The notion that human beings can design incredible processes such as ecosystems has been described as the height of hubris by some; ecosystems are too complex, the argument goes, and our knowledge too incomplete. In reality, we design ecosystems every time we start a bulldozer or tractor, every time we change land use or reroute stream flow.

We just do not design explicitly, and the consequences are apparent. Designing ecosystem services should be approached with a deep sense of humility and respect for what we do not know.

In order to ensure that this philosophy is embodied in the practice of ecological design, we propose the following three axioms of ecological engineering:

1. Everything is connected
2. Everything is changing
3. We are all in this together

The first two axioms are fundamental principles of systems ecology described by H. T. Odum (1988) and are the foundation of ecological design. They are critical for understanding and conceptualizing solutions to the challenges of developing sustainable design strategies.

The interconnectedness of all biotic and abiotic processes throughout the biosphere is demonstrated by the effects of urban land use on almost every aspect of ecosystem function, from climate to hydrology to biodiversity. Everything is changing, and the rate of change is increasing.

Changes in the biosphere are being driven by changes in global climate, land use, and human population, among other factors.

The third axiom, embodied by the Cherokee cultural ideal gadugi, roughly translated as “we are all in this together,” is a normative claim that connects ecosystem theory with sustainability. This is the essence of the ecological engineering ethics.

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