Largely, we are agreed that we are headed for problems if we continue with our activities without drastic mitigation. The focus is very clearly on the climate emergency. However, there is a great deal of dispute about what should be done and by whom. Efforts appear to be centred very much around technology and a “Green” economy. There is a very real risk that we waste precious time while people seek to maintain the status quo – building economies that just happen to use less fossil fuels. Worse, we could end up with plastic trees and electronic drones in place of bees, ancient woodland and other green spaces replaced with tree cash crops and solar panels.
The Green economy/technological approach may well overlook the wisdom of nature and overestimate the capacity of our minds to solve problems. Our tendency to take an isolated approach to problems instead of recognising the complexity and interconnectedness of the systems on Planet Earth is likely to have unintended consequences.
In connecting with nature, the following insights have arisen for me. Firstly, nature will be OK – albeit with some dramatic changes. Our way of life will not. We need to work with nature and completely overhaul our thinking. It is not an accident that we are dealing with extreme poverty and inequality at the same time as we are dealing with the impacts of our industries on the planet. We need to look at the way we exploit resources and any system that is effectively a pyramid scheme – not even underpinned by anything more than false promises.
Nature has complex designs and systems that can restore balance. Trees, for example, can reduce the risk of flooding, hold soil together, assist in habitat creation, reduce temperatures both on the ground and in the local atmosphere and are an important part of the water cycle. They can also reduce evaporation, mitigating issues caused by drought – keeping water in rivers, reservoirs and agricultural soil, not forgetting the well-known role they play in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and shielding us from certain pollutants. In fact, they are so critical to the balance of Earth’s systems that it is thought that deforestation of tropical rainforest is having an adverse effect on agriculture in non-tropical regions. It is somewhat ironic that the land is being cleared to cater for the demand for cheap beef and animal feed. It’s not all about trees either. The great variety of habitats from lowland peat bogs to coral reefs – all have their place and their role.
So the next lesson from nature is that we cannot survive without it and that it is at the heart of the solution. Technology will no doubt have a role, however it is absolutely critical that we take care of the trees, plants, animals, water, and soil. We could probably just about survive without technological help – we absolutely cannot survive without plants and insects, soil and water.
We have to put equal emphasis on biodiversity. We have to support whole ecosystems, starting from the bottom up – from the soil, the micro-organisms, through plants and insects to the large predators. We have to stop tainting the water and the air. We have to share our space with nature and we have to make space for wilderness. Our housing and gardens should place priority on making habitats for plants and animals as much as for people. This serves ALL of us.
This brings me to the next lesson – a place for everything and everything in its place. Look at what nature puts in places when left to its own devices – leave the “weeds” in the cracks and let the grass grow – use all the little spots to make a great patchwork of nature all around us – pockets for life to thrive – a place for everything.
Plants are suited to particular habitats. They can thrive where they are adapted to live – elsewhere they need a lot of intervention – watering, changes to the soil, feeding etc. Native plants attract local animals and those animals can find the food, shelter and resources they need. Plants and animals that we have tampered with (e.g. by selective breeding) are not often able to function as part of an ecosystem and are vulnerable to change in a way that diverse species are not. Almost as an aside, our gardens should not be hard work – they should be havens for humans and wildlife. A place to enjoy the gifts of nature.
Possibly the biggest lesson from 2020 is to just STOP! Stop consuming too much and wasting. Stop treating clothes, vehicles and other items as disposable. Stop unnecessary travel. Stop growing economies – no other species does this. We do not need to do this. We were not born to line the pockets of the wealthy few. Change what you give your resources to – whether that is your time, money or focus.
This brings me to another big message – not to give your power away. This is huge. Collectively people slowed or stopped the virus from spreading during lockdown (depending on location) – with no vaccine and often guidance from governments that was far from clear. We made sacrifices to protect ourselves and others and nature showed signs of recovering.
Not giving your power away is more than that. It is about what you allow into your space – television, news media, advertising, political information, social media and whether the people grabbing your attention are seeking to manipulate you and your world view. They only hold any power when they can influence collective decisions.
By spending time connecting with nature and the wisdom that we find within ourselves and all around, we can restore balance, find our inner compass and put our minds in their rightful place – in service to a greater good rather than making a bit of a mess by trying to control the show!