“The future ain’t what it used to be.” — Yogi Berra
As the 21st century unfolds, humanity is paradoxically standing on a precipice. An age of abundance unimagined by past generations in which technological progress, human innovation/collaboration, and advancements in science have the potential to literally reshape what it means to be human both within our biosphere and beyond. (1)
At the same time, we are facing rapid, complex, and global challenges at a scale unprecedented in our history. These are marked by global issues such as climate change, mass biodiversity loss, desertification, social and economic inequity, poverty, and the clashing of values as seen in political arenas around the world. (2)
For humanity to navigate the amazing opportunities ahead of us, and the dire challenges we collectively face, we must understand that as baseball great Yogi Berra said, “the future ain’t what it used to be.” We look to rewilding as a pathway to co-create our future.
Recognize the Incredible Impact Our Human Systems Have
In our globally interconnected world, the relationship between people and nature, between our actions in the present and the character and quality of our lives in the future has never been as united as it is now. As a species, we have made available all of the Earth’s biological heritage and resources for the benefit of humanity.
We have woven our lives into a web of technological, industrial, and economic systems. These are human systems that are in large part designed for yesterday’s world of industrial consumerism, not the interconnected ecological, cultural, and economic complexities of our world today. While we indebt ourselves in the food, water, health, commerce, political, and educational systems that we have created, we must understand and recognize the incredible impact our human systems have on our ecologies, communities, families, and psyches.
How can we heal the human/nature divide?
As human beings, we have the opportunity to choose how we see ourselves in relationship to each other, the natural world, and to life as a whole. How we choose to understand these areas of perennial and existential exploration will have a dramatic effect on our Earth, our lives, and the lives of future generations.
Akin to the words of explorer and ethno-botanist Wade Davis, we can believe that the flora and fauna of Earth are resources to be used in the advancement of human development. Or, on the other hand, we can believe that we are active members in the biotic community in which we live. Each will foster very different practices and policies regarding our relationship to natural systems of the biosphere. (3)
Our future as a species will depend on how we shape and share in the future we are creating together. In our interconnected world, the actions we take now will reverberate around the world and for years to come. What will be our human legacy? How will we take care of the biological heritage of Earth and the creative/cultural heritage of humanity? How can we heal the human/nature divide?
Nature, Wild, Wilderness, Rewilding
In the essay The Etiquette of Freedom from the book The Practice Of The Wild by poet, educator, nature activist, and Buddhist philosopher Gary Snyder a light is shed upon the meaning of the words Nature, Wild, and Wilderness. Each word expresses a part of how we understand the world outside of our fences and beyond the bend in the woods.
Snyder invites us to explore:
1) Nature not as something “out there” but rather as the milieu of all life and matter of the biotic community of which we come from.
2) Of wild as the paradoxical interconnected yet liberated expression of animals, plants, land, people, societies, and all life in its dynamic cycles.
3) Wilderness as a place in which both nature and the wild are freely expressed. (4)
From an ecological perspective on “wild systems” Snyder suggests:
“When an ecosystem is fully functioning, all the members are present at the assembly. To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness. Human beings came out of that wholeness, and to consider the possibility of reactivating membership in the Assembly of All Beings is in no way regressive.” (5)
Rewilding is one such pathway
How then can we actively participate and positively contribute to the web of life of which we are a part? Not as a regressive strategy but rather as a progressive next step in shaping our future together. Rewilding is one such pathway, a practice of both reconnecting ourselves with nature and wildness, and an approach to protecting and promoting wilderness on which the bounty and diversity of biological life depends.
Rewilding as a large-scale conservation movement aims to include the ecological restoration of natural cycles in wild lands, reconnecting wild spaces between each other to support the movement of diverse flora and fauna across landscapes, and to reintroduce “key stone” species that can support healthy ecosystem functions.
The for example “envisions a world where nature is unbroken, and where humans co-exist in harmony with the land and its wild inhabitants.”(6) The Wildlands Network, as do other organizations around the world, including the , advocate and/or employ approaches such as: wildlife corridors, wildlife crossings, taking down fences, reintroducing wolves, buffalo, or other positively impactful species, and large scale restoration projects that can support wilderness and nature’s diversity to thrive.
Rewilding is also a holistic lifestyle practice
At the same time, Rewilding is also a holistic lifestyle practice in which people aim to reconnect with the natural world, reclaim their innate sense of freedom and authenticity, and protect nature, wildness, and wilderness in both rural and urban contexts. Rewild Portland for example, suggests “rewilding first and foremost means living a life of service to the land and ecological community of your place.”(7)
Rewilding as a way of living can take many forms such as practicing natural history as a way to learn from and connect with nature, or survival skills trainings to foster resilience and leadership capacities. It can also be back country expeditions, solo camping trips, wild crafting of herbs and plants, storytelling/arts, or cultivating wild gardens at home.
Various approaches to Rewilding can be said to unify around a common theme: that humanity can determine the way we relate to, celebrate, and participate in natural systems; that we can design human systems to be positive contributing parts of the natural systems in which we live. We can support “wild systems” by creating and connecting spaces for wilderness to flourish.
“We Are Exquisitely Adapted in Everything” — E.O. Wilson
Of the interconnected dynamics between humans and the biodiversity of natural systems Edward O. Wilson, famous biologist, author, and an ardent advocate for nature suggests:
“Humanity is a biological species, living in a biological environment, because like all species, we are exquisitely adapted in everything: from our behavior, to our genetics, to our physiology, to that particular environment in which we live. The earth is our home. Unless we preserve the rest of life, as a sacred duty, we will be endangering ourselves by destroying the home in which we evolved, and on which we completely depend.”(8)
In the face then of both inextricable global connectedness and the fragmentation of society in the 21st century, Rewilding offers a pathway for people to participate in actively co-creating our future together. We do this by uniting our ecological and cultural destiny with the viability of our human systems to positively contribute toward a future that works for all of humanity and the entire biosphere.
What Are Your Unique Memories of the Wild?
Each one of us has our own unique memories, stories, or experiences of the world beyond four walls. For me, it is the sound of a Loon call over big calm water to the backdrop of the soft rain from my canoe paddle. It’s also the sight of crows riotously chasing off a hawk from its roost. It’s the smell of a fire on a fall night with the dome of stars above. These all speak to me of my childhood of growing up in the forests, fields, and on the waters of the great lakes.
For some it is the playground or vacant lot across the street that allows wildness to blossom in them. For another it is a grand vista at mountaintop where wilderness is not a romantic ideal but rather a place to expand ones sense of self. Or for another, it is walking in the forest to the sound of bird song in the springtime that kindles a love for the beauty and voracity of nature.
Rewilding as a Progressive Step in Shaping Our Future
Humanity as a species has the ability to shape our future for generations to come. We also have the power to affect the dynamics of all life on Earth by how we live today. Rewilding then can be as a progressive next step in shaping our future together. Through Rewilding we can weave into our lives and human legacy the willful spirit to protect and preserve our wild biological and cultural heritage. Humanity’s ability to shape our future comes with the responsibility and opportunity to ensure that our footprints at the assembly of life leave good tracks.
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.