The restoring power of Nature, what we can learn.
by Silvia Mirandola (ICF, ACC) & Sue Jackson (AC AMEC)
-Nature-inspired executive coaches ; Biomimicry practitioners-
COVID-19: AN ACCELERATION THROUGH CHANGE
In 2020 the world was shaken by the COVID-19 pandemic and within a few weeks the entire social, economic and health system was literally sabotaged by a fragment of RNA enclosed within a protein envelope, called coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2), which stealthily and silently infected and invaded the epithelial cells of our respiratory system causing, in many cases, nefarious effects that we all know.
The infinitely small had given rise to the devastation and reversal of the infinitely great. Suddenly the compass needle rotated wildly without finding its North and the entire human race entered the realm of uncertainty, instability and social distancing entering a real crisis.
Never as in 2020, the term VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) could be the most suitable slogan to describe entropy and, at the same time, the immobility that had been generated in our socio-economic and health system.
Facing a catastrophic event of global scale, that small genetic fragment called virus was creating the conditions that began a new historical phase and that, above all, was making us see how medicine and zoology are two interdependent scientific branches where the factors that affect the animal kingdom have direct and indirect effects also on mankind.
The virus had become the pretext to make us understand that it was time to stop the “dowloading” of the old logics of the past and to redesign and rethink our future.
The virus forced us to change! We had to change habits, our rhythms, the way we work, the way we relate to others, and we had to change the list of our priorities. Many things that in the pre-COVID period we considered important and priority suddenly had become ancillary and futile.
Change has become the constant of our days and resilience and adaptation have become the super-powers to survive and cope with a situation of constant instability and imbalance. Adapting does not mean “passively adapting” to the context but connecting and understanding the new conditions, becoming more aware of and engaged with their potential and resources and redesigning the relationship with your own environment.
NATURE AND RESILIENCE
Nature, over the course of 3.8 billion years, has had to face an infinity of changes both at the micro- (genetic, phenotypic) and macro- (ecosystems) level, continuing undaunted its path to restore “conditions conducive to life”. Nature knows that crisis, disturbance and catastrophic events are part of the existence of living forms.
Nature can therefore be a model and a mentor, a learning space from which to take up lessons of survival and regeneration for your internal and external balance.
In ecology, the word resilience is defined as the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly to. In other words, it is the ability of the ecosystem to absorb trauma and restore initial structures and functions.
According to the approach of Biomimicry, the discipline that studies Nature’s strategies to solve human problems, resilience in Nature is based on the following elements:
Diversity: presence of different species of organisms, multiple forms and processes and systems capable of satisfying different needs. Diversity encompasses a variety of behavioral, physical, and physiological responses to environmental changes.
Redundancy: the presence of more than one organism, system or species capable of carrying out a certain function in such a way that the loss or destruction of one of these elements does not compromise the function itself.
Decentralization: The mechanisms that maintain those functions, are distributed throughout the system and are not concentrated in a single point or portion of it. In this way, in the presence of a localized perturbation, the vital parts of the system itself will be maintained.
Self-renewal and self-repair: organisms have the ability to generate new cells, to heal wounds, to regenerate damaged organs in response to damage caused by viruses, bacteria and other pathogens or mechanical agents. Trees perceive many things. They know when they’re infected and have an instantaneous biochemical response.
Mutualism and relationship development produce an interdependent system which is more efficient, effective and resilient than single species.
It has been found that trees communicate underground through a complex web of mycorrhizal fungi which benefit from the association with the tree for their supply of food, while the tree benefits from an increase in the water and minerals available. The fungi live in symbiotic association, to the mutual benefit of both organisms.
This symbiosis is important in carbon sequestration, as more than half of the carbon bound in soil is through the action of tree roots and the mycorrhizal fungi that grow on them.
Amazingly, trees recognize their own kin and supply them in favour of others especially when the saplings are most vulnerable.
Trees are social beings that exchange nutrients, help one another and communicate about insect pests and other environmental threats.
Mother trees are the oldest and biggest trees in the forest and are pivotal in holding the forest together and help forest recover from disturbances.. They have the genes from previous climates and have high levels of biodiversity. Through their huge photosynthetic capacity and provide energy for the whole soil web of life. Like the tree/mychorrizal association, they retain carbon in the soil and above ground, and they keep the water flowing.
Mother trees help forests to be resilient, enhance biodiversity and health and need protecting and respecting. They are an ally in managing for climate change and to enhance biodiversity.
Let’s take the example of a forest devastated by a fire, an episode that unfortunately, in these recent years, has occured in many parts of the world, drastically reducing the lungs of the earth (deforestation).
The steps, in a synthetic way, are as follows:
1. Forest of trees
2. Arrival of an external disturbance (e.g. a fire)
3. Fire destroys vegetation.
4. Fire leaves behind the desolation, but does not destroy the soil, and the seeds (reserves of life) buried.
5. Grass and herbaceous plants are the first to grow back.
6. Small bushes and shrubs begin to colonize public areas.
7. Fast-growing evergreen plants begin to populate the soil and other plants, which prefer shading areas (shade-lover species), grow sheltered from the foliage of the former.
8. The fast-growing shade-lover plants slowly die leaving room for large deciduous trees. The ecosystem has returned to a state similar to the initial one.
In ecology, this process for restoring a state of equilibrium of an ecosystem is called “ecological succession”. The factors that determine the success of a species during a “succession” are determined:
1. from the abundance and dispersion of seeds
3. the consistency and characteristics of the soil
Following a catastrophic event, Nature then goes to restore an ecosystem by building from the bottom up, starting from species with rapid diffusion and growth giving space then, time after time, to more complex species, slow-growing and more resistant and long-lasting (tall trees). Seeds (reserves of potential), diversity and all the characteristics of resilience, described above, are crucial for the restoration of an ecosystem after a catastrophic event.
NATURE-INSPIRED COACHING QUESTIONS
v Where have you noticed the added value of diversity in the last year?
v What is diversity for you, in your family and/or work eco-system?
v How can you ensure and optimize diversity in your eco-system?
v What is the “ecological succession” that you would put in place to go and rebuild your inner and outer ecosystem?
v What are your reserves of potential (seeds) that can allow you to rebuild and rebuild after a catastrophic event?
v What is the best soil to restore and nourish yourself and/or your dreams/projects?
v How do you align and communicate with others to generate more stable systems?
v What are the “fast-growing species” (projects, people, investments) that would help you enrich the soil to accommodate “the most enduring and long-lasting species”?
I propose a small additional exercise: try to think of other examples of Resilience in Nature (plants, animals, ecosystems) and ask yourself what are the strategies that that mentor has put in place to be resilient and then try to translate them and apply them to your situation.
Enjoy your exploration!