The term eco-evolution was coined by Donella Meadows to describe "the power to add, change, evolve, or self-organize system structure" which she described as the fourth most powerful way to intervene in a system:

Self-organization refers to the capacity of a system to change itself by creating new structures; adding new negative and positive feedback loops, promoting new information flows, making new rules. For example, Meadows says, "microorganisms have the ability to not only change to fit their new polluted environment, but also to undergo an evolution that make them able to biodegrade or bioaccumulate chemical pollutants. This capacity of part of the system to participate to its own eco-evolution is a major leverage for change."

More intelligent systems are able to set goals, alter assumptions to change mindset or paradigm, or transcend paradigms altogether, by "changing the values and priorities that lead to the assumptions, and being able to choose among value sets at will. The power of this ability may be literally godlike."

However, none of these capabilities can take effect until eco-evolution begins - an effort, conscious or not, by an entity or group-entity to adjust its energy and environment tolerances to fit conditions encountered locally by their own bodies.

Joseph Tainter, in Complexity, Problem Solving, and Sustainable Societies, argued famously that without identifying such basic parameters as the energy cost of finding energy, or saving it, there was no potential for evolution of this nature to begin, and thus no potential for the more intelligent types of adaptation to occur.

Having investigated dozens of societies' path from energy glut to eventual collapse, he noted that there was no historical evidence that this could occur on such a scale as a human society, even on a relatively small and contained base of land. Easter Island Syndrome is the most commonly cited example of failure to achieve this so-called eco-evolution.

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copyright 2004