Bionics in politics: what politics can learn from ecology

Seeing that one of the most popular posts of this blog are about Political decisions and Governance I would like to share my thoughts on some ways forward for the present global challenges. I would like to suggest that the organization of ecological systems can serve as a model for the global governance in the same way that bionics applies nature inspired solutions in the sphere of engineering, architecture and technology.

During my education in Romania I repeatedly (i.e. middle school, high school and university) learned about the “laws of function and mechanisms operating at all levels of scale and size” of the ecological systems most of them coming from Odum brothers’ books. I am not sure of the right translation of the terms but some of them strike me today as relevant to the governing of the commons in the 21st century. I believe that the principles of systems ecology are directly or indirectly applicable to national and international politics, for example: the functioning of ecological systems based on a hierarchy and the emergent properties of an ecological level or unit.

When integrating different levels of organization, following the hierarchy of ecological systems, the superior levels have new, emergent properties that are different from the ones owned by the integrated systems. Consequently, emergence helps us understand that at global level we have different things to fight for than the ones at national level. Another way to express the same concept is the “nonreducible property” (Odum and Barrett, 2005:7) which means in a simplistic way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Furthermore, interconnectivity (or sometimes connectedness) of systems helps us to understand better global problems like climate change, land-use change and even globalisation. It is acknowledged that with increasing interdependence comes increasing vulnerability. In systems in dynamic equilibrium, such as ecosystems, economies and societies when one component is down it can cause the entire system to fail depending on the complexity and carrying capacity of the system. Given its advantages, economic globalisation is easy to accept and benefits from loads of workforce and willpower targeting the reduction and removal of barriers between national borders in order to facilitate the flow of goods, capital, services and labor. Paradoxically, when it comes to our global environment, borders suddenly pop up and countries are not willing to be bound by international agreements, acting as if all environmental problems can be confined to national territories. In this way the <<world economy>> becomes more acknowledged that the <<world environment>>. On the contrary, “when the planet is understood as a worldwide society characterized by cross border networks, as opposed to a collection of nation states colliding with one another like billiard balls, then the distinction between internal and external affairs becomes obsolete. An effective foreign policy can no longer be satisfied with the defense of narrow <<national interests>>. In essence, the national interest now encompasses the well-being of all people on this planet. This means that national welfare is no longer an effective frame of reference for enlightened foreign policy; it must be extended to encompass the common welfare of a world society.” (Sachs & Ott, 2007:21)

Economic globalisation together with the questioning of the physical limits of our planet by reports such as “The Limits to Growth” and by international discussion platforms such as this one, are strong arguments in favour of a “biosphere politics”. There are already some organizations, initiatives and think-tanks that try to move things in this direction. Adopting an ecologically orientated thinking could be beneficial both to lay people as to decision-makers by enhancing the grounds and legitimacy of their actions. If they are still not convinced by their obligation to act locally while thinking globally, biosphere politics can at least serve as an additional conceptual incentive (if not as a tested way forward). Learning from nature was always a good option for the mankind. So why not do it at a larger scale than the individual one?


Bourg, D., Whiteside K. 2010. Vers une democratie ecologique. Le citoyen, le savant et le politique. Seuil.

Odum, H.T. 1983. Systems Ecology: An Introduction. John Wiley and Sons.

Odum, E.P., Barrett, G.W. 2005. Fundamentals of Ecology. Thomson, Brooks/Cole (fith edition).

Sachs, W., Ott, H.E. 2007. A New Foreign Policy Agenda. Environmental Politics is Resource Politics is Peace Politics. Internationale Politik, Journal of the German Council on Foreign Relations (IP-Global Edition), Vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 16-22.


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