Climate change is escalating its impact on our planet, and with humans at the helm of this cause-and-effect relationship, it’s easy to feel rattled with guilt, frustration and overwhelm.
Plenty of examples can be found in the angst-inducing analysis done by the U.S. Global Change Research Program in their recent publication of the National Climate Assessment. Report after report demonstrates that the affects of climate change are accelerating; meanwhile Greta Thunberg continues to inspire hundreds of thousands of children and adults across the world to take to the streets in protest of the lack of meaningful action being taken by governments. When we face something as large and unpredictable as climate change, hope can be blown out the window on the back of a bumblebee.
And yet, it’s rarely anxiety that inspires solutions or nurtures resilience; dire times of crisis and change demand conscious creativity. Now, more than ever, we need to focus on the possibility that humans are capable of having a mutually beneficial relationship with this planet.
As is often the case, it just so happens that this planet is buzzing with inspirational case studies demonstrating countless ways that different species live with one another in mutually beneficial ways. Take the fairytale example of bees and flowers – bees spread the pollen from flower to flower, enabling cross-pollination; and the flowers provide bees with nectar and pollen that feed their colonies.
There’s a term for this relationship: ecological mutualism.
How about that for #relationshipgoals?
As we reimagine the role of humans on this planet, we could consider this as fertilizer for inspiration.
Humans have long historical relationship with trees, so let’s start there. Because of them we have oxygen to inhale; and because of us, they’re gaining nutrition through photosynthesis from the carbon dioxide we exhale. And, if we need an inspirational prompt that offers global-scale support in resilience through climate change, trees are one of our greatest allies. Global Forest Watch highlights that “stopping deforestation, restoring forests and improving forestry practices could cost-effectively remove 7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, or as much as eliminating 1.5 billion cars – more than all of the cars in the world today.”
We need solutions that reduce greenhouse gases by avoiding emissions and/or by sequestering the carbon dioxide (CO2) that is already in the atmosphere. So trees, obviously, have a vital part to play in our future. But what’s our role?
For those of us who take to the skies when we travel, the reality is that each flight packs a heavy punch to the environment as tons of CO2 emissions are spewed into the atmosphere. We also know that trees absorb CO2 as they grow. So, when our actions send CO2 up, trees play a huge role in drawing it back down.
What if everyone traveled with trees in mind? What if, thanks to our conscious effort in the relationship, there were enough trees being planted, grown and protected across the world to ensure that every time a flight takes off, we have enough thriving forests to draw those emissions back down?
This would, of course, require going way beyond individuals buying carbon offsets for every flight. We know we need more than just trees to draw down carbon from the atmosphere, and regardless of whether you are a carbon offset critic or advocate, we can and must do more as a collective. And thanks to the profound research gathered by the Project Drawdown team, there is mounting evidence of just how much we can do today.
So yes, we can all fly less, and reduce our carbon emissions in other ways. But tending to our relationship with trees from the perspective of ecological mutualism can also be a big win for the planet – and for us.
Press pause on the doom and gloom news cycle, and instead seek ideas about how you personally can build mutually beneficial relationships with nature.
Here are five actions you can take now in the spirit of ecological mutualism:
- Get curious: What we measure, we manage – begin by taking stock of your ecological footprint and explore how you can reduce your carbon footprint
- Learn: Get to know our existing global forests at Global Forest Watch and learn how individuals can take action to protect them
- Participate: Respond to the powerful call to action from Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot to Protect, Restore and Fund environmental restoration. Where to begin? Make giving back to the trees as normal as paying your electricity bill each month at org
- Seek inspiration: Do you have a problem that needs a creative solution? Just Ask Nature and let earth be your mentor
- Restore: Next time the news ignites your anxiety, switch it off and give shinrin-yoku, (also known as forest bathing) a try
Back to those bees and flowers: the actions of every single bee matters – the same goes for us. Despite the fact that the human-planetary relationship currently feels anything but mutually beneficial, let’s not lose sight of our inextricable connection to nature. Inspiration is the single greatest antidote to overwhelm that I can imagine. Cultivating it in the face of fear is a conscious practice.
With this consciousness, we, too, can build more reciprocal relationships with our ecosystems and participate in ecological mutualism in vastly creative ways.
After all, it’s in our basic nature.
By Greta Matos