Seven Laws of Ecology

In his book For the Beauty of the Earth Steven Bouma-Prediger outlines seven laws of ecology that should inform our understanding of the earth as we try to think through the challenges of creation care. They are:

  • The Law of Interrelatedness. John Muir summed up this first law succinctly when he said, “Everything is downstream of everything else.” Interrelatedness means that there is a connection between even the smallest things on earth and the biggest things. God, in his wisdom, chose to make it this way, providing systems by which his grace flows to us. He says, “I make the rain fall on the just and the unjust,” but he doesn’t throw that rain down from outer space. He scoops it up out of the oceans and lakes, carries it across the face of the earth in the form of clouds, then drops it on someone else’s land. What is true of atoms of the hydrogen and oxygen in water is also true of atoms of every other type. Even the stuff that makes up our bodies is constantly being exchanged as we replenish ourselves with food. Now that is connection!

  • The Law of Multiple Effects. Bouma-Prediger writes, “We can never do just one thing.” An ecological change is not like addition. If you add one more species of frog to a forest you don’t have the old forest plus one new species of frog. You may eventually have a whole new forest. This goes back to the Law of Interrelatedness; we inhabit a web of connections and pulling on one strand of that web will sometimes shake the whole thing.
  • The Law of Conservation of Matter. In Bouma-Prediger’s words, “There is no ‘away.'” By this he means that you can’t throw things “away” and make them disappear. Things don’t disappear; they just disappear from view. In today’s world this can be the hardest law to remember because the modern world has given us systems to separate us from our waste. If that waste is out of sight it may be out of mind, but it is not out of existence.
  • The Law of Conservation of Energy. Energy cannot be created or destroyed; it only changes form. In layman’s terms this means you can’t get something for nothing. The only significant sources of “energy income” are the sun, the tides and the deep heat of the earth itself: all other energy sources are transformations of those three. Once that energy income arrives all it does is change hands or change forms. To get energy, either in the form of electricity, or of food, or of any other type, we must take it from somewhere else.
  • The Law of Dynamic Systems. God made a world that changes. The earth is always in motion; even the ground is shifting slowly underfoot. In the animal world this means that organisms constantly adapt to changing conditions, and that not all survive. In common with other animals, humans must adapt to the changes we experience. And by God’s grace we do it  (often with the gifts of creativity and genius). Humans are not mere animals however, but are beings made in the image of God, charged as his managers to ensure those changes we bring about also make the creation flourish.
  • The Law of Limits. God made a finite universe. This means that though the water, the minerals, the energy, and the other resources of the earth are abundant and rich there is not always more of them. This too must be a part of God’s plan: the earth would not be improved if God had made it without limits. Rather, limits are a good feature of his creation.
  • The Law of Complexity. Bouma-Prediger writes, “The world is more complex than we can possibly imagine.” Though God made a finite world he did not make a simple world. We ought to approach creation with the idea that its maker is infinitely creative and wise and as such is able to make something that is often far more complex than our capacity to comprehend totally. It ought to breed humility in us as we strive to live out our calling to care for creation and make it flourish.

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