THE BLOG

Applying Nature's Principles to Creating a Sustainable Planet

03/25/2013 11:44 EDT | Updated 05/25/2013 05:12 EDT

I've always felt a profound sense of emotional connection with nature's expressions, as they most often reflect my own internal world. The moment I step into the wilderness, the smell of the earth, the warmth of the sunshine and the gentle caress of the breeze revive me, as the tensions in my body instantly melt away. I can breathe deeply. Nature continues to teach me life transforming lessons about unconditional love and giving -- the sun doesn't expect anything in return for his radiant light, and the trees aren't concerned about rewards for shading us. Nature is fluid; here nothing takes place in isolation, which explains why it's rhythmic.

In his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra says,

Spending time in nature enables you to sense the harmonious interaction of all the elements and forces of life, and gives you a sense of unity with all life.
This esoteric claim also has scientific value, as substantiated in her book Thinking in Systems, in which Donella Meadows explores the interdependence and cooperation between all organisms. She says natural systems are resilient and function harmoniously because they are interconnected, which in turn allows them to respond efficiently to feedback from their surroundings and stabilize themselves.

In contrast, human systems tend to ignore feedback, which makes them less stable. Myriads of human systems, like the social, economic, education, health care etc., exist in our society. Zooming in on one key system, it's now clear that the global economic system was sending feedback through the sub-prime mortgage crisis and related events, but due to poor regulation the big banks and businesses ignored the feedback and therefore the economic system lost its resilience and eventually collapsed (Meadows, 2004). According to the CBC News,

By late 2006, one subprime loan in eight was in default across the U.S. Foreclosures were soaring. More than 20 subprime lenders were bankrupt. And the National Community Reinvestment Coalition estimated that as many as 1.5 million Americans could lose their homes by the time all the damage is done.
Now I'm not an economist, but we don't need an expert to tell us, four years later since the massive economic downturn we're seeing only few signs of recovery.

On the other side of the spectrum our ecological systems are eroding at an irreversible and unprecedented rate, as almost 80% of the world's fisheries are being over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. On the land, every second of everyday 1.5 acres of rainforest are being destroyed forever. Meantime,

Humanity is bracing for water wars in coming years, as states struggle with the effects of climate change, growing demand for water and declining resources.

Evidently, human systems were oblivious to the idea of systems thinking, and consequently unable to recognize the underlying connections between the economic collapse and ecological crisis. You see, human civilization was built on the industrial and scientific revolutions, which ignored the key principle of natural systems grounded in the idea that "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."

Making matters worse is the mindless use of mechanistic and reductionist language, which portrays humans as "machines" and "building blocks." This has created deep disconnect not only between nature and humans but also between each other, and more importantly between our own mind and body. Also, the western civilization has been entrenched in objective realities that stem from hard systems approach, which treats people like objects being used to achieve the end results, according to Michael Jackson Systems Thinking: Creative Holism for Managers. This approach seems to have created distrust between humans, which is manifesting as disillusionment in our society.

However there is light at the end of the long tunnel. The subtle emergence of Systems Thinking, which fosters interconnections and interdependence between people, seems to be creating a gradual shift in human consciousness. In fact even scientists are beginning to see the value of integrating philosophical views and subjectivity within their domain, although some still remain wedded to the notion of objectivity.

Furthermore, Hindu and Buddhist principles, rooted in non-attachment and impermanence, seem to be resonating in the domain of cognitive science, and meditation has become a common practice in the western society.

Viewing the world through the systems lens, in my view, is necessary to bring forth a paradigm shift in people's attitudes towards nature. Environmental educators and communicators, need to dance with the systems, in order to rebuild relationships, acknowledge our interconnectedness and appreciate diversity. Scientists like Humberto Maturana are encouraging us to take time to develop mutual understanding of each others' realities instead of applying manipulative or persuasive tactics.

To overcome our Cartesian anxiety we need to think systemically, shifting our conceptual focus from objects to relationships, according to Capra in The Web of Life. Only then can we realize that identity, individuality, and autonomy do not imply separateness and independence. Capra says,

The living world is a network of relationships, and the material universe is seen as a dynamic web of interrelated events.

This concept could be invaluable in explaining environmental issues as a network of relationships or interrelated events. However, in order to really engage the public and instil a sense of responsibility we need to explain the impact of these issues using language that reflects care and concern. According to Maturana language enables us to distinguish the consequences of our actions for other living beings; our caring for other people gains presence, and the possibility of responsible action arises. After all environmental awareness must be more than mere familiarity, otherwise people who even vaguely understand global warming may just shrug it off and not perceive it as a threat because they do not understand the consequences.

I believe ecological principles can become the sturdy roots for adaptive systems that we have yet to discover. Just as nature is made up of complex adaptive systems that constantly change, evolve and emerge, we need to keep an open mind about our systems and worldviews. Rather than cling on to them as a static universal truth, we need to be receptive to change and willing to evolve constantly. We need to be fluid like nature, so energy and information can flow smoothly and easily.

This quote from Janine Benyus, the founder of the Biomimicry Institute pretty much sums up my realities on systems thinking.

The more our world functions like the natural world, the more likely we are to endure on this home that is ours, but not ours alone.