When Steve introduced me to Dr. Rich Blundell´s work, it felt quite challenging to do it justice. Even though I have spent some time in academia as well, Rich´s intriguing and pioneering concepts command my utmost respect. Being an ecologist by heart, he describes himself as deeply committed to science as this is what brought him back to what he has loved already as a fisherman – nature. Yet, by diving deeper into his research, the finely woven tapestry between science, philosophy, and spirituality becomes obvious, as well as that (t)his work is a truly unique labor of love.
So, what would be an insightful way to break down the many learnings that I gained from this interview? How could I cover the insights from the intertwined relationships between us as earthlings, how Rich calls us, and science, nature, art, and culture, not to mention some thought-provoking tangents into crypto currency?
First, I started overthinking and got tempted to follow the steps that my rational, left-side research brain suggested: familiarizing myself with definitions and terminology, watching Rich´s award-winning movie “An Earth Story,” reading some of the pieces of research on his website (www.oika.com), and, finally, listening to both his interviews with Better Place Project.
But wait a minute! It quickly dawned on me that I could never capture the soul of Rich´s work in that way! Why? Because it did not involve my heart, and it did not involve my feelings! And this is exactly what Rich´s message is about and what sets him apart from many other scientists. He strongly encourages us to reconnect with what makes us human: to start to FEEL again. In his eyes, we do already know enough, but we do not feel enough to effectively meet the challenges of these current times.
Now, what exactly does Rich mean by that? Let me provide you with some context.
Steve and Rich start their conversation by explaining that ecology, which explores the relationships between living beings and their environment, naturally includes human relationships as well. This simple truth became my first aha moment. Even though this might be obvious for many of you, I have to admit that I would not have thought about us as humans as ecological players in the natural habitats of mother earth in the first place. I consider this to be a profound sign of how much Western culture and my digitalized way of living seems to have alienated me from seeing my natural roots, despite the fact that I adore and enjoy the beauty of nature and that I am fully aware of its healing power.
Based on his deep love for science, Rich teaches us in this interview to allow ourselves to feel nature again, to listen to it, to touch it, to smell it, to immerse ourselves in it, and to get one with it. He shares with us his very personal experience of spending a considerable amount of time at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest with the artist Rita Leduc and how it impacted the way he perceived himself. He felt that reconnecting with the habitat did not only dissolve the mind-body-dualism, but also his inner and outer divide of personal identity. He felt that the forest shifted into them, and they into the forest. This sounds just beautiful and ignites my desire to experience myself in the same way. And, in fact, I have on several occasions.
Rich also describes that, in the beginning, to reconnect with nature might feel like meeting a friend thought lost as today´s social media culture doesn´t provide us with many chances to experience nature childlike, with our senses. Yet, when we listen deeply into ourselves, we will be able to feel the innate wisdom that we inherited from our ancestors who crossed any type of habitat on their way from Africa to other shores. Rich further emphasizes that this is the origin of our creativity as our species, the homo sapiens, has quite a unique developmental history. It is the only species that lived in grasslands and woodlands, crossed rivers, oceans or deserts. Thus, there is no other species that developed and experienced such deep, intimate and cosmopolitan relationships with every type of habitat on planet earth. In doing so, we have learned what the respective habitat had to teach us and have acquired what is described as ecological intelligence.
Wow! This insight was also new to me. I had never asked myself before why we as humans feel this deep sense of connection to our natural surroundings if we allow ourselves to do so. As a person who strongly believes in something greater than us, something you might want to call God, source (energy), all-embracing love, light, angels or the universe, I always attributed this deep feeling of belonging to the fact that all living beings – plants, animals and humans – are one, all part of this divine creation made from the same energy and that is the reason why.
Rich has offered this newly discovered perspective to me that indeed we share this inherited knowledge of the different habitats we lived in throughout history and that this history is also ingrained in our DNA. According to him, this goes in line with the concept introduced by Hungarian philosopher Michael Polanyi: we often know more than we can tell and if this tacit knowledge becomes part of our identity, it becomes indwelled knowledge. How can this happen? For example, by deeply immersing us into an experience like getting one with the forest.
Now, why is ecological intelligence a key concept if we want to understand how the great majority of us as humans seems to deal, for instance, with climate change?
Rich characterizes ecological intelligence as both nature´s wisdom and also an intelligence of relationships and, just for us to remember, this includes human relationships as well. He emphasizes that his understanding of ecological intelligence is not to be knowledgeable about certain ecological facts, but to feel the ecological relationships we are involved in. Considering what we have been just taught about our inheritance, that “the earth itself has endowed our species with the intelligence of all of its creativity of all of the habitats that make it”, and that this is what ecological intelligence is speaking to, ecological intelligence is what makes us human. In short: we ARE earth, too!
And here comes the next aha moment. I find Rich´s ideas very touching as I believe that taking the concept of ecological intelligence some steps further truly has the potential to create very positive changes in the world. So, let me elaborate on them a bit more.
First, we have learned that to get one with nature, to embrace its ecological intelligence and to feel that deep sense of connectedness and belonging, also means to realize that the relationship between us earthlings and nature is not a one-way street, but a deeply reciprocal one: nature needs us as much as we do need nature, or, to put it differently, “by bringing our energy, our sense of caring and affection to a particular habitat, it helps the place as much as it helps us.” Second, if we allow ourselves to be still and listen to that innate wisdom of ecological intelligence that resides in all of us, we can express it through our words and actions, for example, channeling our earth connection into creating art, using nature as an ally of creation, or by getting engaged in acts of kindness towards nature.
Consequently, according to Rich´s philosophy there is “kind of a healing element to ecological intelligence”. A culture that has “ecological intelligence embedded within it, helps people and planet heal”.
So, to me the cultural aspects ascribed to ecological intelligence are profound. If we as humans are serious about feeling as earthlings in the best sense, this will have to change the degree of responsibility that we feel to treat our home, the earth, well, to treat other beings with kindness and respect and also ourselves. Thus, there will be no more room for destroying natural habitat over making profit and prioritizing short-term economic gain over the long-term survival of our species, or more precise, of our children. And in remembering our earthly inheritance we get the chance to not only heal our relation to nature and help to protect our environment as our natural means of survival, but all sorts of social and economic injustices as well. Now, isn´t that a fascinating idea? Healing ourselves, our societies and the planet by remembering who we truly are – EARTH, and that it is earth that makes us human.
This simple, but fundamental truth, that we as human species and our miraculous, planetary living space are one, lies at the heart of what Rich introduces as “earthling theory.” It resonated with me very deeply when he identified this feeling of separation, of having lost our earthly roots, as the number one reason why it feels so hard to overcome climate change, but also social and economic injustices. Rich emphasizes that as long as we have not addressed our alienation from mother nature as the root cause of our multi-faceted problems, our efforts to tackle them can only be like playing Whack-A-Mole – if one issue appears to be solved, the next one has already come to the surface. According to Rich, it seems as if our society does not have the courage “to look the problem square in the face,” to ask deep questions and to treat the cause rather than the symptoms.
Wow! For me, this insight was profound – the realization that the healing of our environmental crisis and of the various forms of injustice, that we collectively suffer from, lies in the proactively lived dynamic of ecological intelligence by us. Anything else, like our need for hyper-consumption, will only be a temporary patch to these long-lasting challenges. Following Rich´s string of thought, “the current state of the world is a consequence of our accidental divorce from nature.”
The good news is that Rich does not only raise our awareness for the challenges that we are facing, but also introduces us to a fascinating and innovative approach how economic technology and ecologic concerns could be recoupled again. Currently, the given scenario is that any kind of major market or economic growth seems to demand major destruction that is done to an ecosystem somewhere at the same time. Consequently, economic value and ecologic health have been negatively correlated for quite some time.
Now, the intriguing question is, how can that be changed? Are you ready for Rich´s thought-provoking tangent into blockchain, crypto currency, non-fundable tokens (NFTs), and art, that really blew my mind? Then, let´s dive right in!
Do you remember when we talked about Rich´s work with the artist Rita Leduc at Hubbard Brock Experimental Forest in the beginning? Let´s circle back to that. Within this forest, an extensive amount of research is going on, particularly with respect to the effects of climate change. To be more precise, high-tech micro-processors capture even marginal changes in the trees´ growth and health in real time. The possibility to have access to such a vast amount of data that measures how a forest heals, and, eventually, how the well-being of the earth improves, opens up a whole new universe of how this data can be used, for example, by integrating it into fine art. However, we need crypto currency to provide us with the possibility of doing that.
I have to admit that I am presumably one of the few beings on this planet that was not familiar with the significance of NFTs in crypto currency before listening to the interview. However, Rich provided me with the necessary basis to be able to follow his line of argumentation: NFTs serve to ascribe value to a digital version of a piece of fine art, like Rita´s, that is immutable as it lives in the blockchain. This piece of art, first priced with a dollar value, will then be infused with ecological intelligence. How? By collecting the data on the health of the trees from Hubbard Brock Experimental Forest and feeding it into the blockchain!
Isn´t this a phenomenal idea? The value of the artwork is now linked to the growth measures of some living trees. Their steady growth and improving health are reflected in the increasing values of the selected measurements that express that growth, and as these measures go up, so does the price of the artwork. Rich emphasized that in doing so, the economic system has been tricked back into a one on one positive correlation with the ecologic system, which is the opposite of how it has been in industrialized societies for the longest time.
Just imagine the symbolism, the signaling effect if we could start to recouple our economic wealth to the ecological health of certain habitats of mother earth, using beautiful artwork, created by sensitive and caring artists, whose loving presence will contribute even more to the healing of the struggling nature sites. For me, this really is an equally exciting as soothing perspective to look forward to.
Petra Nikol is a Berlin-based writer and coach with a background in management science. One of her greatest passions is to uplift readers and listeners around the globe by spreading positive vibes. Petra loves dancing, travelling and any kind of adventure, yet her most favorite pastime is to connect with kind souls from all over the planet to learn, grow and heal together.