Reconnecting with nature


At a curtain-raiser to the week's events, a Green Week audience heard many constructive suggestions about moving beyond the current conflict between man and the environment. Could a “new world view” help redress the balance?

A lifetime surveying the impacts of human expansion on the biosphere has not turned Professor Jean-Marie Pelt away from the path of optimism. Speaking at Green Week 2015, the eminent biologist, botanist and pharmacist made a plea for the development of a new ethics, extending the age-old principle of ‘do no harm’ beyond other humans to include biodiversity.

We are at a turning point. I see a lot of young people, and an awareness developing very quickly, saying, ‘We cannot go on as before’.

Professor Jean-Marie Pelt

Modern science errs, he said, in seeing nature as purely competitive. “We failed to see that cooperation exists alongside competition. Yet there are numerous processes of cooperation and mutual dependence in nature.”

A more accurate understanding should inspire us, he said. “We are at a turning point. I see a lot of young people, and an awareness developing very quickly, saying ‘we cannot go on as before; we need to change’. Change will come from local democratisation and civil society.”

That spirit of cooperation was echoed by Almir Narayamoga surui, representing the Paiter indigenous people in the Amazon, who shared his community’s experience of protecting the Brazilian rainforest. The Paiter developed a 50-year strategy to protect the forest from logging and mining companies, by planting trees and selling carbon credits. A successful partnership with Google Earth has enabled them to monitor their land for suspected illegal operations and refer offenders to the authorities.

“We are not saying the forest is untouchable, but [it has to be used] in a responsible fashion or otherwise there will be destruction and economic crisis. Without the forest you cannot have sustainable production,” he said.

Cooperation – a new world view?

Dirk Holemans, director of Belgian think-tank Oikos, proposed what he termed a “new world view”. By going beyond the nature-culture divide, we can learn to appreciate the interaction of man and the environment, accepting the limits of nature and embracing the “freedom of self-limitation”.

He recommended shifting to an economy based on sufficiency, with three building blocks – the circular economy, the sharing economy, and prosperity without growth. “A new narrative to revive Europe,” he said, “with a dynamic integration of nature and culture.”


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