The Practice Of Biophilia
“Biophilia is the passionate love of life”
In rapidly growing numbers, people around the planet are waking up to the challenges facing humanity. People are working across all domains of human endeavor to address the global scale of social, ecological, economic, and cultural challenges of the 21st century. Of this positive momentum, the practice of biophilia, Paul Hawken, author of Blessed Unrest, suggests that the work of making the world a better place for all comprises the largest movement in human history. That said, much of the great work of millions of people is not seen in the news where much of what is highlighted focuses on what’s wrong in today’s world. In the face of humanities destructive and creative potential Hawken suggests “If you look at the science that describes what is happening on earth today and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t have the correct data. If you meet people in this unnamed movement and aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a heart.” (1)
“Biophilia is the passionate love of life and of all that is alive”
While we do indeed face dire ecological and social challenges humanity expresses a tenacious courage and love of life through our willingness to work for the betterment of humanity and the Earth. Social psychologist Erich Fromm described the impulse to love life as “Biophilia”. He suggested “Biophilia is the passionate love of life and of all that is alive” (2) The word Biophilia – bio meaning life and philia, love – was popularized by biologist, researcher, and naturalist E.O Wilson in his book Biophilia. In the book he puts forth the hypothesis that humans can cultivate a deep affinity to affiliate with all life and living systems; that through deepening our relationships and connections with nature we can foster loving attitudes and behaviors toward all life rather than base our actions on our fears. (3) Biophilia, the love of life and our affinity to connect with living organisms and living systems, provides a context for the work of loving, caring for, and cultivating a healthy relationship between humanity and Earth, our only home.
“Nature underpins every person’s wellbeing and ambitions”
The benefits of cultivating Biophilia in society can be seen around the world. In Japan for example the practice of Shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”, the experience of walking in or being immersed in a forest is said to offer measurable health benefits such as “lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity”. (4) Similarly, the field of Biophilic Design aims to intentionally curate living systems and nature inspired design into hospitals, workplaces, cities, and across human systems. (5) Biophilic Design fosters wellbeing in society and a love of nature that can translate into increased health and committed care for the planet.
Human / Nature connection are celebrated
In the film Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life the benefits of increased human/nature connection are celebrated such as “hospitals where patients heal faster, schools where children’s test scores are higher, offices where workers are more productive, and communities where people know more of their neighbors and families thrive.” (6) Design, innovation, and sustainability consultancy Terrapin Bright Green, a leader at the forefront of Biophilic Design, offers in their report The Economics Of Biophilia: Why designing with nature in mind makes financial sense a wealth of scientific research into the financial potential of “large-scale deployment of Biophilic design”. This includes such data as “Integrating views to nature into an office space can save over $2,000 per employee per year in office costs, whereas over $93 million could be saved annually in healthcare costs as a result of providing patients with views to nature.”(7) Regarding the way humans understand the value of our human/nature relationship, Sir Robert Watson, the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) Chair, suggests:
“Nature’s contributions to people are of critical importance to rich and poor in developed and developing countries alike. Nature underpins every person’s wellbeing and ambitions – from health and happiness to prosperity and security. People need to better understand the full value of nature to ensure its protection and sustainable use.” (8)
Biophilia practice in action…
Another example of Biophilia in action can be seen through the work of Icelandic artist Björk Guðmundsdóttir who co-created the revolutionary Biophilia Educational Project. This project brought together 8 Nordic countries, 33 schools, 51 educational and cultural institutions, 147 teachers, and 4354 students. The collaborative unites music, natural sciences, creative expression, and technology in celebration of Biophilia, our love for life, nature, and creativity. (9) Björk also created a live album called Biophilia (10) and a series of learning apps that highlight core-learning modules of the program that was introduced to the world by environmentalist and narrator Sir David Attenborough. (11)
The practice of biophilia & Biophilia Foundation
From a conservation perspective the Biophilia Foundation, as its mission outlines, is dedicated to “Advancing biodiversity conservation on private lands by fostering systemic change through people, their communities and direct action.” This unique approach unites the protection, restoration, and preservation of wildlife habitats for all species of native plants and animals and aims to help reconnect individuals and communities with nature and its inherent value to all life. Through many projects and grants, The Biophilia Foundation works with dedicated long term partners such as Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage, Wildlands Network, and Borderlands Restoration Network. The Biophilia Foundation provides leadership, partnerships, and support for collaborations advancing biodiversity conservation and restoration, and project based learning and leadership capacity building that creates restoration economies and systemic change. (12)
What is mentioned above is the tip of an iceberg of many positive examples around the world including health benefits, education and learning innovations, nature and living systems being blended into human systems, large scale and community-based ecological restoration, and leadership capacity building for Biophilic futures. With this in mind, how might we cultivate a practice of Biophilia that supports humankind toward truly loving our lives, our world, and the future we are creating together? How can we allow our care for that which supports life to inform our actions? How can we create outcomes that work for the whole of the biosphere and humanity together?
The practice of biophilia is the active love of life…
The practice of Biophilia is the active love of life and connection with and caring for each other and the living systems of which we are a part and upon which we depend. Through Biophilia, that which we love guides us to protect those with no voice or vote: plants, animals, and future generations with whom we share a common destiny. Our love of life takes many forms yet the central impulse to connect and care for life, living systems, and our natural world provides a direction to guide our actions. In a world hungry for good news and positive examples of human endeavor orienting our actions to be guided by our love of life and nature is a profound contribution.
“Environmentalists can be a pain in the ass… But they make great ancestors.” Mardy Murie
Right here, right now we can make choices and take actions that make our world and the character and quality of our lives more joyful, adventurous, meaningful, and healthy. Our actions today can be both practical and beneficial in the present and support positive futures. As the grandmother of the conservation movement Mardy Murie (13) anecdotally suggested, “Environmentalists can be a pain in the ass… But they make great ancestors.”
“What kind of ancestors will we be?”
What are the stories we want future generations to tell about us? Will our actions be guided by our love of life or our fears? Biophilic futures are the possible in which humanity lives in healthy relationship with the whole of our biosphere – it is time to allow our choices and actions to be guided by that which we truly love and that which is worth living for. In the words of philosopher, inventor, and Design Scientist Buckminster Fuller (14), “If success or failure of this planet and of human beings depended on how I am and what I do… HOW WOULD I BE? WHAT WOULD I DO?”
Joshua Cubista is an international experiential designer, facilitator and strategist working with communities, organizations and multi-stakeholder groups to advance the field of personal, social, and systemic leadership and collaboratively address the complex challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Joshua is the first Biophilia Foundation Fellow.