Ecological Science Knowledge for Leaders and Policy Makers in the 21st Century

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By Oweyegha Afunadula

I was nurtured in the biological, ecological, and environmental knowledge fields, and spent many years nurturing generations of knowledge workers and learners in these dimensions. However, to date, I have not really written many articles where I relate publicly to enhance the ecological knowledge of leaders and policymakers. So, many readers have frequently imagined that I was nurtured in the arts (humanities) or social sciences.

Few people know that ecology, biology, and environment are more of social than technical or scientific concerns and dimensions of human survival and manifestation. Also, not many people know that ecology, biology, and the environment can be of knowledge and practical concern in the natural sciences as much as in the arts (humanities) and social science. In fact, they link natural science, arts (humanities), and social sciences. This supports the view that science is one with just different dimensions – arts (humanities), social science, and natural science. Their strict separation from each other is academic (unreal).

Therefore, the current political craze in Uganda to raise natural science over and above the other sciences in terms of political advocacy, financial allocation, and policy preference, is misplaced. It reflects ignorance of the oneness and unity of science. That is not to say that we should not prioritize science (as natural science). We should. It is erroneous and deceptive to make everyone think and believe that it is only natural science and professionals in the natural sciences that we need to develop and transform our country into a better one to live in and to ensure the quality of life for our people.

We need all the sciences (natural, social, and arts) to achieve meaningful human development and transformation of our society for the benefit of all humanity. Whatever our scientific and professional orientations (natural, social, arts), we need to have adequate knowledge of all the science. In any case, Man, Homo sapiens, is first and foremost a social animal, with a multidimensional brain, and the dimensions themselves multidimensional and interconnected. This design is important for social man to acquire multiple capacities to scan, interpret, and understand the environment in order to fit in and benefit from it.

Unfortunately, over time “modern” education has sought to separate the dimensions of knowledge and create small pockets (academic tribes) within broad fields of knowledge (academic territories). This way, Homo sapiens has been turned into an asocial being, as education continues to emphasize individualism (i.e., the individual) yet individualism is an alien in the natural system of things.

Ecology, Biology, and environment all eliminate individualism by seeking and emphasizing togetherness, interconnectivity, and oneness as the collective way forward to effective interaction, sustainability, and production of wholesome professionals that matter: professionals that manifest in various ways to ensure unity of purpose and order in natural systems. Instead, the professionals we have been producing and are continuing to produce, are mostly experts in and work with artificial systems, constantly and persistently erasing the boundary between the natural and the unnatural.
We are now unable to separate catastrophes due to natural causes from those due to unnatural causes. Unnatural causes arise from human interactions with nature.

The majority of interactions are due to ecologically and environmentally empty Man’s craze to conquer Nature rather than live in harmony with it. In this article, I want to help raise the ecological knowledge of leaders and policymakers as simply as possible. Without adequate ecological knowledge, leaders, the majority of whom were nurtured in the Arts and social science, will continue to lead without adequate knowledge of ecological principles, and policymakers will continue to make policies that violate those principles. Whatever policies they design will violate nature and the harmony of interactions between humans and nature.

Key ecological principles are 1. Deal with time. 2. Species. 3. Place. 4. Disturbance. 5. Landscape. Other ecological principles for everyone involved in leadership and policy-making are: 1. Manage time. 2, Maintain diversity and redundancy. 3. Manage connectivity. 4. Manage slow variables and feedback 5. Foster complex adaptive systems thinking. 6. Encourage learning. 7. Broaden participation. 8. Promote polycentric governance systems. However, ten OTHER principles of ecology, which we should all know, exist: 1. Evolution organizes ecological systems into hierarchies. 2. The sun is the ultimate source of energy for most ecosystems. 3. Organisms are chemical machines that run on energy. 4. Chemical nutrients cycle repeatedly while energy flows through an ecosystem.

5. The rate that a population abundance in a giv3n area increases or decreases reflects the abundance of its births, deaths, and net migration into an area (dN/dt=B-X+1). 6. The rate at the diversity of species in an area change reflects the balance of the number of new forms that arise, those that go extinct, and those that migrate into the area. 7. Organisms interact – do things to each other in ways that influence their abundance (eating each other, competing for shared resources, and helping each other survive. 8. Ecosystems are organized in the form of webs and chains of interaction reflecting the flow of energy and cycling of materials. 9. Humans have an outsized role in competing with, preying upon, and helping other organisms to survive. 10. Ecosystems provide essential services to human populations.

When I say leaders, I don’t mean political leaders, although what they do and say while blaming the people at the periphery of society is the main reason why nature has deteriorated. Decayed and collapsed nature is now violating our very existence and survival everywhere on the globe. I mean all kinds of leaders reflecting the dimensions of the brain: political leaders, institutional leaders, cultural leaders, social leaders, economic leaders, academic leaders, intellectual leaders, financial leaders, technical leaders, educational leaders, opinion leaders, et cetera.

When I say policy-makers, I mean a wide spectrum of them, making policies in and for every sphere of human life and activities, existence and survival: agriculture, fisheries, health, education, energy, industry, justice, security, et cetera. Indeed, policies are what political leaders use to determine the kind of interactions of citizens with the environment and nature. If they are wrong or destructive policies, they will impact natural ecology and the natural environment negatively, throwing the balance of nature and human activities into disarray. The results are the kind of catastrophes that have recently hit countries like Morocco, Syria, Turkey China, Greece, and the USA, to name but a few that have suffered the consequences of diminishing and disappearing boundaries between the natural and unnatural due to ecological decay and collapse. Sustainable ecology is critical to the sustainability of the environment.

Let me straight away articulate and clarify what ecology is. Ecology can be defined as the study or knowledge of the relationships of living things (or organisms) with their living and nonliving environments. We sometimes refer to ecology as a science and call it “ecological science”. So, when you read ecological science, you can substitute it with ecology and vice versa. We can then talk of ecological knowledge, which is necessary for anyone who interacts with other people as a social being and impacts them with his or her social choices and be impacted by the social choices of others in the environment. Ecological knowledge can help us to consciously select social ways that will not harm others by disorienting the environment in ways that are not conducive to maintaining and sustaining harmony between people and the environment.

Most of us ecologists are interested in challenges, issues, and problems relating to or involving the natural environment. We are particularly concerned about environmental degradation arising from the ecological effects of humans through their activities and we are concerned with those activities as well. What is critical is that those who design systems in our environment and manage them have adequate ecological knowledge to do so wisely. Otherwise, they will do so technically and ignore the social dimension, which is first and foremost the reason we manage the environment. We want the environment to be conducive to people pursuing their social needs in a balanced and integrated way and with minimum repercussions.

There are levels of integration within ecology. It is rewarding when leaders and policymakers are aware of them and can keep them in mind when leading and designing policies. The levels are the individual, the ecological population, the ecological community, the ecological landscape, and the Biosphere. Although in biology an individual is a misnomer as the concept of individual does not really exist, because everything is connected to every other thing, in ecology, we conveniently recognize an individual as a particular organism belonging to a particular species.

For example, Waiswa is an individual belonging to the species of Man, Homo sapiens. He can lead his life apart from other humans without struggling to be similar to others. A crisis, however, develops when he wants everything to himself without thinking of the needs of the survival of others. That is being ecologically greedy and selfish. A population is an aggregation of individuals belonging to the same species that should biologically continually exchange genetic information in order to perpetuate their king well in the future.

Humans organize themselves in families of man and woman in which they exchange genetic material and produce children who should also form their own families when they reach adult life and produce their own children. This way, the genealogy of their parents is preserved and perpetuated well in the future. Sexual behaviors that evade this are dangerous to genealogical survival in the long term. Such behaviors propagate, in our environment, sexual relationships between man and man and woman and woman. They are, therefore, biologically and genetically wasteful and useless.

They are pollutants of the environment.
An ecological community consists of many populations of different species interacting in the same location in the same landscape. Although we talk of communities of people, an ecological community consists of populations of animals of different kinds, populations of plants of different kinds, and populations of microbes of different types in the same location or site. Leaders and policymakers should work to ensure harmonious relationships between different populations within different ecological communities. Failure to do so initiates extinctions of the kind we have witnessed over the decades.

Through the choice of mineral fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, genetically modified seeds, huge dams and hydropower, oil palm, sugarcane, and mineral oil to drive the economy, political leaders and policymakers have chosen to stress and strain the environment while enhancing dependency on foreigners, foreign intellectual capital and foreign money capital (in form of loans).

An ecological landscape consists of many interacting and interconnected communities over a large geographic area. Ecological units, such as forests, game reserves, national parks, or corridors may be identified in the ecological landscape, but that is for convenience. In nature, they are interconnected and interdependent. For example, the Bugoma forest corridor reserve in Western Uganda connects a natural forest and a national park, allowing animals to move to and from. The decision to establish a sugar plantation in the corridor reflects a serious lack of ecological science of the area on the part of the political decision-makers and/or policymakers.

The ecological repercussions will definitely emerge with the passage of time. Sometimes ecological units are referred to as Biomes. The Biosphere (i.e., the sphere of life) covers the whole Earth. It is so-called because it is the only ecological space in the whole universe known to naturally support all life. Ignoring ecological construction because of not taking ecological science seriously in whatever we do is the reason why the capacity of the earth to sustain life is declining meteorically. We now hear more and more of disasters and climate change, not because these are natural but because we are violating the various levels of integration within ecology, simultaneously disorganizing energy flow, materials cycling, and productivity in natural systems, thereby driving them towards artificiality by the activities we choose to do and the policies we prefer to guide our activities. Increasing such policies reflects the greed and selfishness of the leaders and their disdain for natural order as they pursue their own interests at the expense of the totality of ecology and the environment.

We need to rethink leadership and policymaking in order to make them more ecologically sensitive and less inclined to serve the interests of leaders and their collaborators in ecological and environmental destruction. In Uganda, leadership and policy choices are encouraging human population dispossession and displacement in favor of foreigners or people connected to power and of exogenous roots. The result is the destruction of the socioecological, sociocultural, socioeconomic, and ecological-biological connections between indigenous peoples and nature, and the destruction of the traditional agroecological farming systems that were nature-loving.

We are replacing them with alien extensive or intensive agribusiness systems that are nature-insensitive, environmentally bankrupt, and environmentally corrupt, As if this is not enough nomadic pastoralists are occupying large tracts of land and converting it into a grazing system, thereby undermining food production via the agroecological farming systems. The government is doing nothing to stop the nomadic pastoralists some of whom are said to be streaming in from Rwanda with guns on their laps. This is dangerous as it signals ecological and environmental decay and collapse, food production recession, and hunger in the future.

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