impossible such divisions are because you cannot touch any part of a filled waterbed without affecting the whole of it.

So it is that rivers of air carry water from the oceans to every location on Earth and thus not only are the non-substitutable source of our potable water but also give life to the soil and all that grows therein—our food. In turn, how we treat the land ultimately protects the purity of the world’s air, water, and soil or degrades them with pollution. In like measure, the way in which we treat the oceans determines the long-term sustainability of their biophysical services, which we rely on for a good quality life, as opposed to a desperate struggle for mere survival. And, finally, how we act toward the air determines whether the world breathes freely or suffocates in pollution, which ultimately controls how the global climate reacts to the choices we make.

Together, these three spheres form myriad interactive, self-reinforcing feedback loops that affect all life on Earth. And, it is the reciprocity of these feedback loops that form the legacy we leave—one that either liberates or progressively constrains all generations. The choice of how we, the adults of the world, behave is ours—either with psychological maturity and sacred humility or self-indulgence and monetary arrogance. How will you choose?

Finally, this CRC series of books on the various facets social-environmental sustainability is a forum wherein those who dare to seek harmony and wholeness can struggle to integrate disciplines and balance the material world with the spiritual, the scientific with the social, and in so doing expose their vulnerabilities, human frailties, and hope, as well as their visions for a viable future.

As the title of this book implies, the human component of the world is a critically important—but often overlooked or blatantly ignored—dimension of social-environmental sustainability. Yet, it is the integrity of the relationships among the diverse elements in any system that both defines the system through its functional processes and confers sustainability to the system in its functioning. Interactions of Land, Ocean and Humans: A Global Perspective examines this notion in terms of nature, culture, and the irrevocable relationships between them.

Chris Maser, Series Editor


“It’s been a very rewarding experience reviewing Chris’s book, far more fun and educational than I ever anticipated. Through his work as a scientist and his personal experience, Chris takes the reader on a journey around the world to explain, understand and appreciate the scientific, economic and emotional linkages between the land, oceans and people. He reminds us that our actions today are the choices that will determine the environmental legacy we leave for future generations. Also, that if the human species is to exist we must do no harm to the very commons that support us at all levels of life. And, in conclusion, how we educate our youth will provide the foundation of hope needed to show the world that we must change our way of thinking if we are to save us from ourselves.”

Rollin R. Geppert
Forester, Washington State Department of Ecology
Founder, Ecosystems Scholarship Fund
Olympia, WA.

“All life is connected, a universal concept that in Maser’s lyrical prose pulsates with the constant interchanges between land and sea. Interactions of Land, Ocean and Humans: A Global Perspective describes a planet of marvelous and intricate design too precious to defile. Yet defile it we have, as Maser recounts in unflinching detail. Despite his disheartening review of how badly humans have behaved since the advent of agriculture, Maser manages to leave us with optimism. The way forward, he says, is to reconnect what we have broken—to reestablish the global common. He challenges us to mend our thinking with cooperative humility. Acting now will leave a sustainable world as our legacy to all generations. Who can resist that hope?”

Jane Braxton Little, Writer/photographer, Plumas County, CA.

“The oft quoted axiom that everything is related to everything else is widely saluted as a theoretically construct, but it is rarely seriously explored, perhaps because of the complexities of real life. This book is different. In Interactions of Land, Ocean and Humans, Chris Maser systematically describes often remarkably counterintuitive biophysical relationships and interactions. However difficult to understand and appreciate, everything, including humans and nonhumans, is an interactive, interdependent part of a system whole. And, forget about some idealized, reassuring notion of the balance of nature. Maser totally debunks such thinking with a hardy dose of cutting edge science and common sense.”

Robert T. Lackey Professor Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Oregon State University Corvallis, OR

Interactions of Land, Ocean and Humans: A Global Perspective. 2014. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book or want to purchase it, visit “BOOKS” on my website.

Text © by Chris Maser 2014. All rights reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

Posted by: chrismaser | December 3, 2013


While I was working in Nepal some years ago, a helicopter crashed. A helicopter, as you might imagine, has a great variety of pieces with a wide range of shapes and sizes, of which the mechanic responsible for the helicopter’s maintenance knows the individual arrangements and functions. The problem with this particular helicopter was in the engine, which was held together by a multitude of nuts and bolts. Each nut and bolt had a small, sideways hole drilled through it so a tiny, 4-inch “safety wire” could be inserted. The ends were then twisted together to prevent the tremendous vibration created by a running engine from loosening the nut, thus allowing it to work itself off its bolt. Simply put, the function of the small hole and little piece of wire was to counteract the engine’s vibration.

Prior to its last maintenance, the helicopter had functioned as it was designed to and had remained safely airborne for many hours. At the required time, it was grounded for maintenance. On its first post-maintenance flight, however, it crashed into the jungle without warning. Why? Upon retrieval of the helicopter, mechanics spent many hours examining all of its pieces to see what had gone wrong. At length, they found out.

One of the mechanics who had helped perform the helicopter’s last maintenance had forgotten to replace one tiny, four-inch-piece of safety wire that held a nut in place on its bolt that, in turn, kept the lateral-control assembly together. The nut had vibrated off its bolt, the helicopter lost its stability, and the pilot lost control. A tiny, missing piece of wire, the lack of which altered the entire functional dynamics of the aircraft, caused the accident. The engine had merely been “simplified” by the absence of a single, out-of-sight component.

Which piece—at that critical instant—was the most important part in the helicopter?

Clearly, each piece of any system has a corresponding relationship with every other piece, and they provide sustainability only to the extent they work in concert within the limits of their biophysical design—a helicopter being of human design and physical materials.

Like the different parts of the helicopter, each person has an innate gift to give. And, like the various parts of the helicopter, each person’s gift is a critical component of the whole—be it a functional human community or the integrity of Nature’s biophysical system. Some people, for example, have a large, obvious gift to offer (analogous to the helicopter’s rotor), whereas others have a small gift, one that both arises and is proffered in obscurity (analogous to the 4-inch piece of safety wire).

These mechanical parts symbolize the challenge of comparison with respect to the value of a person’s innate gift in today’s materially minded world. Namely, whose gift is better, more important, and thus deserving recognition and praise? What is the comparison based on? Size? Expense? Visibility? “Celebrityship”? This is not, however, a question that would enter the mind of an environmental mystic.

A mystic’s only concern is a private one—how to actively demonstrate their abiding love for Mother Earth. This being the case, a mystic’s gift might be simplifying their lifestyle to minimize their material footprint. Or, it could be the conscious creation of habitat for butterflies, bees, and birds in their organic garden. Then again, it could be the simple act of moving an earthworm out of harm’s way to a place where it would not only be safe but also allowed to perform its biophysical function of caring for and enriching the soil.


The singular thought in a mystic’s mind is to leave this magnificent planet spinning miraculously in space a little better for the privilege of having been here amid the myriad forms of biophysical beauty and the wonder of it all.

Each person’s innate gift—whether an environmental mystic or otherwise—is sacred and resonates throughout the universe as a “thank you” to the Eternal Mystery from whence comes the infinite, ineffable beauty that is the surrounding context of our life. In the final analysis, however, it is the love in one’s heart that is the real gift. And, unconditional love—being of the spiritual realm—is beyond comparison to or with anything in the material world.

Related Posts:

• The Essence Of Spiritual Ecology

• My Mystical Journey Begins

Text © by Chris Maser 2013. Photograph of the Canadian Helicopter Bell 212 gratefully used from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to CambridgeBayWeather. Earthworm photograph gratefully used from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Michael Linnenbach. All rights reserved.

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If you want to contact me, you can visit my website. If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.

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