Nature Therapy: Overcoming Futurephobia, 3
Humans are an invasive species. We are incredibly adaptable, and our thriving imbalances our habitat so severely that other species die out. Many of us behave as if we exist to dominate our ecosystems. We design elaborate extractive systems to keep taking out progressively more than we give. In the end, we may become the only species that destroys its habitat to the point of extinction. But the thing that makes it worse is that we are conscious of what we are doing. We are certain that we are an important cause of accelerating global warming. We know that the decisions our parents made are driving some of the deadliest disasters now, and that the decisions we make today will destroy many of the lives of our children and grandchildren. We know we are committing ecocide, and that in the predictable future this will make humans extinct. Still we can’t seem to make ourselves stop.
How do we live with this? Our fear could cause us to freeze—to numb up and just not think about it. To flee by turning away from the images of disaster and death and fantasize about life on a new planet. Our grief is overwhelming, seeing the destruction today, imagining the predictable future, knowing that our children will inherit the results of our inaction and our grandchildren will never know the comforts we have enjoyed, puts us in denial: This will not affect me. It will not be as bad as that. The natural world cannot be destroyed. Science will make a grand rescue. But we know the scorching truth. We. Did. This. Accepting that, calling it what it is—guilt, loss, dread, acknowledging and feeling, and allowing it to open us to ourselves and to each other is also the pathway forward. We can imagine what will happen if we don’t do anything differently, and we can imagine what benefits will accrue if we change. Humans are creative problem solvers. We are so effective as invasives precisely because we are so adaptable.
Nature, has provided us with a way forward, through the grief and pain, the agony of COVID19 which forces us to STOP. To see, to choose—will we look or will we turn away? We made our world the way it is, and we can re-make it, too. Our decisions and drives, our “winner-take-all” capitalism and racism, our hierarchical materialist conventions are all designed by us. Nature has given us a chance to take stock. Face up. Look around. Listen. Reassess our current path. Imagine and redesign. See how new, more collaborative, interconnected and compassionate systems can emerge. See how nature is still ready to receive us, and shows us the way. That’s Nature Therapy:
1. Research and Re-route. We have been destroying whole ecosystems before we have had a chance to learn about them and how they work. Let’s start investing in learning as much as we can about our world…so we stop taking it for granted. We CAN destroy our habitat, and we CAN NOT live without it. If you have been benefitting from the status quo, the business as usual that is driving us to extinction, what kind of an investment is that? How will you explain that to your grandchildren as they struggle to find a foothold on high ground? Everything we do should be based on the facts we learn about the collaborative, balanced systems that nature shows to us. And when we start making decisions this way, in the new context of our understanding, our new mindsets will not allow the those other, unfactual, now old-fashioned and ill-fated decisions to seem normal. Let’s start telling a different human story. Learn it from nature. Figure out how we fit in—how we all are accountable to each other. Write it and tell it and show it. Start making evidence-based “utopian” movies and shows, so we know where we’re going. Re-route our lives toward interconnectedness with our species and the ecosystems we inhabit.
2. We are Nature and Nature is us. But many view her as something separate, even alien from us. We can stand in awe of her magnificence, can thrive in the shade of our favorite tree in the park, dine on the best food, delight in the cry of a newborn, delve into Nature’s complexities and still say as Einstein once did, “Nature is everything that is not me.” This sense of separateness, arrogance, bravado led many of us to try to dominate, to think of Nature as an eternal thing, opposite us. But that was never true. Our de-natured world view cuts us off at the roots. We need to reconnect to ourselves and accept the truth. The only way we can regain our composure, to get through the pain and grief without getting stuck, is to renew our relationship with Nature. The dolphins in Venice, the Himalayan peaks in full view, and seeing Beijing from a satellite are all evidence that she’s willing to reconnect with us. Brain science tells us that we are happiest when we are in nature. We need daylight, trees, open space, natural beauty and awe—the kind that comes from a grand view or a water droplet on a leaf--to thrive. Our brains focus and learn better when we have access to the outdoors. We are healthier, our bodies live longer, we feel ourselves “de-stress” and are more creative when we get outside and feel the breeze on our safely distanced faces. We know this. Let’s re-root.
3. Nature is the best teacher. Our ancestors knew this. We have to find our way back to find our way forward. How did they live for thousands of years in collaboration with Nature? What did they know—wait, what DO they know, how DO they adapt, how will we redesign better systems together? We must ask of Nature and of those who remember, in humility and openness, How do ecosystems work? Where is the place for humans? How do we stop taking more than we need? How do we stop stepping on each other? There are already buildings and systems and societies that are influenced by our past, the beautiful, indigenous and intricate ways in which plants and foundation species like trees function. Together we can reconnect and recommit to ourselves as a species--and grow again from our roots.
4. Take climate change personally. I’ll make a confession--I have an affinity for trees. I grew up surrounded by them, playing in them, soothed by them, wondering at their beauty. My soul resonates with calm when the first leaves of spring shush the breeze, and my favorite places and views all include trees. There’s an ancient White Oak at the bottom of my parents’ pasture—its branches arch over half the horizon. I lived in that tree. I imagined all of the stories that tree could tell, and how many leaves it must have, new each year. The ground was dangerous with acorns and slippery with leaves around it in the fall, but that didn’t stop me from climbing my rope ladder to the first branches to reclaim some of that summer freedom. When I learned more about trees and how they are the foundation species of many ecosystems, given how they provide sustenance in so many ways for so many species (ourselves included), asking very little in return, when I learned that they sequester more carbon than any other species, that their leaves gentle eroding rainfall and generate healthful chemicals into what we call fresh air, that their roots filter our water, and that the fungal exchanges there could be the source of life, I began to take it personally. Why don’t we know more about trees? Why do we cut the tallest and strongest down, depriving our future forests of their DNA? Does this have something to do with some people's desire to dominate? Can we make the connection to greed driving social injustice and re-root by thinking of ourselves as a species?
5. Educate. Re-routing and re-rooting is going to take some serious effort, of people at every age. But we need to ask those questions or we will not survive. In school we need to reassess schooling. Why aren’t professional educators, community needs and youth driving the solutions? We need to revalue connectedness, empathy and humility, success of the whole as more compelling than success of the few. Redirect our adaptive abilities and use them to repair our damaged relationships and redesign sustainable systems based on justice and reciprocity. We can use education as the most powerful lever to get to connectedness-- openly and fully with each other and with Nature—and use our capacity for learning to help us go forward, together.
Photo by Paul Duddy