Exploring How Living Systems Change

last year, I was exposed to a series of group facilitation and participatory democracy strategies that go forth into the world under the name of “The Art of Hosting.” Some were familiar to me – some not. I am sharing here an article that comes from the work of Chris Corrigan, one of the movers and shakers in the Hosting community, about a process known as the “Two Loops”. It gives us an opportunity to look at how the old order is dying and the new order is struggling to be born. Each one of us lives and works on at least one part of this spectrum. My work as a therapist lives in the “hospice” spot in the upper loop, but the work of urban homesteading lands squarely in the spot of  Nourishment, on the lower loop. I think it’s important to do work in both places — stewarding the death of the old, and bringing to life the new order.


The Two Loops are a context-setting piece, not a roadmap of ‘change management’. I’ll touch on some of the core skeleton and not all the flesh and bones  and as we walk through it think about the systems you are connected to.

Today, we are living with strong remnants of the Newtonian world view – the mechanistic view. Where the prevailing view of change was to separate the system into its parts, analyze them, find the ‘faulty part’ and switch it out for a new better one. Except that rarely resulted in the kind of changed leaders hoped for. Instead, they were confronted by eight new problems caused by their initial solution (and the original problem might be back, only bigger this time). We can never do sufficient planning to avoid these unintended consequences, because we can’t possibly see all the connections that are truly there. When we take a step or make a decision, we are tugging at webs of relationships that are seldom visible but always present.

The irony is that our struggles for how to create change – change in our organizations, communities and personal lives – takes place in a world that changes constantly and is quite adept at change. In the last 100 years we have learned different ways about how the world works, and that living things operate differently than mechanical things. It isn’t that Newton was wrong, but that the story didn’t end there.

A map or model that is helpful in describing a living systems view of change comes from the work of Margaret Wheatley and the Berkana Institute. Margaret suggested our metaphors for organizing and leadership are outdated, and if we treat humans like machines we are in big trouble. She looked to the new science of chaos, quantum physics and living systems, and began applying those metaphors to ways of working in the world.

This map – or model – is called the Two Loops. It tells the story of how systems die and new systems emerge. It happens at every scale – can easily be a map of ideas, a map of life, of a family, of a community, and organization or large systems like the fossil fuel economy. It works on all kinds of levels.

It has two lines – but it isn’t a linear timeline. More like a top map. Here is the story of the two loops….

As systems ascend and become the dominant system, they become more powerful and more entrenched. At the top of their game – life is great!  Using fossil fuel economy as an example… oil was discovered, we found we could use it as an energy source, and then over time all of our world economy was structured around fossil fuels as an energy source.

The system begins to teeter… starts to lose its significance and influence over time… it peeters out.  But right around when it’s at it’s peak, there are some people that drop out – or walk out – and the new system starts being born. They can see that the system curves down! (Oil is a non-renewable resource!) People drop out and walk out, innovating something new. The look at the way things are – those deeply held beliefs that underpin the current system and see that something else might be possible. This is a radical act – stepping out. Not everyone walks out of the current system, not everyone can. Some are needed to stay behind and maintain as best as they can because the new system isn’t ready yet.

The leadership action here is to name what is going on with the walk outs – what they are doing… so they can find each other (then they can Google each other!). What are you working on? Green economy… hey I know someone else who is looking into that! This generates energy. It can be very lonely as an innovator. They might be working on their idea and be unaware that there are others working on the same thing.

The next leadership role in nurturing the emergence of the new system is to connect; to network and build social capital. What we have learned from living systems is to create a healthier community, connect it to more of itself.  To make a system stronger, we need to create stronger relationships. So once we’ve named the walk-outs, they can find each other (or be connected) and begin to learn from each other in networks.

So the leadership move here is to help the walk-outs, the innovators find each other – help those connections happen. This may mean creating gathering spaces—both real and virtual—so that people can meet, exchange ideas and resources, and develop relationships. These gatherings are a rich source of ideas, inspiration, consolation and confidence. They infuse pathfinders with clarity and motivation to keep experimenting and discovering solutions to their most pressing issues.

Next comes the role of communities of practice, of experiments and rapid learning. Failing forward and upwards as the new system continues to emerge. The leadership role here is to nourish. If pathfinders are to persevere and be successful, they need to be nourished with many different kinds of resources –things like time, space, money, expertise, skill building, mentorship. It’s also about weaving loose connections – not spend two years trying to nail down terms of reference. There is a time and place for that kind of structure, and its not here.

To help turn the corner and begin the upward journey as the new system, the leadership role is to illuminate, to make visible and share the stories.  Illuminate what is possible, illuminate what you are learning. Tell the story – this is useful! You can come over here… there is a bridge that is created. It is Compelling enough they are willing to jump and go there.

Many times, efforts that are based on new ways of thinking are either ignored, misperceived or even invisible. When they are noticed, they are often labeled as inspiring anomalies that do not cause people to change their basic beliefs, worldviews and practices. It takes time, attention and a consistent focus for people to see them for what they are: examples of what’s possible, of what our new world could be like.

There is also a leadership role here of protecting what is emerging so the current system doesn’t oust it; like antibodies forcing out a perceived threat – an autoimmune reaction. When, how, and to whom to illuminate is a careful dance. Sometimes when illumination might be TOO early and instead what is needed is a cloak of invisibility.

The old is dying, the new is struggling… a leadership move up here is the graceful use of power. Are you hanging on to the old in a way that is completely toxic? Or might you be able to support both the people trying to maintain the current system with duct tape and bandaids long enough until the new system is ready, and be funnelling some resources, connections, support and more to the innovators below?

Naming fear and shadow is also important work here. What are we afraid of? Leaving these unspoken does incredible damage. And we will cart these fears into the new system and build our structures from them.

There is also the important work of hospicing the dying system. And grieving, letting go of the old. It’s a leadership role to host both the hospice and the grieving. The old system dies a dispersive death, and all parts of the system get recycled (we aren’t starting from scratch every time!). This is the compost heap: decomposed, restructured material and energy that is released into the environment for the new system to build from.

This is a powerful skill – not to just walk away, but to harvest what we have learned, relationships, people; what do we want to remember? Everything is used. What is still needed in the new that will serve us well?

As both systems are on the down-ward direction, can host a conversation between those in with power and resources in the old system and those innovating the new – where might resources be freed up? What’s needed?

It’s important to note that we absolutely need people who are working on different parts of the two loops.  The work of creating the new is absolutely dependent on someone being willing to hold together the existing.  Bridges are built in both directions from the old to the new and from the new back to the old.

When I was preparing this for us today, I thought about another important leadership move – less of a move and more of a capacity: to sit in uncertainty. To be able to sit in the swamp of uncertainty for a LONG time – maybe far longer than you ever imagined. How to stay there, gracefully, on that edge…. Using your personal leadership practices to work with your fears and limiting beliefs around uncertainty, of not knowing, of attaching to outcomes, of not be able to control.


So think about your system and come and stand where your work is on these two loops.

Make a little constellation with some folks around you and talk about what it is like for you on this part of the loop.

Frack Off

I don’t go to a lot of demonstrations these days. I’ve got plenty of good excuses – too busy, too much work, too many family demands. And the most nagging – they don’t work. But I am up at night worrying about fracking, cause 3:00 a.m. seems to be my time to worry about water. Fracking seems to be to be so psychotic, so off the charts flat out DUMB and suicidal and I just want it to stop. So when a bunch of organizations pulled together a Don’t Frack California demonstration in Sacramento, I decided to take my whole family there. Because it’s a good thing to do. Because my daughter should know about resistance culture. Because you never know. Because sometimes it’s important to stand up and be counted. Even if it doesn’t “work.”
In the end, my daughter conveniently caught a cold and her dad stayed home with her, and I went with two friends who share my concerns and commitments about the environment. We were glad we managed to extricate ourselves from our family lives and show up. The whole thing gave me a good opportunity to explain to my daughter how you can go to a demonstration and not get arrested, and what you can do if you want to get arrested. I said, “Well, you just sit down when they tell you to move.” And she said, “That’s all it takes, to get arrested?” And I said, “Sometimes that’s all it takes.”

I sat down a lot at the demo, under the beautiful trees in front of the Sacramento Capitol building, but no one arrested me or anyone else, so far as I could tell. I listened to the speeches, and read the signs and posters. I got a t-shirt for my partner that said “Those who have the privilege to know have the responsibility to act,” because we’d been talking about privilege a lot and what it demanded of us. He hasn’t worn it yet because he thought the tag line of “to know” was a bit arrogant, but I think that’s just him avoiding the truth – he does know, he must act.

I don’t know what the demo “did” for the anti-fracking movement except bring people together and energize us to imagine our collective resistance can make a difference. There is a pending piece of legislation in Sacramento now that would put an anti-fracking moratorium in place. Perhaps showing up in this peaceful way helps our politicians do the right thing. It’s the sorry best we can hope for. Democrats control both houses in California, which makes the passage of this amendment more possible, but let’s face it; Democrats are no guarantee of environmental protection. Look at Jerry Brown. And Barack Obama. And etc.

Still, heading to Sacramento to stand and be counted felt meaningful, and is something I would do again. I’d even drag my daughter there next time, cold and all.

Here are some photos from the event: http://www.flickr.com/photos/120397232@N02/13180229555/in/photostream/

Fracking’s a fantastic risk to the water supply in communities everywhere. Hook into your own local anti-fracking movement and work to protect the waters.


All that Does Not Suck


Living with Roses

I had the opportunity to write an article for Taproot Magazine www.taproot.com, a beautiful, full color, ad-free, paper magazine put out by homesteaders living in the Northeast. This magazine has no significant on-line presence: they really want you to get the object, live with it, read it, love it.

I suggested one piece about water and one about “eco-somatics”, my personal blend of ecological and body-based consciousness (a favorite theme), and was surprised when they went for the latter.

Here’s how it starts:


Living with Roses

Walking up my neighborhood hill this morning, it is brisk, nearly November. The trees are turning yellow and red. My hands are cold. It feels good. Footstep after footstep, I join in the ascent. I walk this hill to get my dose of daily perspective—as I turn and face the down slope I see my little city coming to life for the day. I am aware of cars and people, houses, trees, the noise of the freeway, a red-tailed hawk circling overhead, how long it’s been since it last rained.

Burdened with a demonic and persistent awareness of the rapidly advancing depredations of climate change, questions run freely through my mind on my walks: How can we adapt to the changes of the 21st century? What is a resilient response? What do I know that is relevant to the world that is coming into a being—a harsher, more dangerous world, a world with different opportunities and limits? What actions make a difference? Am I prepared? Will we survive?

That’s me, always sweating the small stuff.

On a bad morning, the broken world lies in front of me, unfixable. It’s too late, the damage is done, our goose is cooked. I count every tree that’s been cut down, every extra car in the fast lane, every corporate-sponsored attack on the earth: another Target! another CostCo! another outlet mall! I am so tiny in the face of this juggernaut. I forget my connection to everything, that how I think and feel and act matters. Crouched in this stance, I am a cog in the wheel of the culture of despair.

On a good morning, I remember the daily practices that connect me to the world. I remember that as an ordinary mom living a local life, I have some power, but not much, to affect the dominant cultural mudslide, i.e., “doing the best I can” really is doing the best I can. I know that the small acts we take toward the healing of the world are the only steps we can take, and that the way change happens in this country is from the grassroots, a rhizomatic, perpetual motion, like the beautiful, pernicious bindweed in the garden. In this stance, I am a solutionary dedicated to the culture of life.



Where’s the Water?

Check out this graphic on where California’s water goes. The mind-blowing statistic of this month is that 90% of all water used in California is used by industry and industrial agriculture. That makes me want to take a long hot shower, and get involved in policy discussions at every level about water distribution. As with all the other problems in our culture, the persistent unequal distribution of resources–with those at the top of the “food chain” who can most afford to pay being charged the least for the resource–holds trye for water as well. We have to direct our activism not only to our own backyards but to the bigger policy issues which affect the distribution of all resources.

what the rich, and industry, don't want us to know

Water Use in California

Gardening in Drought Times

Here in California we are grappling with how to continue to garden when the rain is not falling from the sky in adequate quantities–i.e., barely ever, and certainly not enough to sustain all the human and other life in our vast state.

Here’s some tips for gardening in dry times and dry climates:When facing serious drought, we can be water-wise and successful growing a food garden. Here are some thingsto consider when planning a food garden during a drought and some suggestions for optimizing water usage.

The first step in deciding to have a food garden is to determine if extra water beyond basic household needs of cooking, bathing, etc. is available. This includes rain collection systems, captured water, and greywater.


1. Compost, compost, compost! Add organic matter to the soil. If soil is sandy, the addition of organic matter allows the soil to hold more water. Organic matter also helps open up soil allowing roots to go deeper and find more water at lower depths if there is any. Higher soil nutrition helps plants produce better yields with the same amount of water. Avoid adding excessive amounts of nitrogen as this encourages lush leafy growth that requires more water to sustain.

2. Mulch, mulch, mulch! Mulch keeps soil cool, conserves moisture and reduces weeds. Use three to four inches on top of the soil. The larger the material size, the deeper layer you need to provide. Choose from straw, fallen leaves, hulls, shredded bark, grass clippings and newspaper. It is not advisable to use plastic sheeting as mulch because it deprives the soil of much-needed oxygen. Keep mulch two inches away from the base of the plant to avoid the possibility of rot. When hand watering, pull back mulch so that water goes directly into the soil.

3. Use a drip system. Learn about individual plant moisture needs and group plants that have the same need together on the same valve. If using in-line emitters in one-fourth inch tubing that use one-half gallon per hour per emitter and there is a length of ten feet with emitters spaced every foot, five gallons of water an hour is used on that section of tubing. Add up all drip lines to determine total water used. Install a timer. Install shut-off valves at the beginning of drip lines in order to turn them off when an area is fallow. Irrigate only as long as it takes to moisten the active root zone. Water, preferably, in the morning or in the cool hours of the evening so that soil stays evenly moist. Don’t forget the drip system once it is set up. Monitor and adjust it, as needed.

4. Be selective. Consider the water available to support crops through harvest, and grow only the amount and types of vegetables the family will consume. For example, plant two beds of vegetables instead of six; plant four tomatoes instead of ten. To get the most out of the water you apply, grow high yielding vegetables like beans, chard, mustard, eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, squash, quinoa and amaranth. Do not grow crops that need consistent moisture. Examples include most brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, cauliflower and radishes), lettuce and other greens, beets, carrots and other root crops, celeriac, celery, leeks and onions. Avoid these unless a particular variety has been bred to need less water. Generally, cool season crops are not drought resistant and growing them during the heat of the summer requires lots of extra water to keep them cool.

Consider the following observations on which crops need the most water and when:

Some beans and sweet corn need considerable water to produce a good crop. Beans need water most when they are blooming and setting fruit.

Corn needs water most during tasseling, silking and ear development.

Yield is directly related to quantities of water, nitrogen and spacing.

Peas need water most during pod filling.

Other vegetables, such as cucumbers and squash, and fruits, such as melons, need water most during flowering and fruiting.

Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need water most during flowering and fruiting. (Note that after tomatoes set, they can do very well with reduced water).

After deciding what to grow, choose varieties that tolerate dry conditions. Look for the terms “drought-resistant” or “drought-tolerant” in seed catalogs or on plant labels (note that “heat-tolerant” refers to above ground air temperature and is not the same as drought-resistant or drought-tolerant). Even these varieties require water. Some water is needed to start seeds or establish a seedling, and to periodically irrigate the plant through the growing season. Selecting varieties that are described as “widely-adapted” in addition to drought-resistant and drought-tolerant also may be helpful.

5. Consider days to maturity. A crop needing fewer days to mature requires fewer irrigations before harvest (e.g., 62-day ‘Stupice’ vs. 85-day ‘Cherokee Purple’ tomato). Look for early-maturing or short-season varieties. Days to maturity will vary from one part of the country to another as well as from one microclimate to another.

6. Increase plant spacing. Spaced plants are not competing as much for water in the soil. Very deep, open soil or French intensive double dug beds allow vegetables to be planted closer together because the roots have more room to grow deeper and find water if it is present. Try increasing the spacing recommended in the SCMG “Vegetable Planting Summary,”iv by 50 percent or even doubling the spacing if you have room.

7. Eliminate weeds. Weeds compete for water. Be aggressive in removing them from growing areas.

8. Use light-weight row covers. Cover plants as a means to collect dew. Dew drops onto soil and keeps it moist. While using row covers can help prevent insect damage, look under the cover from time to time to monitor plant growth and check for unwanted insects trapped inside.

9. Use shade. Heat-sensitive vegetables can benefit from being planted where they receive some afternoon shade. Plant them underneath or behind taller plants or consider using shade cloth.

10. Use windbreaks. The moisture on leaf surfaces is dried by moving air, causing the plant to need more water. In coastal and other windy areas, windbreaks will help roots keep up with leaf demands.

11. Determine when it is time to water again. Use a soil moisture meter. Or squeeze the soil in your hand: if it sticks together, it is still moist; if it is crumbly and falls apart, it is time to water.

Sourced from Sonoma County Master Gardeners


Catch the Buzz: Cities Support BioDiversity

Researchers at UCSB’s NCEAS compile the largest global dataset of urban birds and plants, which shows world’s cities retain a unique natural palette The rapid conversion of natural lands to cement-dominated urban centers is causing great losses in biodiversity. Yet, according to a new study involving 147 cities worldwide, surprisingly high numbers of plant and animal species persist and even flourish in urban environments — to the tune of hundreds of bird species and thousands of plant species in a single city.

Contrary to conventional wisdom that cities are a wasteland for biodiversity, the study found that while a few species — such as pigeons and annual meadow grass — are shared across cities, overall the mix of species in cities reflects the unique biotic heritage of their geographic location. The findings of the study conducted by a working group at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and funded by the National Science Foundation were published today in the Proceedings B, a journal of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences. “While urbanization has caused cities to lose large numbers of plants and animals, the good news is that cities still retain endemic native species, which opens the door for new policies on regional and global biodiversity conservation,” said lead author and NCEAS working group member Myla F. J. Aronson, a research scientist in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

The study highlights the value of green space in cities, which have become important refuges for native species and migrating wildlife. This phenomenon has been named the Central Park Effect because of the surprisingly large number of species found in New York’s Central Park, a relatively small island of green within a metropolis. Unlike previous urban biodiversity research, this study looks beyond the local impacts of urbanization and considers overall impacts on global biodiversity. The research team created the largest global dataset to date of two diverse taxa in cities: birds (54 cities) and plants (110 cities). Findings show that many plant and animal species, including threatened and endangered species, can flourish in cities, even as others decline or disappear entirely.

Cities with more natural habitats support more bird and plant species and experience less loss in species as the city grows. Overall, cities supported far fewer species (about 92 percent less for birds and 75 percent less for native plants) than expected for similar areas of undeveloped land. “We do pay a steep price in biodiversity as urbanization expands,” said coauthor Frank La Sorte, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “But even though areas that have been urbanized have far fewer species, we found that those areas retain a unique regional flavor. That uniqueness is something that people can take pride in retaining and rebuilding.” Conserving green spaces, restoring native plant species and adding biodiversity-friendly habitats within urban landscapes could, in turn, support more bird and plant species. “It is true that cities have already lost a substantial proportion of their region’s biodiversity,” said Madhusudan Katti, a faculty member in the Department of Biology at California State University, Fresno. “This can be a cup half-full or half-empty scenario. If we act now and rethink the design of our urban landscapes, cities can play a major role in conserving the remaining native plant and animal species and help bring back more of them.”

The human experience is increasingly defined within an urban context, the authors noted. They maintain it is still possible for a connection to the natural world to persist in an urban setting, but it will require planning, conservation and education. “Given that the majority of people now live in cities, this group’s synthesis of data on plant and urban plant and animal diversity should be of broad interest to ecologists as well as urban and landscape planners,” said Frank Davis, NCEAS director.

Reprinted from http://www.eurekalert.org/pubnews.php>

Talking About What’s Really Going On: Climate Change, the New Normal and You

what's really happening

Climate Change, the New Normal, and You
A Support to Action Group


Where’s the Water?

This week, gardener divine Wendy Krupnick and I penned a letter (to anyone who would listen) about the scarcity of water in our county. The Press Democrat picked it up, and hopefully a few others will as well. County Supervisors are responding as well.  Here is the Press Democrat link for the letter: http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20131231/opinion/131239969 and here is the letter printed in full:

To: Sonoma County Supervisors and Water Agency

Re: Drought leadership needed

The driest year in California’s recorded history is about to come to a close, and there is no promise that the drought will end any time soon. Even if there was substantial rainfall in the next few months, will it be sufficient to replenish severely depleted groundwater reserves? What if that rain does not come? Too many human, animal, biological and economic lives are dependent on this scarce resource for us not to take immediate measures to preserve what we have.

The specter of extended drought is as scary as the “super storms” which have been happening in other parts of the world. Equally frightening is the deafening silence of our public officials, who have so far failed to acknowledge this crisis and call for mandatory conservation measures. Climate change is clearly happening here and now.

We know that:

  • In 2002 Sonoma County reported that approximately 40,000 wells existed within the county, serving 90,000 residents. Groundwater provides drinking water in part to 42 percent of the population, with nearly all of the county’s residents dependent on groundwater as either a primary or backup drinking water supply source.
  • Sonoma County issues about 500 well permits each year. California is one of only two states with no groundwater regulation. Increasing amounts of water are taken out of the ground and decreasing amounts are being replenished.
  • In the Santa Rosa Plain alone, there are about 12,000 wells operated by the five cities, the county water agency and private homes and ranches. Virtually all farms and ranches – the lifeblood of our county’s economy – depend on private wells for water.
  • Groundwater in many parts of the county has been in “overdraft” for many years and some wells are now drawing on “ancient” deep aquifers.  Other areas have many dry wells, and subsidence has occurred in some regions.

In spite of the information above, we are told that our county does not need to worry about this unprecedented lack of rain, because there is still water in Lake Sonoma. As we can see, Lake Sonoma water is completely irrelevant to a very significant part of our population. And what if Lake Sonoma does not refill this winter?

In the 1970s California experienced a drought that was not as severe as the current one, but there were mandatory conservation measures enacted in many communities. Lawn watering and washing sidewalks and cars with hoses were prohibited, and low flow water devices were distributed. We learned to let “yellow mellow” and took short showers. These measures made a big difference and we found that we could do just fine using much less water. There are additional water conservation measures that could be actively supported by the agencies now, including grey water systems.

Why have such measures not been called for now? Are we afraid to scare off developers? Of the political battles that will ensue if we recognize the drought for what it is? It’s insanity to continue with business as usual when it comes to water–one of life’s true essentials.

Some of the cities have good water conservation policies “on the books”, yet dozens of acres of lawns adjacent to commercial enterprises waste thousands of gallons of water every month. And in many unincorporated areas water use is still extravagant. As long as private water districts like the Country Club neighborhood are allowed unlimited access to “their” water at nominal cost to their residents, water will continue to flow down those streets into the storm drains daily.

We the undersigned residents of Sonoma County call on our Supervisors, the Sonoma County Water Agency and its municipal clients to enact mandatory water conservations measures immediately. In addition to appropriate prohibitions and fees, there should be incentives for businesses to convert their landscapes to low water use plantings. Independent water districts and home owners associations should be required to provide water conservation information to their residents and to change their fee structures.

And we ask every resident of our county to count every drop of water as the precious, scarce resource that it is, and to do their part to adapt to our changing world.

Sincerely yours,






Monarch Butterflies and Bees – We Need You!

This (slightly scary) article about Monarchs and Bees can be a good reminder of how important it is to grow native plants to create and maintain pollination opportunities for our important pollinators.

The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear
Published: November 22, 2013

On the first of November, when Mexicans celebrate a holiday called the Day of the Dead, some also celebrate the millions of monarch butterflies that, without fail, fly to the mountainous fir forests of central Mexico on that day. They are believed to be souls of the dead, returned.

This year, for or the first time in memory, the monarch butterflies didn’t come, at least not on the Day of the Dead. They began to straggle in a week later than usual, in record-low numbers. Last year’s low of 60 million now seems great compared with the fewer than three million that have shown up so far this year. Some experts fear that the spectacular migration could be near collapse.

“It does not look good,” said Lincoln P. Brower, a monarch expert at Sweet Briar College.

It is only the latest bad news about the dramatic decline of insect populations.

Another insect in serious trouble is the wild bee, which has thousands of species. Nicotine-based pesticides called neonicotinoids are implicated in their decline, but even if they were no longer used, experts say, bees, monarchs and many other species of insect would still be in serious trouble.

That’s because of another major factor that has not been widely recognized: the precipitous loss of native vegetation across the United States.

“There’s no question that the loss of habitat is huge,” said Douglas Tallamy, a professor of entomology at the University of Delaware, who has long warned of the perils of disappearing insects. “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects,” he said. “But what do you think is happening to everything else?”

A big part of it is the way the United States farms. As the price of corn has soared in recent years, driven by federal subsidies for biofuels, farmers have expanded their fields. That has meant plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.

Another major cause is farming with Roundup, a herbicide that kills virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it.

As a result, millions of acres of native plants, especially milkweed, an important source of nectar for many species, and vital for monarch butterfly larvae, have been wiped out. One study showed that Iowa has lost almost 60 percent of its milkweed, andanother found 90 percent was gone. “The agricultural landscape has been sterilized,” said Dr. Brower.

The loss of bugs is no small matter. Insects help stitch together the web of life with essential services, breaking plants down into organic matter, for example, and dispersing seeds. They are a prime source of food for birds. Critically, some 80 percent of our food crops are pollinated by insects, primarily the 4,000 or so species of the flying dust mops called bees. “All of them are in trouble,” said Marla Spivak, a professor of apiculture at the University of Minnesota.

Farm fields are not the only problem. Around the world people have replaced diverse natural habitat with the biological deserts that are roads, parking lots and bluegrass lawns. Meanwhile, the plants people choose for their yards are appealing for showy colors or shapes, not for their ecological role. Studies show that native oak trees in the mid-Atlantic states host as many as 537 species of caterpillars, which are important food for birds and other insects. Willows come in second with 456 species. Ginkgo, on the other hand, which is not native, supports three species, and zelkova, an exotic plant used to replace elm trees that died from disease, supports none. So the shelves are nearly bare for bugs and birds.

Native trees are not only grocery stores, but insect pharmacies as well. Trees and other plants have beneficial chemicals essential to the health of bugs. Some monarchs, when afflicted with parasites, seek out more toxic types of milkweed because they kill the parasites. Bees use medicinal resins from aspen and willow trees that are antifungal, antimicrobial and antiviral, to line their nests and to fight infection and diseases. “Bees scrape off the resins from the leaves, which is kind of awesome, stick them on their back legs and take them home,” said Dr. Spivak.

Besides pesticides and lack of habitat, the other big problem bees face is disease. But these problems are not separate. “Say you have a bee with viruses,” and they are run-down, Dr. Spivak said. “And they are in a food desert and have to fly a long distance, and when you find food it has complicated neurotoxins and the immune system just goes ‘uh-uh.’ Or they become disoriented and can’t find their way home. It’s too many stressors all at once.”

There are numerous organizations and individuals dedicated to rebuilding native plant communities one sterile lawn and farm field at a time. Dr. Tallamy, a longtime evangelizer for native plants, and the author of one of the movement’s manuals, “Bringing Nature Home,” says it’s a cause everyone with a garden or yard can serve. And he says support for it needs to develop quickly to slow down the worsening crisis in biodiversity.

When the Florida Department of Transportation last year mowed down roadside wildflowers where monarch butterflies fed on their epic migratory journey, “there was a huge outcry,” said Eleanor Dietrich, a wildflower activist in Florida. So much so, transportation officials created a new policy that left critical insect habitat un-mowed.

That means reversing the hegemony of chemically green lawns. “If you’ve got just lawn grass, you’ve got nothing,” said Mace Vaughan of the Xerces Society, a leading organization in insect conservation. “But as soon as you create a front yard wildflower meadow you go from an occasional honeybee to a lawn that might be full of 20 or 30 species of bees and butterflies and monarchs.”

First and foremost, said Dr. Tallamy, a home for bugs is a matter of food security. “If the bees were to truly disappear, we would lose 80 percent of the plants,” he said. “That is not an option. That’s a huge problem for mankind.”

Jim Robbins is a frequent contributor to The New York Times and the author of “The Man Who Planted Trees.”