Quite recently, I gave a presentation on this topic at the University of Pretoria (for Architecture and Landscape Architecture students) and I thought it would be appropriate to share it with a wider audience.
Ecological intelligence refers to our ability to understand the processes that occur in nature and our affirmative response to these processes. That includes our impact on natural resources. In order to understand these processes, we firs have to understand ourselves.
This understanding between man and nature can best be illustrated from a tale from the Nguni people. In their culture the Ziziphus mucronata (Buffalo thorn) is a very important tree and I would like to highlight their interpretation of the thorns.
The straight thorn points to our future and the curved thorn reminds us where we come from. It is only through understanding our past that we can plan our future. In the Nguni culture, a respect for Nature was very prominent because they knew that if Nature were to perish they would also perish.
Put very succinctly by Chief Seattle in the 1860’s:
“The rivers are our brothers. They quench our thirst. They carry our canoes and feed our children. You must give to the rivers the kindness you would give to any brother.”
The sentence in bold epitomizes Ecological Intelligence.
So why do we treat Nature with such disdain? I think it lies in our collective history. Up to the Agricultural Revolution ~10 000 years ago we were hunters and foragers. (You had to understand Nature, otherwise you will perish). The Agricultural Revolution meant that we could settle and the availability of food freed up some time for other activities. This period was also the birth of Mythology. In some mythologies, Man was considered superior to other animals and that gave him a free pass to “subdue” Nature. The Industrial Revolution made matters worse. Factories and mines were the big culprits and to this day nothing has changed.
Our current lifestyle exacerbates disconnect between man and nature. Many people live in a disconnected environment where Nature plays little to no role, while large groups of our population live in abject poverty and the only thing they care about is survival (and quite rightly so).
So how do we sensitise people to our role in ecology so that we can become ecologically intelligent? I think the most important mind shift is to acknowledge that we are also part of the animal kingdom and not superior to it. We need to acknowledge that we are the most proliferous and destructive animals that ever walked the earth. If this is our mindset, we will look differently at nature and how we treat it.
How do we reconnect with nature? The only way is to experience it:
- Walk barefoot in the rain
- Go skinny dipping
- Take some walks in nature and try to eat some wild fruits (the first time preferably with someone with experience)
- Sit in a natural spot and watch the sun disappear over the horizon as the earth turns away from it. LOOK and LISTEN. Nature can be quite noisy at this time of day.
- Even a veggie garden will get your hands full of soil.
A very good book on this subject is “Ecological Intelligence” by Ian McCallum. You can order it from his website: ian-mccallum.co.za.
I hope this will stimulate your thoughts on this subject. Please contact me if you want to contribute. firstname.lastname@example.org.