Photo by Jelle Canipel

The final months of 2019 will be remembered as a moment of reckoning to the imminent threat posed by global warming. Young climate activists around the world entered the political arena, passionately demanding immediate and bold action.

As we enter a new decade, we are inevitably faced with a difficult duty⁠—the duty to reflect on the state of our planet. Perhaps, we should use this new decade to set in motion a new way. Using this decade to remember and reclaim the instrumental place of nature in our lives. Using this pivotal era to redefine the relationship we have chosen to “cultivate” with nature.

Ideally, 2020 will set the stage for an array of leaders, stepping forward to support the reconciliation of humans with nature. Such political and corporate leaders will understand that our future must be designed with nature’s interests at its core. 

Maybe this could be the decade of fundamental change, our new roaring twenties—the era of Environmental Intelligence. An era where we reconsider our habitats, change our diet and become aware of our choices and what they support. Where we celebrate our earth rather than destroy it.

The earth is different now, much different than it was just a hundred years ago. Accelerated action is required to adapt to the accelerated motion observed by scientists around the globe. (Half of the global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 2030). These changes, however small, start with you.

Humans in previous generations had a different way of “knowing” and being in and with nature. This pressing reflective work may become the most crucial factor of regeneration and future sustainability. Regeneration first then sustainability (in that order); although sustainability is widely used today, I believe that one cannot speak of sustainability in our current state.

Before we can explore the sustainability factors into this newly formed equation, we must first integrate this regained intelligence and then incorporate methods of regeneration and restoration and finally explore ways to sustain what we have restored.

In all cultures, both present and past, human behavior reflects a fondness and a need for nature. The state of our environment, agriculture, and elements have always been of crucial symbiotic importance to the survival of humankind.

Increased urbanization, modern, and fast-paced living have collectively put us on a different path. Yet, there is a well-documented part of our history where we lived in symbiotic harmony with nature. First nations and ancient civilizations had a visceral sense of reverence towards nature and an acute “environmental” intelligence.

One prime example of this is the integration of circularity. One can trace circular economy to first nations’ basic rules of communication and economics. The law of the circle is an essential notion of Native American culture. Native Americans understood the elemental values of the circle. The circle has no end and holds that which cannot be broken. It is universal and omnipresent and symbolic of the life cycle. We gaze at circular objects daily. The moon and the sun, the round bellies of mothers to be, and human cells are all shaped alike. The circle is also symbolic of equality, where no being is more prominent than any other being. Circle-like meetings and Pow wows ensured that all people were allowed to speak, and the words spoken were accepted and respected on an equal basis. Dancing took place in the center of a circle formed by drums and the audience. An essential integration of this circularity can be observed today with the rise of circular economy schemes.

In a linear economy, raw natural resources are taken, transformed into products, and then disposed of.

A circular economy model aims to close the gap between our cycle of production and the cycles of the earth. This means, to compost, transform, reuse, remanufacture, and recycle whenever possible. It also means cutting off the use of chemical substances (another way to help regenerate) and vastly investing in renewable energy.

We are presumably adapted to live in a green and organic environment, and we are hardwired for connection. Connectivity is found everywhere in nature. Biomimetics data could provide thousands of similarities between man and the vast flora and fauna with whom we share this planet.

Nature is still our food resource, it is essential for shelter and the sole provider of air and water. On a purely theoretical ground, one would expect the respect of nature as an intrinsic part of our DNA.

Today parks and gardens remind us of the beauty and balance we are in danger of losing. Beyond esthetics, parks, and gardens also have proven therapeutic properties. Biophilia studies are providing ample data on the impact of nature on the brain.

In most cities, trees are planted, and parks established to improve the environment. Gardens and parks exist in perfect harmony in cities around the world, providing solace and peace amid the busy streets of London, Paris, and New York. Imagine what London would be without Hyde Park, New York without Central Park or Versailles without its grandiose gardens?

In Versailles, French Landscape architect and gardener, Lenotre demonstrated man’s artistic talents in synergy with nature’s intelligence. The gardens of Versailles are a living canvas. A meticulously curated experiment with light, color, and texture surrounded by the gracious presence of Flowers.

One prime example of human’s innate connectivity to nature can be demonstrated through “forest bathing” and “forest therapy.” The Japanese principle of Shinrin-yoku proves that time in a forest setting promotes physical and mental well-being. This principle has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing. Among the things observed: immune-boosting killer, T Cells of women with breast cancer, increased after a two-week forest immersion. Having a hospital window with a (green) view has been shown to improve healing, reflected in the speed of recovery after surgery.

Other studies on the effects of nature have shown that nature window views increased productivity at work, reduces job-related stress, reduces anxiety for urban dwellers, and provides higher academic results for students.

Nature appears to have qualities useful for stress relief, mental restoration, and physical recovery. Our planet, (a healthy one) holds unbelievable beauty. Beauty is directly connected to our mental and physical well-being, not just our livelihood.

We have forgotten that our health and the health of the earth are inseparable. Being environmentally intelligent means bringing back nature reflexes into our lives and keep them there for generations to come. We must relearn our innate connection and intelligence to our environment.

At the dawn of yet another intelligence, (Artificial Intelligence), we first (imperatively) must harness and reclaim this rich well of wisdom at the edge of our feet and above our heads. Therein lie the evolution and transmission of our truest human values.

As per Aristotle, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”: this phrase aptly defines our current paradigm, and the concept of synergy found everywhere in nature from the animal chain to the wind currents. Humans (us) have disconnected ourselves from this masterful entity that is Nature, our planet, our elements, its agriculture, and its rhythms. We have been playing off-key for far too long. These rhythmic irregularities have endangered everything around us from the animal kingdom to the air we breathe and the water we drink.

We can choose to believe that we still have time, that in this decade, we will see leaders and communities remember our connectivity to nature, our environmental intelligence. Call for actions are currently taking place in various parts of the world. One of these calls for actions will be taking place in Paris at The Change Now Summit, where solutions for change will be presented to cities and investors in hopes to scale these solutions globally.

The implementation of Environmental Intelligence notions has great potential because it touches something even deeper within us, biologically, physiologically, emotionally, and even spiritually. Nature was deemed sacred for many civilizations before us.  

Those who pursue a closer connection to nature today (through permaculture, gardening, or simply by spending more time in nature and less in front of a screen) may well be considered as pioneers.

It all starts with a change in perception, which leads to greater appreciation and gratitude towards nature. These people are responding not only to nature but to a hunger for hope and an urge for more holistic living, a more connected relationship to the earth.

Our future will depend on our ability to depict a world where people will strive in their environment, not against it. We can assume that we want this world to be green and lush where our regained E.I will wisely make use of A.I to regenerate our earth and sustain it for civilizations to come.

Blending our ancestry and its methods of agriculture with the wide array of solutions made available by empathic Artificial intelligence and biomimetics. Using innovation and technological advancement to serve our nature instead of destroying it.

Reintegrating our innate need for nature helps us to understand that this ideal world is near, and it depends on us. Our newest tools such as empathically developed A.I can serve us greatly if we pair them with these essential dogmas: our inherent need for nature, our need for regenerating and restoring our planet and our regained Environmental Intelligence.

We must collectively pledge to change our way. In agriculture, it would start with the implementation of climate-friendly regenerative farming practices. These caring practices exist and can increase plant photosynthesis, improve soil fertility and overall farmland health, foster massive reforestation plans and set some comprehensive programs of regeneration of our seas and oceans. It would also require us to rethink our consumption of animal products and further explore plant-based diets.

The absence of Nature or the consequences of earth in peril is a potential for great discord amongst nations. This could lead to a deepening of the climate refugee crisis or generate climate-related conflicts. Keeping our earth healthy is good for us physically, emotionally, but geopolitically as well. This form of regained intelligence should be at the core of our priorities. If we continue at this rate, we could see massive inequalities grow. We can conceive of a green index where some populations have little exposure to nature or healthy ecosystems. 

Our modern culture’s disassociation with nature has grown gradually over time, the inevitable evolution of high speed, high tech civilization is not at fault, it is a consequence of our choices and new choices can still be made. Choices leading to a more balanced lifestyle hence the need for gradual new path towards inward self-assessment of our relationship with nature. If we only focus on our budding relationship with AI and fail to first reassess our broken relationship with nature and our forgotten EI, we would miss an instrumental momentum. Meaningful time spent with and in nature is one of the many keys to solving the social and environmental problems we collectively face and of which global warming is a symptom.

We need to integrate nature-centric educational tools in schools, (gardening, permaculture, astronomy, light, and therapeutic art, sensory and olfactive experiments) implementing an emotional pedagogy alongside an academic one. We should give back its place to our understanding of seasons and the life cycle. We should be observing and interacting with nature while gaining insights through the integration of both the speed of life (seasons, life cycles) and the speed of light (high technology and AI).

This is what EI essentially is: a thorough scientific understanding of our current environmental situation and using both our past (Ancestral wisdom) and our future (nascent technologies, Empathic driven AI, and tech for good) to recreate a present in harmony with nature (Biophilia and Biomimetics).

Some of EI best examples can be found in some urban revitalization projects. One can only marvel at the use of green design principles, incorporating natural trails such as The High line into the landscape of New York. The High Line was inspired by the Promenade Plantee in Paris. An abandoned, old fashioned brick viaduct was the starting point of this venture. Both sites are an inspired restoration via a green requalification that has provided significant change for the city, its citizens, tourists, and for the landscape architecture at large. The High Line’s success has inspired cities throughout the United States to redevelop obsolete infrastructure as green and ecological public spaces.

No longer conceptual, redeveloping portions of decaying urban and suburban neighborhoods into eco-communities is becoming a normalized reality. 

Reclaiming the old and rethinking the new.

In London, the great “green” wall essentially “eats” pollution. An 11-floor building located in Culture Mile, one of London’s traffic hot spots, is set to become Europe’s most prominent green wall. The 400,000 plants that hang from its façade will absorb up to eight tons of carbon and produce another six of oxygen. The London based architect firm Sheppard Robson is behind the project. 

The fact that developers and builders would approach this challenge with such ingenuity is promising. They are visualizing a new and different future using Environmental intelligence to develop landmarks.

My personal favorite is Milan’s Bosco Verticale; a vertical forest is the prototype building for a new format of architectural biodiversity which focuses not only on human beings but also on the relationship between humans and other living species. A “home for trees that also houses humans and birds.” Bosco Verticale has given birth to a habitat with numerous animal species, including about 1600 specimens of birds and butterflies.

Environmental Intelligence is needed in our current health systems, in our urban design, and in our education. In the coming years, research and data about the positive health effects of nature will be essential to the work of architects and urban planners, as well as politicians and corporate leaders.

Something in us needs immersion in nature to strive. Nature will always inspire awe and wonder and if we really change and continue to research on its far-reaching benefits, it will continue to provide us with all we need to strive and evolve.

Advocating for Environmental Intelligence is not a case of EI versus AI. AI is or will be a byproduct of our evolutionary needs and thoughts. EI is within us. Nature’s circularity, speed, and language are all within us. We are made of these very principles, and we need to nurture our innate elements. Failing to reclaim this innate form of intelligence will hinder us in the coming decade. Reclaiming our Environmental Intelligence is certainly the greatest social act of this decade.

It will undoubtedly help us build the future our children need and will lead us toward a path of innovation that is mindful and conscious. It’s not too late even at the 11th hour.