Earth 1: Our Living Planet - a course

Update, Tuesday, August 20: Here is the Earth 1 Overview Prezi, which will offer viewers a FAR better overview of the project that I describe in the proposal below.

I am a free lance, college-level community educator seeking funds to help launch my new course sequence "“ Earth 1: Our Living Planet "“ to the general public in three formats: live (in Maine), online (webinar) and video/DVD. The course integrates and synthesizes topics in the system (network) sciences, life sciences, geophysiology (planetary physiology or Earth system science), and abrupt climate change. By choice, I teach in communities and online rather than working as a faculty member for an existing institution. (Please see 'About me' for an explanation of why.)

The system sciences, including geophysiology, offer a new scientific explanation of how everything works, replacing the obsolete models of the 300-year old mechanistic sciences that cast nature and life forms as "˜machines'. It is a set of easy-to-understand principles, intuitive for most, that apply to systems "“ collections of interacting parts "“ of all sizes and kinds from chemicals to the cosmos, including living systems, ecosystems, human organizations and societies.

The topics of Earth 1 are not merely of value for understanding how nature works and navigating everyday life, but also for understanding the abrupt climate change event that has begun. Perhaps most importantly, the system sciences and geophysiology are a crucial foundation for new worldviews and cultural maps to help us navigate our global challenges this century and beyond.

Earth 1 is equivalent to a first year college course sequence in the sciences, but designed for the general public, including those with no background in science but an interest in it. It is unique, available nowhere else in the US at the college level in such a complete, integrated and accessible format.

I offer free introductory overviews of the course to potential students and donors. (Please inquire.) It is currently available live in Maine, but with your help it will soon be available in online, webinar format. Videos and a DVD are planned.

I am requesting funds to help with my transition into a new community "“ Belfast, Maine - while I launch Earth 1 here and in neighboring communities. Based on past experience, I am confident that sales of the course will support me; I just need a jumpstart after a transition to Maine that was more challenging than expected. I'm requesting funds for two months for rent, utilities and cell phone; to purchase an inexpensive vehicle (my first in three years; I'll be traveling between communities in my work); a new laptop to replace the loaner that I've been using since my PC died (laptop is crucial to my work); and for an inexpensive camcorder to record my lectures for videos.

I invite and encourage your questions.

I've summarized my project in the paragraphs above. However, for those who wish to know more about my project before making a funding decision, I've provided the following four sections to allow selective reading. For example, you may already understand system sciences and their importance, so that description is at the end.

1. A detailed description of Earth 1 with links to more information on my web site, including letters of support from students and colleagues.

2. About me: my educational and professional background, why I choose to teach independently, and the challenges of doing so.

3. Details about how I will use donated funds. (All contributors will receive recognition on my web site. Contributions of $50 or more may be applied to courses, tutoring or consulting fees for you or as a gift, including general scholarships.)

4. An explanation of the system (network) sciences that are the focus of Earth 1 and why they are crucial for the long-term survival of our species.

A description of Earth 1
"You cannot solve a problem from the same consciousness that created it. You must learn to see the world anew." -- Albert Einstein

Earth 1 is designed to help you see the world anew. It is a course sequence integrating system or network sciences, life sciences, geophysiology (planetary physiology, Earth system science or Gaia theory), and abrupt climate change. (There is also a fifth category of courses, adaptability, but it is not the focus of this proposal; please inquire if you'd like more information about it.)

Earth 1 is a dynamic tapestry of concepts, theories, models and principles developed over decades by Earth's top system scientists that will help you see Earth and life in a fundamentally new way. They are available nowhere else in the United States at the college level in such an accessible and integrated way : at least yet, but I'm trying to help change that by consulting educators.

Like a tapestry, Earth 1 has a warp and weft, two linked themes crucial to understanding and effectively addressing the global challenges that we face dead ahead.

The warp is a radically new perspective, emerging from the system sciences, of how everything works. It offers one set of easy-to-understand set of principles, intuitive for most, that apply to all systems "“ collections of interacting parts "“ on all scales, from chemicals to the cosmos, including living systems, ecosystems, human organizations and societies. It is replacing the obsolete view based in the 300-year-old mechanistic sciences that led to our misunderstanding of how nature works (nature as "˜machine'), wrongly justified attempts to control it, and contributed significantly to our developing global crises.

The systems view supports the concept that Earth is a living entity, not metaphorically, but literally. And not just because it has life on it, but because its ecosystems, atmosphere, oceans and rocks are linked into a whole, emergent system that behaves as if it is alive. It is not an organism like you, and is not rational and thinking. But like you, it is has a metabolism and homeostasis, and self-regulates its temperature and chemistry. Like you, it can suffer illness and fevers, as it is now.

Many scientists and scholars contend that to achieve true sustainability "“ and long-term survival as a species - we must understand rationally and intuitively that we are living symbiotically inside a planetary-scale living system, and modify our lifestyles to promote its healing from its current unhealthy state. This view is also consistent with views of primal or indigenous cultures.

The weft of the Earth 1 tapestry is an explanation of global heating and the abrupt climate change event that has begun that will cause Earth's climate to shift rapidly and abruptly "“ in a matter of decades "“ to a hotter, more extreme and chaotic state than our species has experienced in its million-year history, change the course of history, and force a make-over of civilization. That issue cannot be adequately understood without the system sciences, including geophysiology, which teach us that global heating and climate change are but symptoms of a much larger problem: disruption of Earth's healthy homeostasis. No other program in the US is addressing it in such a comprehensive way.

Earth 1 is the portal to my 25 advanced courses. It integrates my introductory courses "“ Systems 1, Life 1 (biology from a systems perspective), Geophysiology 1, and Climate 1 - each of which can stand alone, but yield greater understanding as part of the whole sequence. For example, a full understanding of abrupt climate change requires geophysiology, which requires an understanding of life and system principles addressed by the first two courses.

Two of the courses "“ Systems 1 and Climate 1 "“ are an image-rich lecture series with a detailed set of notes for students. The lectures - developed over years - are engaging and informative yet cordial with lots of opportunity for questions and discussions. The other courses are reading and discussion seminars based on excellent books by experts for educated lay readers; they are facilitated and directed conversations that ensure equitable participation and optimal learning by all.

For those who choose, completion of the full Earth 1 sequence requires 60 "“ 100 hours of class time over 6 "“ 24 months depending on individual and group preferences for depth and scheduling. However, students can choose their level of participation, whether one course or all. Fees are set on a sliding scale based on ability to pay.

Another description of Earth 1 here includes a detailed list of topics in the overview presentations.

About me

I am a former college biology and mathematics instructor. My educational background and degrees are PhD, Ecology and Evolution (UNM, 1990); MS biological systematics; MS probability theory; BS biology. Since 2001, I have worked as an independent educator offering introductory and advanced courses about the topics of Earth 1. (Earth 1 is a new way to integrate them to promote more holistic learning.) I specialize in teaching educators and non-scientists, including those with no science background.

A more complete bio is here. Here are letters of support from three of my students and professional colleagues in Maine. I can provide additional testimonials from others.

Why do I teach independently rather than at an established institution? Because as often happens during major shifts in scientific knowledge, the system sciences are very slowly trickling down from research and graduate levels to undergraduate college and high school curricula to be woven into our cultural fabric. But scientists and scholars argue that our global crises will not wait for that decades-long process, and that public understanding of these principles is urgent now.

Therefore, I teach independently rather than at an existing college or university so that I can make them available more widely to any adult "“ not just students at a single school "“ without institutional hoops and at a lower cost. Since 2001, I have offered courses to hundreds with dozens of advanced students (mostly in Oregon), always with sliding scale fees based on ability to pay, thus often earning less than I need so that financially less fortunate students can enroll.

However, while joyful and intellectually rewarding, teaching as an independent educator without institutional support has been financially very challenging! After my transition from Oregon to Maine in 2010, unexpected events have slowed my professional progress, the most recent being the dissolution of a non-profit organization, founded by several during a yearlong effort, to support my educational program. We dissolved that organization in January 2013 because of disagreements among members about the central focus on Gaia theory and organizational structure.

Subsequent analysis revealed that the disagreement was caused by misunderstandings about Gaia theory, geophysiology and their crucial role in understanding abrupt climate change and for human cultural evolution to meet the challenges of this century and beyond. I take a large share of responsibility in those misunderstandings; I should have recognized and addressed them early in the organizational process. The silver lining is Earth 1, an emergent solution that will allay such misunderstandings in the future by offering a more complete explanation of the concept and its importance.

However, that experience left me impoverished because I invested all of my time, energy and money during 2012 in that organizational effort. I have had to rely on state food assistance and temporary quarters in spare bedrooms, storage areas, and short-term housesitting opportunities offered by supporters and students. I have had to move twelve times in 3 years, yet I have owned no motorized vehicle during that time, only a bicycle, so I am dependent upon others for motorized transportation in a region with little to no mass transit. My cell phone is suspended due to inability to pay the bill.

I have now moved my program to a more promising area, but getting established takes a bit of time and some startup funds. I am confident that with funding help, I can support myself with fees earned via Earth and other courses within 2 months! I have already made very important connections here, and am finding much interest in my program. I will be starting Earth 1 now in September with multiple sections of Systems 1, both live and online.

Use of funds
I seek your help raising $12,000 to accelerate my work.
I will use these funds to purchase necessary tools and for living expenses for 2 months while I organize live and online Earth 1 classes in the new area (coastal Maine) to which I have migrated. This list is prioritized; if I do not reach my funding goal, donated funds will be applied in this order.

1) Reactivate my cell phone. In January 2013, I suspended service because I was unable to pay the bill. But I need it for professional communications, online seminars (conference calls with students), and "˜tethering' (using my cell for connecting my laptop to the Internet) because reliable connection during travel is often problematic. Cost: $350 (includes overdue bill that must be paid to reactivate). [Update: I reactivated it after paying the bill; but signal here in coastal Maine was so poor that I canceled the account and installed a land line, necessary for teleconferencing in webinars.)

2) Living and working space. For peace of mind and optimal work efficiency, I need a stable, comfortable, peaceful "˜home base' close to a community (e.g., Belfast) where I can live, write, meet with students, and offer online seminars. Estimated cost: $1600 (includes utilities and Internet connection).

3) A Mac Book Pro laptop to replace my six-year-old PC laptop that "˜died' and an old, small loaner I'm using now. My aging eyes will appreciate a 15" screen for writing, editing, and multimedia development for a DVD and eBook. Cost: $2000. (I own a projector and portable screen for presentations.)

4) An inexpensive camcorder to record lectures and prototype demonstration videos. Cost: $300. (I am an experienced photographer trained in the use of video editing software. However, my plan is to engage a professional videographer with my prototype videos.)

5) A used minivan inexpensively modified as a "˜camper' (sleeping cot, secure storage bins, cooking gear, clothing, etc.) to transport my gear and me, and accommodate "˜living' during professional trips. Estimated cost: $7000, including insurance, fuel and maintenance.

6) Miscellaneous and unexpected expenses: $750.

Again, all donations of $50 or more may be applied to fees for live and/or online courses, tutoring or consulting for you or adults of your choice, or as a scholarship for unspecified students.

The system sciences and why they are important
This section is for those unfamiliar with the system sciences, their value and their crucial role for human cultural evolution during this century, and for our long-term survival as a species. Please know that this is not merely my opinion, but explicitly voiced by numerous top scientists, philosophers and writers.

The system or network sciences are a new (to western science) set of principles "“ a new language - that help us understand any collection of interacting parts that self-organize into larger, more complex wholes with characteristics or properties that are not fully explained by the properties of their parts. Examples include organisms, ecosystems, economies, societies, the Internet, and our climate system.

Studied as a whole, the system sciences are as different from the mechanistic sciences of the last 300 years as night from day, and represent a profound and crucial shift in our understanding of how nature works and how to create healthy human organizations.

These principles have been developed by many of Earth's greatest scientists and mathematicians, beginning in early twentieth century but mostly since the 1940's, and are consistent with physics and chemistry. However, they offer plausible rational and intuitive explanations and models of phenomena that those disciplines alone cannot, like life and consciousness.

The sciences "“ plural "“ include the following, all of which are addressed in Earth 1.

· Self-organization (aka non-equilibrium thermodynamics) and emergence sciences (different sides of the same coin) that help us understand how the universe became so complex as a result of matter interacting with energy flows (gradients)

· Geophysiology, Earth system science or Gaia theory, a new branch of biology that studies Earth as a planetary-scale, living system composed of tightly linked organisms, air, water and rocks that has automatically "“ without conscious thought - self-regulated its temperature and the chemical composition of its atmosphere and oceans in the face of solar changes and disturbances like mega-volcanoes and asteroid strikes for at least 3,500 million years; it is conceptually similar to your own homeostasis that automatically regulates the temperature and the chemical composition of your body.

· Non-linear dynamics (aka "˜chaos theory'), fractal geometry (the geometry of nature), and computational systems (e.g., Stephen Wolfram's New Kind of Science), all of which are far easier to grasp and more useful than calculus, and visually fascinating in a way that can engage middle-school students and adults alike!

These principles are simple, easy-to-understand by adults with any background, including no previous science. Yet they are also elegant, awe-inspiring and life changing. They provide a rational and intuitive understanding of every kind of system regardless of size and composition. That is, the same principles apply to all systems: one does not need a different set of principles for each! My students often say, "I always knew nature worked this way, but I just didn't have the language to describe it."

Further, the principles are not merely academic, but relevant to everyday life! They contribute greatly to understanding how things work: cooking, health, healing, organizational dynamics, business, economics, political systems, ecosystems, food production (especially permaculture!), and climate change : the list is endless.

For biologists like me, or anyone interested in the study of life, one of their greatest benefits is an elegant, new intuitive model of life and consciousness "“ grounded in self-organization and emergence sciences - that is radically different from the mechanistic models of 20th century biology, yet more understandable. They also teach us how to create healthy human organizations that function like natural living systems and are necessary for evolution of truly sustainable cultures.

Perhaps the greatest value of the system sciences in the short term is their crucial role in helping us understand the abrupt climate change event that has begun that will change the course of human history. Earth 1 explains why our climate crisis is more urgent than described by groups like and even the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Importantly "“ and the core idea that motivates my work - these sciences are not just relevant to understanding climate change, but are crucial components in addressing it. The future health of our species depends on a shift from seeing Earth as "˜the environment' to seeing it as a planetary-scale, living entity within which we live as symbionts. Again, this is not just my opinion, but that of numerous top scientists and scholars.


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Alder Stone 
Belfast, ME
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