Environmentalism Has Some Lessons For Politics

The Proper Use of Science Barry Commoner The Political Informer

I think we forget many of the basic laws that govern our environment.

No, I’m not talking about your national, home, or college environment. I’m talking about the laws of nature, the laws that you can’t violate without causing secondary problems.

These laws are easily forgotten, and easily violated.


Because we humans think we know better. We think we can turn the tide, manage everything, and force reality to bend to our will.

No other environment portrays this better than politics.

Politics runs on what are called the 4 Laws of Ecology; a theory developed by biologist, Barry Commoner (who also happened to be an eco-socialist).

Commoner fleshed out these laws in his 1971 book, The Closing Circle

“Ecology has not yet explicitly developed the kind of cohesive, simplifying generalizations exemplified by, say, the laws of physics. Nevertheless there are a number of generalizations that are already evident in what we now know about the ecosphere and that can be organized into a kind of informal set of laws of ecology.”

The four laws of ecology are as follows…

  1. Everything is connected to everything else
  2. Everything must go somewhere
  3. Nature knows best
  4. There is no such thing as a free lunch

Each one has its own application to politics. However, they’re rarely taken into account. Politicians (and voters) aren’t the best at framing their policies in the physical limitations of this world.

After all, politicians need to get themselves elected, and voters are willing to support anything that fits with their worldview.

Unfortunately, reality will ultimately destroy your dreams and systems if both aren’t grounded in the laws of nature.

Here’s what I mean…

Everything is Connected to Everything Else

“The single fact that an ecosystem consists of multiple interconnected parts, which act on one another, has some surprising consequences.” – Barry Commoner, The Closing Circle

Affect one aspect of the system and it affects the rest.

It’s what you could call unintended consequences, and cause and effect. You might think regulating marriage licenses sounds feasible, but what are the effects down the road? Subsidizing colleges might help with education in the immediate future, but what are the consequences 20, 30, 50 years out?

An ecosystem operates on numerous interconnected layers, species, and actions. Politics runs the same way.

Your law might solve problem “A” for group “X,” but how will it affect group “Y” and “Z”?

The 4 Laws of Ecology The Political Informer

Everything Must Go Somewhere

“This is, of course, simply a somewhat informal restatement of a basic law of physics—that matter is indestructible. Applied to ecology, the law emphasizes that in nature there is no such thing as ‘waste.’ In every natural system, what is excreted by one organism as waste is taken up by another as food” – The Closing Circle

In politics and economics, this rule is a little harder to see.

One example of this is government waste. For private businesses, waste is a setback, it’s a potential killer. For government, it’s an unwelcome but accepted characteristic. Where private sector waste (i.e. financial, production, etc) will get corrected by the market eventually, the government has no third party correction.

Waste money on a program, military product, or subside and government keeps running. The effects of that waste on the rest of the economic environment aren’t so benign. Citizens could end up with debt, higher costs, or devalued currency. Businesses could be pushed out by government backed stagnant corporations. Economics could crash due to government created bubbles.

Nature Knows Best

“In my experience this principle is likely to encounter considerable resistance, for it appears to contradict a deeply held idea about the unique competence of human beings. One of the most pervasive features of modern technology is the notion that it is intended to ‘improve on nature’—to provide food, clothing, shelter, and means of communication and expression which are superior to those available to man in nature. Stated baldly, the third law of ecology holds that any major man-made change in a natural system is likely to be detrimental to that system.” – The Closing Circle

Translated into the political world: consumers know best. The market knows best. The invisible hand is more aware of the nuances of the market than any bureaucrat could ever dream of being.

Leave it to the natural functions of the market. Let individuals make their own choices. Stop the mindset that with enough knowledge a select group of humans can control the rest of mankind.

“The proper use of science is not to conquer nature but to live in it.” – Barry Commoner

Nothing in life is free The Political Informer

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

“In ecology, as in economics, the law is intended to warn that every gain is won at some cost. In a way, this ecological law embodies the previous three laws. Because the global ecosystem is a connected whole, in which nothing can be gained or lost and which is not subject to over-all improvement, anything extracted from it by human effort must be replaced. Payment of this price cannot be avoided; it can only be delayed.” – The Closing Circle

“Nothing in life is free,” as my mother used to (and still does) say.

Government subsides, stimulus, and aid all come from taxpayers (you and me). Government doesn’t create wealth, it can only take it, and give it to whichever group it’s aligned with at the moment.

The more it takes, the less you have.

Every government action is costing someone somewhere something.

Conclusion: Don’t Let Your Biases Dictate Reality

I fall into this trap too often.

It’s easy to believe that my system works the best. Such thinking incentivizes my brain to only look for facts that back up my narrative.

Like I’ve said before, “Feelings don’t care about your facts.” They dictate which facts you look for and accept.

Luckily, this world has a host of failsafes to correct human error. Whether you’ll recognize the basis for those failsafes before making the error is to be seen.

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About John-Pierre Maeli

Keeping it simple and crystal clear, because anything else is useless. I'm here to not only inform you, but to also connect with you. That's what The Political Informer is all about. Feel free to follow me on either Twitter or Google+ Let's talk!

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