Reframing Our Human Relationship With The Natural World With Elliot Connor
We live in a world where people have become more distant from nature. We take it for granted, especially as the world continues to advance. But with global warming becoming more real than ever, it is time that we snap out of our bubble and look into how we are taking care of nature, of the very place we call home. Jennifer Whitacre is joined by none other than the founder and CEO of Human Nature Projects, Elliot Connor, to talk about reconnecting with nature, past the delusion that somehow we’re separate from it. Leading an international environmental charity supporting volunteers across 104 countries, Elliot shares with us his mission to reframe our human relationship with the natural world. He also talks about the lessons nature offers us, how it helps us see who we are and how we treat others and discusses the systemic bias that keeps us from closing that gap between us and nature. Join Elliot and Jennifer in this conversation to learn more about how we can reconnect this relationship before it’s too late.
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Reframing Our Human Relationship With The Natural World With Elliot Connor
I am excited about our guest, who’s going to give us a different perspective on what it means to heal. Our guest is Elliot Connor. He is the Founder and CEO of the Human Nature Projects, an international environmental charity supporting volunteers across 104 countries. He is a TED speaker, podcast host, and filmmaker with a goal of reframing our human relationship with nature. He’s saving the planet at the tender age of seventeen years old. He has been awarded Samsung’s 2020 Eco-Hero Award, Young Citizen of the Year and Young Landcare Leader. His mission is to develop a model for mass individualism, empowering future leaders to find their potential, connecting the connectors, and generating grassroots impact globally. From Quito, Ecuador to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa to quiet Sydney suburbs in Australia, he applies his leadership acumen and systems thinking to solve the most pressing issues of our 21st century. Elliot, it is an honor to have you on the show, welcome.
Jennifer, I am looking forward to this conversation. There is a strong link to go between getting at nature and protecting these spaces and wellbeing. We sometimes don’t realize it that we’re humans deeply interconnected with these natural systems. Hopefully, you’ll find some useful advice and insights into this conversation.
Probably, a lot of people after what I’ve read and that introduction is a chip off of what all is in your entire CV. Some of my readers might not even know what a CV is. That’s the fancy word for a resume. It’s the curriculum vitae. You have a lifetime of experience at seventeen years old. Can you tell us in your own words a little bit about yourself?
I’ve been lucky in these past few years to have some incredible opportunities. I started at Human Nature Projects and that certainly transformed my life as some of the processes behind setting that up. Some of the connections it’s built and some of the insights it has given me to this space and how I can revolutionize it for it to evolve and grow ultimately. These past few years, I’ve been very much increasingly involved in the international environment. In this movement, which itself is a relatively modern phenomenon, for me, it’s about storytelling and giving people the chance to connect with nature, to realize and to decrease that knowledge gap as some of those barriers we may face in appreciating and understanding of that as well.
I think that there’s a wonderful power potential if we all can appreciate the nature perspectives, show compassion in some of the wonderful services it provides to ourselves. Whether it may be mental health provides about 40% GDPs is an important way to present these sustainable development goals. We do depend on nature. I think if we can reciprocate that relationship that we can give back to nature as much as it gives us. In the end, that’s what I’m working towards. We are giving people that chance to give back, but also to take into that nature.
I get the impression that a lot of people mistakenly take nature for granted. It’s almost like the more “civilized” we become, the more distant we are from nature. If people were to stop and think about it, everything that we have in our homes somehow comes from nature in one way or another. What are some of your ideas to get people started to reconnect with nature and to get past this delusion that somehow, we’re separate from nature or even that we have the ability to control nature, which in my mind is LOL, laughable?
The best way I would suggest is what I call the Durrell Effects. It’s named after Gerald Durrell, a brilliant author who wrote some amazing books, a wonderful thinker and a famous conservationist. He founded that modern zoo. He created this concept of this work in conservation and he is an influential figure. He inspired many others to connect with nature. What the Durrell Effects is, if we can give people an opportunity to get out to nature, whether it’s through even a pet. An animal’s companionship at an early age or whether as I do rescue and rehabilitation has wonderful bonds. The relationships are built through those means. Whatever it may be or that we stick to a local zoo, any way they can appreciate and learn about other animals and slowly develop that bond with nature. It’s something which is in inherent to all of us, especially with our young children to support their fascination with the natural world.
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If you can kindle that, support it, and nurture it from the beginning, then it’s much easier to get people interested and fascinated in these subjects. I do think it’s something which most people are interested by in something I think four billion years of evolution has assisted, and coming to understand and come to appreciate. Some of these values we built up around ourselves is a psychological thing. It’s how we look at nature and how we come to view our place in it.
It’s that inbuilt resistance, which we’re trying to overcome as someone is more than constructs. You mentioned 50%, 60% of us living in cities and that can be a barrier. Getting people to realize that nature still is all around us, whether I’m living Sydney, whether other people were across the world, there are huge settlements. There is still nature around us and give people the chance to realize that even if they’re watching an actual documentary. We’re making as many routes as possible. We’re making an entry point into this field of fascination in nature very accessible. It’s the most important part of me.
There was a lot in there and as somebody who helps people get beyond some of the subtle lifelong effects, especially of developmental and intergenerational trauma, I encourage my clients to reconnect with nature in whatever way that means to them. It doesn’t mean that you have to start tent camping and being primitive. You don’t have to go to that extreme and spend weeks. At the same time, you mentioned even having a pet, gardening, and having raised bed gardens, even if you have a few in your little lot or your yard is becoming more popular in the United States. Even something as simple as that, having raised beds or growing a few tomato plants in flower pots or anything. Something that’s simple or having house plants can help you reconnect with nature.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a plant or an animal, you’re developing and learning nonverbal skillset on how to communicate with something of an entirely different species. There is communication that happens between humans and plants and between humans and their pets. Can you talk a little bit to that communication and what’s that experience like for you? I can’t imagine that you don’t have a conscious awareness of communicating with nature with what you do.
It is something which if you are involved in caring for all the animals for 1 or 2 months, you do develop a relationship. You come to understand that creature on a certain level. I think it is important. What nature gives us more than anything is perspective on our own lives and those of others. I say if we are experiencing difficulties in our life, at any lens, some of that high level. For example, one of the most recent animals that I came into is a cat. I had sat back a tawny frogmouth. It’s like an owl. It’s nocturnal birds. They are some of my favorite creatures, but they spent their entire lives sitting immobile on branches.
They rely heavily on camouflage so they can be rotting logs. They have this certain stillness, but I find it charismatic in the sense as well. It’s one of those things where you have to give it the time and space. I remember reading The Private Life of Plants. He made some comments like if we don’t appreciate plants because they have a different timescale. All of that conflicts and romance happens each time as it does to us. I think some of the important value we get from the community or with nature is simply from the expected lenses and having slowed down, having to take everything in, and having to get inside the creature’s minds, which is difficult.
We’ve got some of our best scientists mapping animal languages in hundreds of dimensions trying to decode it all. Still, if you can try and get inside that creature’s mind and understand what they were thinking, you’re 75% of the way there. You do get to understand that creature quite intimately, especially those endangered. You’re seeing it gain strength, gain confidence, and eventually releasing it. That’s the privilege I gave to the work I do. It’s an incredible experience for me.
Your ability to form relationships with nature and animals, has that in any way enhanced your ability to form relationships and communicate with your fellow humans?
I would imagine, yes. It teaches you to have passion. You have to try to connect with the animals. Models are something we naturally gravitate if I say that to myself, to humans, but even if it’s a book, it’s a bird, that’s something we don’t naturally understand. Slow bird brains emerged a few centuries back because scientists were looking at new assigns of birds and they couldn’t find the seeds of intelligence in birds. It had different anatomy to the human brain and that caused them to assume they were unintelligent. That was because they didn’t imagine it could be a powerless structure. That’s been found that it’s incredibly intelligent now. That’s an example of not making this attempt to connect with animals on their own level. If you can develop a skillset, you can learn to appreciate animals on their level, save conservation for conservation’s sake.
If we can try and understand what they are, I see the humanity in them at changing our perspective back magically. That’s a skillset that transfers to building teams, whether it’s my child to Human Nature Projects, whether it’s my relationships in life. That’s something that assists you greatly. As I mentioned, as I started up Human Nature Projects, everything that’s followed has a course you have to step up. That has been a journey that has taken me a lot. This is not easy, I am into birds but it is something which takes adapting to. That’s something I’ve learned from rescue, animal caring, and building these relationships.
What you said in there is important. That’s one of the reasons like learning to communicate with animals. You stated it beautifully because you can essentially meet the animal where they are because you learn that language. If you can learn that with an animal that doesn’t speak your language at all, then it becomes more natural with people. That’s one of the problems with people, it is the intention behind my words is not always perceived by the readers the way I intended it to be. That causes conflict. That intention perception gap causes conflict. It’s something that happens naturally, unconsciously, and non-verbally that we don’t even realize it. The greater connection we have with nature, whether it’s with plants or animals, it enhances that capacity within each of us to meet people where they are.
I also love that you mentioned the bird brain. When it comes to the neurobiology of the brain and so often, we have referred to the different parts of the human brain as the reptilian brain, mammalian brain, and the primate brain, which indicates a hierarchy of functioning. As you said, we have earned over time that that hierarchy is not true. I teach classes in resiliency and pulling the neurobiology is important. Even in the classes I teach, we have changed the language. I don’t use the reptilian brain and mammalian brain. I’ll use the little hand model to talk about it. Down here on the wrist, you have your survival brain, and then your thumb, as you oppose it is your limbic brain. What folds over is your cortex, which is your executive functioning in that frontal lobe.
That’s how I explain the structure of the brain, but the functioning, the hierarchy has been debunked. I think that’s important for people to understand too because we still have that hierarchical thinking and it’s just not so. Somewhere in there, you mentioned the book, The Private Life of Plants. I have read the book, The Secret Life of Trees. I’m curious, did the book, The Private Life of Plants did that? Did it talk about how plants communicate with each other and even how trees migrate?
No. That’s by research, but that is fascinating.
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It’s fascinating how to communicate under the earth with their root systems. I’m wondering if you understand that. If you could explain it maybe better than I can because I don’t think we realize that it’s communicating with each other. Finding a migration of trees here in America, which to me is fascinating. The trees can migrate, but they’re doing it.
I think is colloquially being called the wood wide web, which is titled obviously, but undergrounds, these massive root systems of the trees is called mycorrhizal fungi. These mycorrhizal fungi connect molds and allow the entire community to transfer information, be it about the weather, one season back a bit a nutrient set between the roots. I made something interesting, which was that a parent trees favor their young so they provide them with extra sustenance resources through this World Wide Web. They have the same information. It’s been a particularly chilling seasoned before either that’s something which will be passed through this community for the youngest saplings to learn, to adapt to, and give them that extra headstart and knowing what to expect. What may come and what they have to be prepared for.
There is an interesting new story about a concert that they did below the opera house and they played classical string quartets to potted plants. I think that’s an interesting idea. I don’t think we have any evidence of plants mitigating with that, but they do engage in much more complex discussions, communication, and interaction than we could have imagined. It’s these past decades, even either this much has come to light how we increasingly come to understand that in advance. As we say, it is something we couldn’t have expected because it’s something completely foreign to our human brains to how we function and how we see the world. Being able to get down on that level to appreciate when an alien form of life made communication system is incredibly complex and something that we are starting to understand.
I find it incredibly fascinating because in many ways I feel like nature is almost a mirror of ourselves to some degree. If we understand nature and we understand the cycles and the laws of nature, we understand ourselves on so much deeper of a level. I am not saying that we have roots that are encased in fungi or mycelium under the earth that causes us to communicate. At the same time, we do know that our emotions will emit a frequency that other people pick up on. I think it was in 2016 at MIT and their CSAIL, which is Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. They created an EQ radio and we’ve known for eons that you can put electrodes on people and through an ECG, you can measure human emotion by measuring the physiology of respiration and heart rate.
This EQ radio, you can set about 4 feet away from somebody and it can pick up the same information without putting electrodes on people. It’s proving that our emotions do emit a vibration. We have this vast network of nonverbal communication about us that science is in the embryonic stages of understanding now. It’s important to explore that and to understand it. I love that one of your missions is to reframe our human relationship with the natural world. In an ideal scenario, what would the ideal human relationship with the natural world be?
There are lots of what we’ve talked about already. It’s about appreciating the work and what they are, but it’s equally about understanding what we are as humans. It’s by taking into account that we are animals, understanding where we fit in on this Earth and trying to look at animals essentially as equals as humans, but understanding also of what they are. If we can give nature rights, give animals rights, and enhanced our understanding on their own terms, we will integrate them into our human systems. If need be into our societal constructs, then it’s not going to be easy, but that will be a way in which we certainly can revolutionize how we interact with the animals. Imagine knowledge as storage in these natural systems, which we can get after them that matches the joy.
I appreciated them so if we can take some of that on board, understand how much we own nature, then I think that would be some path right towards giving it an increased significance in our human systems. If we can do that by 2030s, 2100s, which is peaking up the population as things slowly get stabilized. COVID is a hard time to imagine it, but if we can bring this rapid expansion growth, economic development into an equilibrium, develop a world order, worldview in which we can thrive alongside them. They are given opportunities to live out in their own terms, that is a wonderful idea, which is a tough project that we can set aside. Fifty percent of the planet where these animals getting 50%, the landscape and the oceans. If we give them all that space, that time without new pressures to undermine their integrity, then that would be wonderful. It’s about appreciating animals and protecting them for their own sake as opposed to for any human gain.
I’m curious from your perspective, Elliot, what is one of or are a couple of the biggest obstacles that we face in reframing our relationship with the natural world?
We’ve talked about a few of them. Some of them are these mental blocks. We’ve spent centuries trying to work out why humans are unique, why we are special. A man, why we have such complex slack, which says complex culture, communication. All of these things are found in other animals, but we don’t take time to look for them or appreciate them. We want to understand how special we are or we need to set this purpose. For instance, we are trying to define ourselves and that separated us from animals. One of the major ones we face now is the knowledge gap. Most people don’t take two minutes, two seconds to connect with nature and understand it. That means they struggled to start out this journey.
I did a survey of about a thousand. I’ve seen published looking at what they knew about current stated by environmental assistance. These are basic questions. There were eight multiple-choice. People got worse than random chance. They would have done much better guessing. There is a systematic bias in the way we view this world, it’s that skewed that they’re not able to have the foggiest idea of what’s going on and share that. It can become quite damaging if we’re trying to get people to go down into this environmental field to start down this journey. I think the life part is giving people an opportunity to learn more about nature, to connect with animals. We mentioned with their own effort, whether it is pet, zoo, animal rescue or animal caring whatever left, we want to engage in that. Finding the means to do so, regardless of where you are, there’s always a chance.
You mentioned that there’s systematic bias. Can you talk a little bit more about that and give an example of what you found?
A major one we found was pessimism, which can be very damaging. We have a negative worldview right now. Obviously, these systems are becoming worse in many cases. There are examples of animals going extinct and being exploited as COVID rose. We’re living in the world that we’ve created, but for now, we do need to take things somewhat in perspective. A set of questions were about how things were worth improving and people go overwhelmingly for incredibly negative responses. Possibly, there they are. One question was about the Amazon bushfires. How much of the Brazilian Amazon had been destroyed in that event? The choices are 20%, 50%, or 80%. The answer is 20% but the majority chose 80%. They thought almost the entirety of it have been lost from this incident. It is something which is a simple example of how we view the world is that we choose that things have gone awfully wrong.
That does leads to what we think we can’t fix it. We think if we screwed up too far, we’re past this tipping point and we can’t go back. I think there’s always an opportunity to hit the rewind button if we can frame this relationship. We, as humans hold with nature some of my interactions with these systems. I think that can be a major inhibitor. We need hope as well as some perspective. That’s one of the main motivators. We see environmentalisms. We see many people who want to help out. There is an overwhelming sense of community spirits within environmentalism, which helps and supports these ventures. I think hope is very important, especially in these times in overcoming some of that nature pessimism in our worldview is one of these biases we saw.
Thank you very much for that. You talked a little bit about why humans are unique and what makes us different from the other animals. I’m curious about what your answer is to that. What separates us from other animals? I know what I think so I want to compare answers.
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During the lockdown in Sydney, I wrote a book on this subject. It is my way of passing the time when I was stuck at home. I came to the conclusion about halfway through that humans can be defined as opportunistic ecosystem engineers. It’s a biological description deliberately so reducing us to other terms. Opportunistic means we make most of the damaged factored environments and challenging spaces to live in. Often, I divide creation but making the most of nonconventional habitats. That’s how we’ve come to live our lives. That’s how we’ve come to be “the dominant species” a major force on Earth. The second part as engineers means that we change the environment around us. That’s a particular skillset we happen to have and other animals have it but they have opportunism. That’s opportunistic and they do very well. Animals can be found everywhere except Alaska.
It is pretty much anywhere where you can find ecosystem engineers. It may be beavers. They radically change the environment around them. Beavers by creating dams as the one in Yellowstone. They introduced waters there. That meant beavers could thrive and change the course of the rivers and everything changed. They’ve revolutionized that ecosystem but humans do a similar thing in many ways. We’re able to write. We alter our surroundings in ways that are good or bad for the environment. That’s a choice we have to make. That’s the conclusion I came to. I was partly refusing as some of the alternatives say communication, culture, complex collaboration, or whatever it may be. We’ll be surprised at what we find in animals but trying to define what it means to be human. It’s challenging. Some would argue it’s a futile exercise but that’s the conclusion I came to.
I like that answer. I’m curious what your thoughts are in my answer. My answer is, it’s almost two parts, but both parts are the same, but different. The first part is humans apply meaning to things that happen. We pull our emotions into it and we make up stories around what happens. Humans are meaning-making machines. That’s a problem sometimes. We have this woman in America and her name’s Brené Brown. She talks about the story you tell yourself. That meaning becomes the story you tell yourself. If you don’t examine whether or not that story is true, that can become a problem because then it becomes a belief.
Belief is a big problem if we don’t explore our beliefs. If you don’t put your belief to the test, what’s the use of having a belief anyway? The second part of it is I think humans are, from what I can tell, the only species on the planet in my mind that can override an instinct or a gut feeling and do whatever anyway. I don’t know any other animal that can override their instincts the way humans can. There you have the ego and the persona that creates a problem. I’m curious what your take is on my thoughts.
I think for the most part, those are points that I wholeheartedly agree with. Certainly, it’s quite the human condition that we try and find excessiveness meaning in our existence. We try to find what it means to be human. What it means to be being myself? How I can understand my place in this world? What the meaning of life is for me and for others? What sense can I make of my place in the grand scheme of things? That is part of the human condition that we try and make a sense of all of this. It’s often very hard to know to what degree are the animals may engage in philosophy, as you want to call it. There’s the concept of imbalance which is the answer to everything. In this field of imbalance concept that we exist in this bubble sphere, which is our own existence. We can never quite step fully out of that perspective. We have to interpret what around us in the way we’ve learned to, the way that makes sense to ourselves, and the way that ultimately separates us from be it other humans or other animals.
There are ways of trying to break down some of these boundaries, but there will always be that gap in how much we can understand the difference and the imbalance of human. The elephant or a whale is much greater. Some would argue that between two humans. We struggle to know whether animals have emotions, whether they are conscious, whether they can philosophize. It is something which pretty as time may be able to give you a more comprehensive answer. I suspect until then, we won’t have a clue. There are some intelligent creatures on this planet. I like sperm whales. They are arguably the most intelligent creatures besides humans. Which way you want to argue with, it is a creature that we can barely understand.
They have a communication system which we just started to decode. It is a fact. The language all of their own and complex family relations, social languages, and essentially human characteristics. We may try and find ourselves with/or which we may attribute to emotions. They certainly feel some loyalty to their families. Maybe the survival instinct to protect their calf, that’s an example. That’s another instinct. How do you define instincts? How do you define feelings or rational thoughts? For the most part, I agree with what you said until it comes back to what Darwin says. The difference between humans and animals is one of degree and not of tribes. I suspect that with new research, we find these traits, characteristics in other animals. Humans clearly deep down do possess to the last degree.
I’m not sure that animals anthropomorphize humans, the way we do them. I know that’s one of my favorite things to do. I’ll sit on my back porch and all the critters that visit my yard, I make up stories about who’s related to whom and what’s the story. That’s how I pass my time sometimes in the morning when I’m having my cup of tea. It’s fun to live in my head sometimes, but I’m going to circle back because when you were talking about the environment, there was another part in there. You mentioned that it’s not too late. We can still rewind and possibly save the environment, save the planet. I’m hoping that that’s the case. I do have hope and I’m curious. We haven’t hit a rewind button yet. However, COVID has almost forced us to hit the pause button a little bit. Are you seeing an impact on nature at all since COVID has started?
COVID has been a double-edged sword of the environment. There have been some interesting stories of how nature has changed in the absence of humans. Some stories of nature returning say a turtle nesting in Thai beaches, where people stayed and tourism is too high. They weren’t able to, where light and noise pollution was disrupting their cycles. The absence of human activity has caused some form of regeneration and some minor form of reset, most of rewind. Before some of these major industries took off almost like the Chernobyl example.
When that area became inhabited with humans, the nature did return. Most similar to that, they adapted to this new condition, the same with radioactive. There is a tremendous resilience in nature being able to take some opportunities. It has come back in many ways. The flip side to that you may argue is that we as humans have been stored in some of our progress towards great advantage to action. We’ve recognized to some level the link between our interactions with animals, certainly wildlife, and the emergence of COVID being as a disease coming likely from bats. Possibly from pangolins, I’ve heard a few explanations, but 2020 was meant to be inspired by a super year. There are lots of major conferences started, major discussions, wildly discounting the huge ambitious plans we can imagine.
That’s been delayed a year at least and fill a whole scenario. There have been difficulties to work with. We’ve seen tremendous select doubts come out as well as communities are mobilizing around all sorts of issues be it COVID or environmental sustainability. It’s time to reflect, as we are seeing that and causing it and not going to affect the nature base. It’s showing how places get connected. It’s showing that we humans and our human health certainly is sensitive to the state of the natural world. We are heavily reliant on these ecosystem services to get by and heavily dependent on nature to restore this balance of diseases, of the carbon cycle, of oxygen or whatever it may be. It’s a pause button. It’s time for reflection, where are we going to go next? That’s the big question. Who knows what the answer is, but we can hope that good things would come out at this. It’s been a realization, I think many people on the state of things and what might be required to fix them. The question will be getting it there sooner to prevent the worst of the damage without much racing against time.
I think you’re right that a lot of people have gone into reflection. Not everybody, but a lot of people have since we’ve hit the pause button for COVID. Something else that we’ve mentioned and loosely alluded to a couple of times already is that humans are subject to the same laws of nature. That nature is the same cycle. I’m wondering if you might be able to talk to that and give an example of one of the laws of nature or one or two that we are subject to that most people don’t recognize or don’t acknowledge that we’re subject to the same laws as the natural world.
In 2020, I gave a TEDx Talk about Evolution and How to Save the World. Basically, the idea is to find the framework. I was taking five laws of the nature of evolution and applying them to a human context. What we might learn from them in how to step forward as society and to adapt new world order, which is more sustainable for humans and animals. That was an interesting exercise for me. It showed me how much we can learn from nature, how much our perspective can change if we try and take what learnings we can from the natural world from the system says engages with.
One of the interesting things to look at is the effective, small changes adding up. It’s conductive a process. If it’s mutations and genes, allowing evolution to take place. As generations go by small changes in the gene code are allowing tiny variations. Many of which false starts and many of which don’t succeed. A few of which are brilliants and they allow these animals to create new species to survive and only to the future to found evolutionary dynasties lines, successions, which are successful with nature or which have survived down these four billion years to come to us and to give life to human.
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If you take a similar idea that we can learn that a small amount of carbon emissions. If we’re constantly polluting the atmosphere, greenhouse effects run away. We reached a tipping point where we could be facing a climate crisis. It shows us that these small changes can add up. This is what we’ve seen in accelerating rates of climate change, global warming, and coming to climate. You can look at what happens if we start protecting marine protected areas or address your national parks. We start setting land aside from nature. Taking a positive example and change or pause many years of conservation, we’ve set aside about 15% of the world. This area, mostly on the land as some of it, I could supervise. That has created some positive effects. One of those minor success stories I recount and it shows how far we’ve come in a relatively brief span of time, but also how far we have to go.
They’re reaching that 50% ideally by 2050 and something great sweeping and pants that might have. If we can set small trances and decide we can be strategic in how we do and learn from nature. Not being too precious about side attempts, being prepared to drop on successful ideas, being prepared to take that leap of faith, ideas, and for those options, which seem to work. I give them a go and shift evolution. If the process of time that files show them to be invalid and to not be as effective as when they have hopes, then be prepared to go out and try something else, but being assisted in the process. Following that evolutionary process to evolve other human systems as well, could be potentially revolutionary.
I live in a country where environmental protections are being rolled back. My personal perception is that we’re going in the wrong direction in our country. I’m curious if you have any advice on what we can do individually and with what we can control in our personal lives and our homes, even if we live in a concrete jungle in the inner city and might not have a lot of trees on our streets. Not all communities have treelined streets. What can the average, everyday person start to do to help or contribute whilst also living in a country that’s not on the same page?
The US has the second most species if any country, where Australia’s first, but not this great example of government leading the way is right backward in terms of the environmental policy. On the individual scale, there are lots you can do. I say if you have the time, the skillset, and volunteering with an environmental organization. Human Nature Projects is designed as a community of people who don’t know how perhaps, giving them that support and opportunity to do so. You mentioned community. If you’re in a street without any trees, then creating a microhabitat in your backyard. If you can plant some flowers for pollinating the bees and create these microhabitats, which are connected to create these districts of nature. There’s been some interesting research on how to save and it is lots of fun.
In the UK, there has declining adversity because people are spending over. If you can try and keep as much greenery as possible in your life, whether it’s planting trees on the way, keeping that or if it’s a greenery wall you want to add, even if you don’t have backyards, front lawn or whatever it may be. That’s a great way you can help. Learning about nature will be brilliant. If you take ten minutes a day to learn a new bird species, new bird color, your way of nature around you, and sharing that with others. This process by which the environment movement has thrived, evolved and developed over these past years gradually coming to become this universal constant. It is something I wish I’ve come to love and appreciate it at some level is incredible in how diverse and how multitalented people we see working in this space. I think that’s a credit to that community behind it. It’s not an easy question to give a one-line answer to, but you do have to decide and there are many ways to do so. The audience, if they’re interested, then definitely reach out to me. I am happy to support that process as something which keeps on getting back and working in this field.
I love that part of your answer was even to learn something by reading a few minutes a day or learn about a new bird species or something once a week. In my experience, I’m one of those weirdos that I’ll read books written by ornithologists or nature experts. Nonfiction is my genre. Across the boards, when I read books about nature, that’s my pleasure reading rather than my work-related reading. It is amazing how learning a little bit more about a species that you didn’t know can enhance your appreciation and your gratitude for that species. Whenever we have more appreciation and more gratitude for anything, it impacts our relationship with whatever that thing is. Anything that we can do to learn and stand because if you approach the learning with curiosity, rather than judgment, which learning is curiosity. If you’re being judgmental, then you’re not in the state of mind to learn.
You can’t receive information if you’re in a state of judgment. Anytime we can learn something and we’re in that state of receiving, whether it’s information or whatever it is that is linked to gratitude on a deep spiritual level. I work with emotions and gratitude is the ultimate state of receiving. When people come to me and they’re upset that they’re not getting back what they think they should be getting back from somebody or something or life or the world in general, my question is, “Tell me about gratitude in your life. Tell me about your practice of gratitude.” If they don’t have a practice of gratitude, they’re not going to put themselves into a state of receiving. If you think about the times in life, when you’re most grateful, it’s usually when something has come to you or you’ve received something or something has come your way.
They’re closely linked and education is a way to help us get closer and closer to gratitude to receive. That might be getting a little bit more deep into some of the work that I do around emotional wellness and health. It’s also linked. It’s an important piece of information. Even learning about nature can have more of an impact than you would imagine. Most people, when they learn something new, they share it with somebody like, “Did you know this?” I’m like that about ravens all the time. The more I learned about the corvid family. It’s one of my favorite birds. They fascinate me. They are intelligent and I can bore people to death with the useless little stories that I have about crows, ravens, and blue jays, corvids in general.
One of my first volunteering places was at the Discovery Centre for BirdLife Australia. I did the local park. It’s like a mini-museum teaching the public about local birds. There was a story we used to tell because it was that side of the golf course. The ravens that I’ve learned to pick up stash these golf balls. They are quite well-known for picking out these dozens of golf balls from being skippings or beat, which at the cavities they can find to store them in. It was incredible where we find them. It’s just one story that we have of incredibly intelligent birds.
They are. The place where I go to buy birdseed and bird food. I buy peanuts in the shell for the crows around here. They would set out a little handful of peanuts in the shelf in front of the store every day. The crows would take the peanuts and they would go to a neighboring business and they were stuffing the peanuts in air conditioning unit. It was the birds who were doing it, but they had to put a stop to feeding the crows peanuts because they’re so ornery. They’re mischievous little birds.
There is an incredible story of a woman I knew of who took to feeding. There were magpies in backyards and they learned to tap on the window to get her attention to ask them more feeds. Eventually, this developed to them learn to use the doorbell. They rang the doorbell multiple times. She had no idea what it was. Eventually, she worked it out. They learned to operate this doorbell mechanism to catch her attention. Her husband didn’t like it. He took to threatening to throw things at them. It’s incredible what these birds can do and show. Where you are in the US, there is another story about crows. They learned to call the dogs in the neighborhoods. They summon them and let them into a local university. When the bell rang, the students came out, the students and the dogs followed and it caused absolute chaos. They are incredible birds.
They’re amazing. I have crows that I feed that come to my backyard every day. I recognize them. I’ve got one crow that has a white feather on each wing. He’s quite handsome. I don’t know if it’s a he. I assumed. This is such a fascinating conversation. I’m enjoying this. If any of the readers are interested in connecting with you, what’s the best way for them to do so if they want to look you up or even reach out and send you an email?
You can find my website, which is ElliotConnor.com. You can reach me through there or you can find my charity’s website, which is HumanNatureProjects.org. You can head over to my podcast, which is called Human Nature with episodes released every Wednesday.
If you can give nature the time and space to be able to integrate into understanding the world and into your daily routine, it is worth your time and effort. Nature is one of those realms that we understand incredibly little but if you can start wondering what’s around you, witnessing them in your daily lives. It is an endless worth of entertainment. It’s fascinating creatures and characters. It is something well worth getting into for yourself and nature as well.
For anybody who is reading, it’s ElliotConnor.com. Elliot has some fantastic information out in the world. It’s been fascinating. I hope people will pause and think about our relationship with nature a little bit and think about how can you connect with nature, even if it is learning and reading something new. It’s amazing how much we can learn about ourselves from learning and understanding more about nature. I know I’ve had a lot of a-ha moments, just being in nature and observing, sitting, and watching even the activity in my backyard, it’s fantastic. Elliot, I’m curious, do you have any final tips or bits of wisdom to leave with our readers?
Thank you so much, Elliot. It’s been a pleasure to have you on the show. If you found this information helpful, which I hope you did, please subscribe, feel free to share this on social media, send it to people because nature is important. We are subject to the same laws of nature as the natural world. The more that we can connect with nature, the more we connect with ourselves. I know that sounds a little counterintuitive and at the same time, it’s true. It’s hard to put into words until you take the time to experience it. I encourage all of you to find a way to connect with nature and to re-establish that connection with yourself through a connection with nature. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me. You can find me at JenniferWhitacre.com. I’m on Facebook, LinkedIn, and I look forward to seeing all of you next time.
- Human Nature Projects
- The Private Life of Plants
- The Secret Life of Trees
- Evolution and How to Save the World – YouTube
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About Elliot Connor
Elliot is the founder and CEO of Human Nature Projects, an international environmental charity supporting volunteers across 104 countries. He is a TED speaker, author, podcast host and filmmaker with a goal of reframing our human relationship with nature. So he’s saving people and planet at the tender age of 17.
Elliot has been awarded Samsung’s 2020 Eco-Hero Award, Young Citizen of the Year and Young Landcare Leader. His mission is to develop a model for mass individualism: empowering future leaders to find their potential, connecting the connectors and generating grassroots impact globally. From Quito, Ecuador to Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa to quiet Sydney suburbs he applies his leadership acumen and systems thinking to solve the most pressing issues of our 21st century.
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