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Episode 35:
Humans as Net-Contributors:  Learning from Biomimicry and Living Principles

Guest: Deborah Benham


Marina Robb

Hosted by: Marina Robb

Deborah Benham

My guest today is Dr Deborah Benham. In addition to her academic career as a biologist, Deborah is a biomimicry educator, a Gaia Education and Transition Towns trainer, and has huge experience in how we can draw on living systems to support solutions to societal challenges. 

I am very inspired to share this episode with you! We can actually be net-contributors as humans rather than always extracting and taking.  It’s so easy to speak about all the problems and seemingly hard to find solutions to planetary and personal health, but today we get to glimpse into an emerging set of principles that just may be the foundation to how we run our systems and our lives in the future.

In this episode, We dive into:

  • What does it mean to be wild?
  • You don’t need a wild place to be wild!
  • What a deep nature connection practices facilitate a felt-sense of interconnection – a foundational experience leading to feeling connected to multiple relationships.
  • How we can create positively to the health of the planet as net contributors.
  • Biomimicry and Living Principles to help us do this!
  • Learning to use templates that support living affirming products, processes and systems.
  • Exploring how these frameworks guide us to be a good citizen that supports life to thrive.
  • The imagination – creativity happens best within a set a parameters.
  • What do we need to change? From the personal to the policy level.
  • A deeper understanding that life creates the conditions for life to thrive, so we need to learn from the greatest teacher – the living wild biosphere!

Music by Geoff Robb: www.geoffrobb.com 

Deborah Benham

Holding a vision of humanity as a helpful species on the planet, I support and facilitate living systems based education and approaches to societal challenges, co-creating and contributing to a thriving future for people and nature. 

I support organisations and community groups to understand, reconnect with and learn from nature, to become Ecological Citizens and create a future we can be proud to leave for future generations. I'm guided by the core principle of Biomimicry - 'Life Creates the Conditions for Life to Thrive'. I believe humanity can be a net positive species on the planet, contributing to regeneration and stewardship. The vision I work towards is of thriving human societies, cultures, communities and businesses, designing with and as nature, creating mutual benefit for all life, using tech in life affirming ways, and uplifting justice, kindness and cooperation. 

My background and PhD are in wildlife conservation and environmental education. I am an accredited Biomimicry Educator, Gaia Education trainer of trainers, Interpretive Guide trainer and Connection First / 8 Shields deep nature connection practitioner, mentor and facilitator. For many years I've worked closely with tracker and naturalist Jon Young , including organising and speaking at nature connection camps and courses in England, Scotland, Spain, the USA and online. I also work part time as the co-Lead Link for Transition Network; the charity which supports the international Transition towns movement. Prior to this, I ran a connection based wildlife watching ecoholiday company and contributed as a consultant on many multi stakeholder projects to help local communities develop sustainable, educational wildlife-watching and nature-based ecotourism. 

I provide a framework and support for becoming ecological citizens, offering training, speaking, facilitation, consultancy and design skills in Biomimicry, ecological literacy, the four dimensions of sustainability, compassionate culture, stakeholder co-creation, interpretative guiding, and practices for reconnection to, and interconnection between, people and the wider living world.

Website: www.deborahbenham.com
Linked-In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/deborah-benham-phd-b960b3118/ 
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/becomingecologicalcitizens 

Other Useful Links:


Emergent by Miriam McDonald (Book) 

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(transcribed by AI so there maybe some small errors!)

Marina Robb: Hello, and welcome to the Wild Minds Podcast for people interested in health, nature based therapy and learning. We explore cutting edge approaches that help us improve our relationship with ourselves, others and the natural world. My name is Marina Robb, I'm an author, entrepreneur, Forest School outdoor learning and nature based trainer and consultant, and pioneer in developing green programs for the health service in the UK.

You're listening to Episode 35 humans as net contributors learning from biomimicry and living principles. My guest today is Dr. Deborah Benham. In addition to her academic career as a biologist, Deborah is a biomimicry educator of Gaia education and transition towns trainer, and has huge experience in how we can draw on living systems to support solutions to societal challenges. I'm really inspired to share with you this episode that actually we can be net contributors as humans rather than always extracting and taking. It's so easy to speak about all the problems and seemingly hard to find solutions to planetary and personal health. But today, we get a glimpse into an emerging set of principles that just may be the foundation to how we run our systems and our lives. In the future, It feels really exciting to be part of a growing global community that striving to find ways to participate in positive change without being heroes, and heroines, which wouldn't work anyway. 

But rather choosing to put our energy into things that we want to do so that we can be net positive on the planet rather than net zero. I appreciate your time that you give to me listening to my podcast, and if you're enjoying it, please do spread the word. So hi, Deborah, and welcome to the wildminds Podcast. I'm really happy to have you here. There's just so many reasons. But before we jump in, I'd like to do some gratitude. it was seems to feel really important to do that. And actually, before we started, I was thinking about our friend, actually in common, which is Maeve Gavin. 

And I just wanted to share some gratitude to Maeve who is no longer with us. And because actually, that's one of the reasons we're here together. And yeah, and I and I want to just remember Maeve and all the joy she bought to us and all the wisdom and she did die too young. And how these people in particularly her, you know what they gifted to us and here we are. I don't know how many years on building on that. So that that's my gratitude. And I hope that's not too sudden to bring that in because I know she was a dear friend of yours, but it felt important.

Deborah Benham: Yeah, thank you for presencing her that she was a friend. But she was also a sort of a mentor and really an inspiration to me. That's certainly how it started. I think I met her at a party by the beach up in Scotland. And she told me this fantastic story around the campfire about nature connection. And anyway, that led to me attending that first Art of Mentoring camp that she was putting on up markussi farm and in Scotland. So yes, so grateful for me so grateful for the journey. She went on learning about deep nature connection practices, and how we can build community through deep nature connection practices, and that I came, you know, I came to that work and may I think it was 2011 and now it's 2024 and I've been involved in that work ever since. And it's profoundly changed my life. So, you know, now I'm a practitioner and deep nature connection. And now I support other people with community building practices. And now I live in a connected community, which has sustainability at its core and this eco cohousing that we've moved to. And I have a deep nature connection practice that supports my nervous system, you know, where I can feel really freaked out by the state of the world. But go outside and drop into these very simple practices, and help to regulate my nervous system and calm down and find some kind of equilibrium again, so I can move forward with my work in the world. And all of that, and more came from that initial meeting around a campfire at that beach party. Now everything that's come since so deeply grateful to her for that, and just for her joyful, wise, committed presence in the world and everything that she brought. Yeah, and obviously for her teachers to fire John Young, and Mark Murray, and all the others who she worked with, to learn those principles and bring them to us.

Marina: Yeah, thank you so much. It felt really right to think of her and to bring her into this conversation. And here we are. And I, there's so much that I want to ask you about today. But one of the things being that it's called the wild minds podcast, I feel because of the journey you've been on and a little bit of what you've already just spoken to. I'd be really curious and interested to know what wild means to you. And if it has changed over these years? Would you mind speaking to that?

Deborah: I'd love to it's a great question. Actually, as I think about it, and you know, you mentioned it to me once before, and it kind of stimulated this little train of thought. And it reminded me of the longer journey I've been on really, because my upbringing was in cities in inner city areas. And from a very early age, I really loved animals, that's probably, you know, that was my way to connect with nature, that kind of biophilia, you know, that people talk about, I think the you know, the innate love of nature, my way to access that, as a, you know, a young girl living in an inner city was to love animals, and pets, and stuffed animals and all this kind of stuff. And then as I got older, to really want to spend more time in nature, but actually, I almost felt like I didn't know how, and I didn't have permission. Because, in my mind, people that were outdoorsy, or people that were wild, they were really different than me, you know, they were climbers, or divers or people with survival skills, or people that climbed mountains and went camping and all this kind of stuff that I hadn't really done that much of and I kind of had this identity of like a city girl or as a got to be a teenager, like a rock chick or a raver or you know all these things in the 90s I remember that. I'm I so longed to be the kind of person I thought you had to be to be a kind of nature person, I would see these. It's pretty funny, I would see these girls with long hair and flowing skirts and bare feet that had boyfriends that played guitar. And I was like, I thought that's what it meant to be wild, you know, to be able to go out and do that kind of stuff. And I, you know, the way I did access it was by studying biology and zoology and marine biology and getting really into the academic side of things and learning about how nature works. And when I went to mean, I could say a lot about that, but it's probably too long. So yeah, so then I had this academic journey with nature. So I developed an understanding in my mind, apparently nature works. And I still felt like an imposter in nature. I still didn't know what the right clothes were to go out and, you know, hike around in the mountains of Snowdonia. When I was doing my Masters up in Bangor. I, yeah, it was an impostor syndrome. And I think that didn't really go away until I started to work with deep nature connection principles. Because those very simple principles, whether it's sit spots, or listening and understanding the language of the birds, or, you know, wandering in nature without a kind of agenda, you know, all of these sorts of practices, started to develop a felt sense of interconnection with the world rather than the sense of separation that I think the culture I grew up in had embedded in me. And then I added a layer of academic knowledge of that nature to that but I didn't have the felt sense of being connected. And so yes, I think I've gone from But also, I think I used to think that being world meant you had to be in a wild place. And a wild place was a place where there weren't lots of humans. And I would say that's changed too. Because as I've built this kind of regular habit of deep nature connection practices, I have that felt sense of being part of an interconnected and interdependent living world. And I have multiple relationships with the beings around me, whether that's the trees or the plants in my garden, I'm growing gardening has been a big part of it, I think as well, that's really developed that real connection for me understanding how plants grow, and where food comes from. Having relationship with the birds feeding the birds, understanding where the birds come from, and where they go back to and when they're here, and when they're not. And the cycles of their lives, and the challenges they have with each other, you know, all of this building relationship stuff has led to that sense of being interconnected and interdependent, and sort of feeling so grateful to the living world for everything that it offers me in terms of my ability to survive and thrive. And so now to me being wild is having that felt sense of being part of the living world, having that felt sense of being in reciprocal relationship and in the web of life, understanding that the things I do also affect everything else in the living world. And that's the same whether I'm in the countryside, or a town or a city, because the wild is everywhere, the whole it's the biosphere, you know, it's everything alive on this planet, and how it interacts with everything else. So that's a huge shift.

Marina: It is a huge shift. And it makes me think about lots of things. One, you know, that idea of this imposter syndrome, this the feeling, and it kind of links to confidence for me as well, this idea that so many people out there will, exactly as you said, have an image of what it is to be kind of outdoors, or, you know, like nature, there's kind of like we have these role models or something. And then when we don't feel like we're like them, then it's sort of like we don't feel we belong there or something. And then, so there's something around how we can all look all different ways, shapes, sizes, wear different clothes, and still, I suppose have this innate humaneness, that could facilitate this felt sense, right. And yet, at the same time, I'm wondering, and thinking about God, that's an issue because to feel that felt sense to have that you, you inevitably have to have had, I think, these experiences of being outdoors and having opportunities to not just think about, like you said, you know, this kind of intellectual thing where we think about or have knowledge of, but rather have this use the word felt this feeling this feeling of relationship and you know, it seems to be that that is a kind of problem that we have to kind of solve somehow is how do we develop that felt sense?

Deborah: Well, I do think experience is massively important. However, I don't think experiences as difficult to offer as we sometimes think is, so it can be as simple as giving, you know, children the opportunity to grow plants in a tiny little urban school garden or even on a windowsill. No, and to understand how the seasons affect the plants and understand seeds and how seeds are so tiny that they contain everything and then they grow into a whole plant that makes fruit that's full of seeds that grow even more you know, and that we have to learn how the soil nurtures that seed and what's in the soil and the incredible life in the soil and how it needs water and where you know the cycles of water on the planet and how it needs sun and how energy comes from the sun. And you know, there's so many natural principles that we can learn just by growing a plant together or growing a few plants especially something you can eat because then there's that interconnection piece of like without the soil without the water without the sun without the seed without you know the plant producing these fruits. I'm thinking of a tomato clock somebody who thinks that's something you could really easily grow on a whim led you know in

Marina: a really delicious

Deborah: a really delicious and I know also had a personal experience of this you know to in fact one was although I did as a quality degree because it was to theology not biology, I didn't really know much about clients like a really shocking suddenly small amount. And when I grew tomatoes for the first time, and I'm really embarrassed to say this, but I think it's an important message. I love and by growing my first tomato plants that the tomato fruits came from the tomato flower; I didn't know that. And I was in my 20s when I grew my first tomato plant.

Marina: I'm exactly the same, I mean, exactly the same. It's been, you know, even though I remember doing biology, you know, oh level. Back in the day, I didn't realize that all these fruits and seeds are coming from flowers. Yeah.

Deborah: And then I had this was much, much more recently, maybe six or seven years ago, after growing tomatoes for many years, we got this incredibly beautifully shaped tomato actually in a veg box. Because, you know, we were topping out what we were growing with buying local veg boxes as well. And it was such a beautiful shaped tomato, it was like a little teardrop that myself and my housemates decided we would keep it as kind of like a centerpiece on the table for a while. And of course, eventually, it just kind of slumped into a little puddle. And I thought, Oh, I wonder if I can keep that and grow tomatoes that shape next year. And this was my first experience of seed saving. And I just put this kind of little rubbery, you know, lump of slightly moldy tomato foil, next year planted in soil, and it grew 40 seedlings, which then turned into 25 thriving plants, which then created kilos of fruit, which I you know, from one tomato,

Marina: you see, there's something going on here, though, because I'm sitting here smiling and you're smiling, and I know, the viewers come I get it. But what I'm picking up here is an excitement. And, or a wonder, you know, these words of which are regenerating in me a feeling, you know?

Deborah: Yeah, we started a little sleepy and now laughing and smiling, having a good time talking about tomatoes.

Marina: Exactly, but it's, I think this is something to really just really pay attention to, because actually, it is this quality and excitement and joy. And like this is amazing. That some somewhere we lose, we lose along the journey sometimes, you know, and I'm, you know, really aware of that. And again, I want to go like from the joy and the kind of like, oh my god, this thing actually grew and how I did that, you know, whoa, I did that. You know, I grew courgettes, and I was like, wow, I couldn't believe it. Because I didn't have that in my childhood. You know, so for me, it was like a really, it still is. It's an amazing thing. And I struggled to do it a lot. But there's a link somehow for me around. Well, is there a link? And I think there is a link between the potential of having that experience and that feeling, perhaps feeling the well. And this is a bit of a leap. So bear with me here. And I do tend to do this. I make these kind of big kind of leaps to climate crisis. Right. So I've just made a big leap. Because I often feel like we're taught we talk about all this very serious stuff, right? climate crisis, mass extinction, biodiverse biodiversity loss. And it's also out there, it's so big, it's so overwhelming. But I wonder if we could just like have a bit of a playful moment of thinking about somehow maybe the link between growing tomato and having that experience because I know you've been involved in Transition Town,

Deborah: I can certainly go there. No. Go with me. Go there. The word that was coming to me firstly, and I don't want to leave this behind when you were talking about how we're both feeling now and smiling and so on was re enchantment. I think there's just a re enchantment that can come re enchantment with the living world. And that sense of wonder and awe about how the world the living world actually works. I mean, I'm biased. I'm a biologist, but I continue to learn about biology, and biomimicry, and ecology and all these things, and it continues to blow my mind on a daily basis. I mean, there are so many stories I could tell and maybe I'll get a chance to tell one or two today of things I've even done in the last couple of years that blow my mind. But anyway, so I think this falling back in love with the natural world and how this planet works and our part within it. And also kind of a an understanding when we grow tomatoes or anything else simple like that, that we can actually create something positive. You know, in the living world, we don't have to be this terrible plague on the planet that some of us might feel we are with all the crises that are happening. You know, humans have been on this planet for I think the latest estimates are at least three 100,000 years. And it's really only the last few 100 months, some people would say a couple of 1000, depending on, you know what you're talking about, that we've been having these kinds of system level, very damaging effects on the planet, whether it's climate change, biodiversity loss, or all sorts of social yet some of the terrible social stuff is happening, although that has probably been going on longer. But in terms of global level impacts, that's only really been in the last couple of 100 years. And for the rest of that time that our species has been on this planet, not only were we not causing damage, we are now coming to understand that actually, we were contributing positively to the health of the planet. And we know that because people who are land connected, indigenous peoples name connected peoples, they still are, you know, they're actually tending 80% of the world's remaining biodiversity on the lands that they have stewardship over, because, and I studied stewardship, because they don't feel that they own that land, although it's important these days for them to have those rights, because otherwise someone else is going to own it. But that certainly wouldn't have been part of their worldview for most of the time that they've been there. Because my understanding of indigenous worldviews is a sense of participation and reciprocity and caring for and being cared for. In the living world, you know, being a participant being exactly just another part of that web. And we can see this in the way that indigenous people tend the land and how they, you know, they affect the land, obviously, in terms of, sort of, like Aboriginal Australians doing these cool berms, you know, like they do these small burns, low burns of the kind of scrub, because what that does is it reduces the amount of vegetation that can burn in a kind of catastrophic forest fire. And we actually see this in places like Spain, and Portugal too, when people were living more out in the countryside and doing small scale farming, they would gather all the kind of scrub and dry, you know, vegetation for firewood and cooking, which meant there wasn't as much lying around on the ground when a forest fire did come. So just the way that we've lived in relationship with land for 1000s of years has actually been part of how the ecosystem functions in a way that creates life, and thriving for other species, too. And some of the ways we're living now are having the opposite effects, you know, even well intentioned things like, let's leave natural areas, let's put a fence around it and call it a conservation area. When you exclude local people from the land, they've been connected to 1000s of years and you exclude those land tending practices actually leads to more forest fires, it leads to more problems, because the way they've been interacting with the land and caring for it is actually part of that ecosystem that's required. So falling back in love with how the living world works, I think is massively important. Changing the narrative of our place in the living world, I think is important when it comes to things like climate change and biodiversity loss, because if we see ourselves as bad and wrong, I think we kind of continue to feel disempowered. You know, if we can remember that we can make a positive contribution to the living world. I think for a start, that's a different framing. And it's motivating right now. And we see it everywhere now with rewilding projects with agroecology with Yeah, with more indigenous wisdom coming into sort of mainstream society or dominant culture again. So going back to those tomato plants, it's really interesting, because you said that I've evolved with transition towns and I am I work part of my work is sort of as a sustainability educator and a nature connection practitioner and a biomimicry educator. And part of my work is that I work part time for the Transition Network, which is the support charity for the transition towns movement, which is a big international movement. Now, it's grown hugely over the last 15 years. And very interestingly, when we look at, so I think we have at least 1200 registered transition groups in about 40 countries. And those are just the ones that register with us. There's hundreds more that don't register with us because they have a local hub, or they're just doing their own thing using the principles and practices of transition. Because it's grassroots movement, you don't have to be affiliated to the support charity, right. So we only know about maybe half of the groups that are out there. And what we do know about those groups is one of the things that people often start with is growing food. Because growing food is something that just makes sense to everybody. We need food, locally grown food tastes delicious. Anyone that understands local systems and kind of dominant culture will understand that our food supply chain is quite fragile, as we saw in COVID, you know, or as we saw, as the Brexit rules were changing and all the trucks ended up you know, stuck in different places in courts and things. So we have these very long complicated food supply chains. And when people do start being concerned about local food or about like climate change or waste and start growing local food that is often a pathway to re enchantment with the natural world, because you start to have that experience we were talking about of learning how the seeds work, and how the soil works and how you need to tend the soil and all the things that live in the soil and the cool stuff we were talking about earlier. And plus, food is a huge part of climate change, you know, industrial food systems create so much waste and greenhouse gases. And, you know, so growing local food is actually growing food in a ecological and regenerative way as a massive part of addressing the climate crisis.

Marina: And assuming also the transport of all the food is, for example. Yeah, exactly.

Deborah: There's so many different parts to it. So I think, you know, if we're talking about simple taking it all the way back to the beginning of this conversation, if we're talking about simple experiences, of the wild, growing tomatoes on your windowsill might actually be one of the best ways to start because it's so accessible. And you can go so many places from it, as we've just demonstrated.

Marina: Yeah. But, you know, it's important, because if we have been thinking this week about the this idea of being powerless, and I have had a number of conversations over the last few months with people that have seemingly quite a lot of power, right? Now, we could go into that, you know, like, maybe access to money or positions of authority, and yet still feel a sense of powerless in the face of these big issues, you know, well, how can they, if they're working in banking, you know, how can they change that or be effective in a system? And I'm certainly not going to ask you to solve any of these problems here. So you can relax. But I think, what I am interested, I mean, I can see the way you're able to reach out and, you know, explore examples and make links and know there's something about how people can move to feel that they are, like you beautifully said net contributors, you know, that somehow we're leaving change, we're changing something, we're not being the heroes, again, and I'd like to explore that. Because it's something you said, you know, we don't need to be heroes. Yeah, you know, and this is kind of like the shift of the dial, my son actually said, Well, you know, we just need to shift the dial somewhere. And I just, I'm interested in that, because it doesn't seem to matter. Where, what where we are or where we sit, what jobs we do, it's like, can we shift this dial? And I'm particularly interested again, you've mentioned this word, biomimicry, which I'm sure a lot of people won't understand. And life principles, and I'm wondering what and I guess the bigger question is, how does these systems these natural systems, how do they help us to live in a way that will give us examples of

Deborah: questions? Well, now we're gonna have to, like start counting them on my fingers. All right. So powerlessness is something that I can certainly talk about, because I've experienced it, I've felt I've had that felt sense and other felt sense of powerlessness. You know, since I was a teenager, and started learning about the things that humans were doing to this planet, and loving nature so much, and having that bat, you know, love grow and grow as I got older, and learn about coral reefs and rainforests and cool stuff like that, you know, and then learning what what's happening to those places, was devastating and heartbreaking. And I did feel overwhelmed and powerless. And I still feel overwhelmed and powerless, you know, because the more I learned that the bigger and more complicated and harder it seems. And then when we talk about, you know, peace, how can we ever find peace in the world with the different wars we're experiencing at the moment, and so on. That feels utterly overwhelming. So, and this has actually made me ill multiple times in my life. And I don't know if other people have experienced things like that. But I know that other practitioners and activists and people working for Nonprofits and Charities, and you know, anyone that's sort of trying to care in one way or another, about people, nature, and these things aren't separate, obviously, but we tend to talk about them as if they are, but anyone that's trying to care and trying to do something, you know, to change the world for the better. There is this huge tendency of burnout, right? And I speak to so many people that have experienced mental or physical health breakdowns. And I've had them myself. And I think my mom's very wise, she's a life coach. And I'm mostly retired now, but I remember one of the things she said to me when I was younger was, you know, our bodies, our minds, our nervous systems, we didn't evolve to know about all the pain in the world. We only really evolved to know what was happening in our local area and be able to deal with that. And our nervous systems are still mammalian in that You know, we have a kind of a flight, freeze whatever response when there's acute stress, but if we're under this chronic stress of knowing that there's danger and terrible things happening in the world all the time, it's so bad for our physicality, you know, and our mind body system. So no wonder there's such a mental health crisis now. And no wonder so many people engaging in this on a daily basis, rather than sort of shutting off from it, which many of us do as well. But those of us that try and engage with it every day, and make it our work, or our vocation, no wonder we burn out, no wonder we have mental health problems. And they wonder those people that are trying to shut it out, also have mental health problems, because it's still there, right? It's still underneath. And what that led to, for me, was feeling like I had to save the world. You know, like, that's probably what I would have said, As a teenager, what do you want to do with your life, I want to save the world. And which is hilarious in some ways, you know, as you get older, you realize it's really not possible.

Marina: Now, but it's literally about the youth, I just want to be important is very important.

Deborah: It's very and, and it's not to say that we shouldn't try, because the so let's be careful here, because I don't want to tell anyone not to try and save the world. But there's a lot of nuance in there. Firstly, I think it's more about do we want to carry on living on this beautiful world, because actually, the thing we're endangering the most right now is the ability for this planet to sustain human life and a whole bunch of the other species that we really love. The places that we love, and the world itself will probably go on in one form or another, even if we really mess that up. But we might be not be here. And lots of the other species that we really love will not be here either. And lots of them already are, which is a very upsetting thing. And then there's this piece of like being the hero or being the great Savior. Every big story, every movie in kind of Western society is based on the hero trope, right. And in some ways, there's nothing wrong with wanting to become your very best self and express your gifts and passions in the world and really make a difference. Like, that's a wonderful thing. I think the troubling point in this is if you think you have to do it on your own. And if you try and do it on your own, because it's way too big. So this is where I really have been on a huge journey of understanding the need to do these things in Community in cooperation, to film for looking at the Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars, or any of those things, people do find their group right there. They're kind of the people that they're going to do this with. And that's massively important. And it's also massively important because there's so many complex issues. And we're only going to be good at one or two of those, mostly, I, the journey I've been on is from being a very specialized marine mammal biologist, working with dolphins and sea otters and seals and things like that, which was my dream career, right? That was my dream career. And I managed to attain it. And then I was so troubled by what we were doing to those animals and the places that they lived, I needed to understand what was happening in the world, and why our society was creating pollution and disturbance and all the other things that were happening. And so I wanted to understand the culture and the society we live in, and consumerism and capitalism and all these different, you know, extraction from nature, that mindset. And as I understood it, it seemed even more overwhelming about what to do with it. So there's like this journey of like, starting with love, really wanting to understand where the harm is coming from. And it can, I think we can easily get stuck there and the kind of overwhelm of all that harm that's happening and the systems that are kind of entrenched now. But then there's this bigger frame for me, well, we haven't always done that to the world. And lots of other lots of people in the world now, whether it's an indigenous peoples, or whether it's people's working on or people and organizations working on all these amazing projects, to rewild, and restore, and so on. So we already know, we don't have to pave like that. And there's a huge number of different opportunities to get involved. And so then it's almost like coming back to oneself back to one's love back to the thing that we enjoy doing, that we're excited to do every day. And plugging in through that. And the shift that's happened for me is going from I have to save the world, I have to be a hero, I have to keep doing more and being more and more responsible to what's my part in this ecosystem of change? What's the nodes that I can wake up every morning excited about? And who else am I going to work with? And they might have slightly different skills and slightly different interests. And that's important because we all need to be working on different parts.

Marina: Hmm. So you've touched on what you also described as these sort of three pillars. So we've kind of we've talked a little bit about this sort of felt sense, and the importance of that. You've started to talk about that community and how we can participate Pay and be act as an agents of change in our very particular ways. And in a sense, getting some perspective on our overwhelm, you know, do the things that we enjoy, and those little things. And then I, you mentioned this word biomimicry, and like these bigger systems things, and when would you share what that is?

Deborah: I would love to, you know, it's my favorite thing these days. Yeah. So as I mentioned, I've been on this journey of being a zoologist and marine biologist and conservation kind of person, and then getting into sustainability and nature connection. And what I feel like I really got from the nature connection was this, you know, that profound sense of interconnection and a kind of shift to an ecological worldview, a kind of shift, to think of sort of seeing everything is interconnected, and interdependent. But feeling like the skills I had were inadequate to activate, you know, to have to know what to do next with that awareness. Because even though I had, you know, all this training and conservation, and so it didn't feel like a very good fit, once I really understood how the world worked. It felt like a kind of an old story approach, you know, because I think my academic training was pretty old school, and reductionist, and didn't really look at the whole system, and all the different interconnected crises that we have in the world, and how to address that in a slightly more kind of systems level way. And I became a sustainability trainer with higher education, which was also really great. And but I, you know, continued to love the, by the kind of the potential of biology and nature and learning from nature. And I did this course with Fritjof Capra called a systems view of life. And I thought, No, this is it, because what we're learning is that nature has almost like a set of kind of natural laws. And what I mean by that is, so you know, when we talk about climate change, sometimes we talk about how we've gone past planetary boundaries, you know, it's like, there's certain ways the planet works. And it needs to have a certain amount of carbon in the sea and in the trees and in the soil, and not so much in the air, right? When there's more in the air, we get climate change, and that's a problem. It's in the atmosphere. So that's the planetary boundary is kind of how the carbon cycle is working, and all that sort of thing. And there's other planetary boundaries, around all sorts of other things, whether it's water and waste, and biodiversity and so on. And lots of them, we're starting to overshoot the healthy, the healthy limits. And that's kind of an understanding I sort of had. But then, when I did this course with Capra, he was talking about how life has certain patterns and principles. So how really, when you look at how life works, everything's networked and cooperative. We've, I was educated to think that, you know, he was reading Tooth and Claw and everything was competing with everything else, and survival of the fittest and so on. And actually going back to Darwin's work, survival of the fittest mean, was he much more was talking about being a good fit for your environment, being a good fit, you know, so it's, it was very much twisted because of the different worldviews of those times. And yeah, I can't remember what the statistic is. But apparently, in the Origin of Species, you mentioned the word love, like, several 100 times or something. You know, Darwin, you know, it just it's been twisted. And it's been added to other bodies of work that are really not very nice. So I won't go there right now. But anyway, so thinking about these natural laws or life's principles, which I've started to encounter in this Capricorn, for Capricorn online. It was interesting, because I started to see patterns and what he was talking about, and I started to almost feel like, it feels like there's a set of principles that all living beings and living systems follow. And in that body of work, in the particular course I did, it might have changed now, there wasn't kind of like a set that we were given, you know, like, this is all the ways that Nietzsche does things. But I started to have that sense because people, he was repeating things about nestedness and networks and cooperation and, you know, using only naturally local, natural and abundant materials and that this is how all living forms work to do all these sorts of things. And I was like, ah, there's like a set of patterns and actually started like, putting post it notes on my wall, trying to kind of like, you know, understand and identify them. And then somehow, I came across biomimicry, which actually does bring those all together, and now biomimicry is wonderful. I love it. And some people may have heard of biomimicry as being a way that kind of designers and inventors can sort of copy forms in nature to make a more efficient thing, like a more efficient propeller or something that is part of biomimicry. That's called biomimicry of form, but actually When you when you study biomimicry and the founder Janine Benyus, I think coined the term about 30 years ago writing a book called biomimicry, because she was collecting all these examples of nature inspired products and processes and systems. And she was like, Surely there must be a name for this, like people, some people are doing this around the world and discovered there wasn't really a name. And so she gathered all these case studies and wrote the book, biomimicry and then started to develop that body of work. And actually, the core principles of biomimicry are to reconnect with nature, which is what we've been talking about, to learn from nature. Because nature has got 3.8 billion years of figuring out how to solve pretty much any challenge that a living being or a living system could have. I mean, that's what we've that's what nature what life has been doing, since the first bacteria is figuring out how to create conditions where more life can thrive. And it's become this amazing interconnected sort of network of cooperation and value and exchange. And you know, all you need to do is think about the mycelium and how the mycelium connects all the trees and the trees tell each other when they are threats and share resources and the mycelium connect them up. And they get benefits from that too. It's like this huge living network, World Wide Web that we didn't even really know about until a few years ago. And now, hopefully most people have heard about, you know, Susan Dennard and others amazing work around that. But it's not just that, you know, it's one of my favorite examples of this interconnected network pneus in nature is. So my PhD was with sea otters. And sea otters are a keystone species, which is means that, you know, if they're not there, the whole ecosystem kind of collapses. And the reason for that, and the kelp beds in California and other places where they live, is because they the grazing animals like urchins and things like that. And if you don't have the sea otters, the grazers basically eat all the kind of holdfasts of the kelp forest and the kelp floats away and dies. And then you've got nothing kelp, so like underwater rain forests, so without them, you haven't got the nurseries for the fish, which means you haven't got the fish populations, which means the marine mammals have nothing to eat, and the whole thing kind of falls apart. And then in recent years, I discovered not only is that whole system interconnected, and also centered around this particular species of the sea otter. But the giant redwoods those incredibly imposing majestic trees that you get, you know, only in small patches. Now sadly, along the California, California coast, they secrete particular nutrients into the rivers which go into the ocean there along that coast. And without those nutrients, the kelp beds can't grow. So the trees and the kelp beds are also completely interconnected. So just learning about systems like that, it kind of blows my mind. And it just shows that nature how connected nature is and how codependent you know how dependent on each other nature is. And there's, in biomimicry, they've brought together six kind of overarching principles that every single living thing and every single living system on this planet follows. And then broken it down into sort of 20 sub principles. And these are, are things like, you know, use locally abundant materials, and don't create any waste and be cooperative and create nodes that then join up in networks that then are nested in different levels of system. And they sound quite abstract and conceptual. But if you think about that, from a practical point of view, you know, in your local community, it might be okay, what are the materials we can use that are from round here? And how can we use more renewable energy rather than fossil fuels? Because it doesn't create waste? And if we're making waste with something, can we turn it into food or material for someone else?

Marina: Yeah, I'd like to ask, in some ways, could you imagine this as a kind of checklist? Like I'm wondering,

Deborah: like, oh, yeah,

Marina: yeah, do I mean, I'm seeing that, you know, you hear about these kinds of, or I can't even think of all the names like Ico awards, or even in again, I don't tend to be fixed about banking today. But like, even in corporations, they have these kind of, I kind of think what they called now but you know, carbon reducing thing that businesses are doing

Deborah: corporate social responsibility, or governments. Exactly. And

Marina: yeah, I'm wondering whether here we have a template where we could absolutely

Deborah: what we have, first of all, it's a template for how to be a good citizen on this planet. And when I discovered this, it gave me that an incredible sense of relief. Because I like a good framework. It's very hard to figure out how to make sense of the complexity in our world I do I find that very hard. And so understanding that life creates the conditions for life to thrive. That's what life does the phenomenon of life, the biosphere, works cooperatively to create the conditions for other life to thrive. It's evolved that way. And, you know, this is why when we mess with certain parts of it, take a species out or damage a particular part of a system. It's so problematic because that system is all relying on other parts. You know, the trees rely on the mushrooms rely on the beetles rely on the worms rely on that, you know, everything relies on each other. And, and we can be part of that a positive part of that, as I was saying. But understanding these life's principles or these natural laws gives us a framework for how to be a good participant in a living system, how to be a good participant in the world. So we can then use them. And this is what biomimicry does, we can use them as a design framework for making stuff. So it can be an actual thing. So for example, if we want to make a new product, one of my favorite examples is these antibacterial surfaces and hospitals. So I know weirder, but most antibacterial, you've probably heard about antibiotic resistance, and all the different, you know, antibiotic. So all of these sorts of medications or sprays or things that we use to try and kill bacteria to sort of keep hospital environments safe or to, you know, address some issue that we might be having with a bacterial infection in our bodies. But then it creates resistance and it creates more problems. And actually, there are lots of really healthy important bacteria and bacteria kind of run the world although that'd be a whole other podcast like bacteria are amazing many of them when we need them, and I've got obviously for and then our bodies for all sorts of immune and digestive functions. So we don't want to indiscriminately kill bacteria either, because that messes things up. It messes up our internal ecosystem, it messes up the outside ecosystem, it messes up the soil ecosystem if we indeterminately kill bacteria. So, biomimics biomimicry practitioners have studied naturally antibacterial surfaces like shark skin, just taking a tiny little sample of shark skin. I very much hope no sharks were hurt in this process. But it's just a tiny, tiny amount, right? It's not like a large amount. And then you look at that under I guess, an electron microscope and you see the structure and you see that bacteria can't stick to Sharkskin crazy. That's how it's evolved. And so now what they've done is taken that structure and created surfaces and hospitals that bacteria can't stick to by studying something in nature that already evolved that capability. Because sharks probably need bacteria on the inside, like lots of us, but they don't want these particular ones on the outside. And somehow that's evolved over 1000s of years that they can't stick to Sharkskin. So that would be biomimicry of form. So and you can do similar things, you can look at our humpback whales fins and create more efficient aeroplane wings. So you can look at the shape of shells and create more efficient ways to move water, you know, to have propellers and things like that. But what I think is even more interesting is biomimicry of process and system. So you were talking about like a checklist, right? Like what if a business could have a checklist? So Janine Benyus, the founder of biomimicry, she has both a nonprofit which is full of incredible resources, we absolutely have to try it, go and have a look at biomimicry.org. So much free good stuff,

Marina: lots of stuff on the show lots of resources, lots of sources,

Deborah: but she also has a consultancy, and she works with a lot of really big companies now, including, you know, some of the biggest tech companies and the biggest manufacturing companies in the world, and doing a project called factory like a forest. And what they do is they take out a bunch of biomimicry practitioners. So these are really good. Experienced biologists are also trained in biomimicry. And they go to a site where perhaps there's going to be a big new data processing center or a huge new manufacturing plant. And these things are huge, you know, the size of several football fields, they have massive environmental impact. And, and you know, a lot of businesses are trying to get to net zero, and it's like, oh, well, we have to change this and give up that. And it's really a struggle, and there can be quite a lot of resistance. What she's doing is taking people kind of ignoring netzero, and going straight through to net positive. And the way that they do this is they go and study with the business leaders or whoever is going to be designing and building the, you know, the new plant, they go and look at a healthy neighboring habitat, whether that's a forest or does it or a wetland, depending on where they are in the world. And they look at all the benefits that habitat creates for life, whether that's human life, or more than human life. So how much carbon does it capture how much water and air does it capture and clean how much soil is being created there, how much wildlife habitat, how much food can be grown there, what kind of opportunities for people for leisure, for recreation, you know, all that kind of stuff. And then they take all of those, and they create a design challenge that the new factory or the new plant has to produce the same level. And then they design this, and they build them and they're doing that and it's been going for a few years now and has been massively successful. And of course, all the people that work there love it because it's such a gorgeous environment, and it's so much better for human health as well. And it supports local communities. And business leaders become really popular again and get lots of green investment. And it's working with a different psychology. You know, one of the things you and I have talked about in the past is how does change happen. Some of the weight there's so many different ways that change happens, but some of it is having that internal shift Put in kind of your worldview and feeling connected and feeling a sense of motivation, and then having these kinds of principles and skills to have the agency to change. But some of it is also this narrative, this narrative of like, we can be positive contributors again. And that works better with our psychology than thinking we're bad and wrong and thinking we have to give things up because human psychology doesn't like any of that. But when we think actually, we can do something good. And I have the power to do it, and it's going to help other people. That is a much more compelling impetus for change for most people.

Marina: Yeah, I really feel that. I mean, I actually feel very excited because it is very hard to be faced with the statistics and the overwhelm. And it's very, very exciting to feel that there are real possibilities out there of seeing approaching difficulties with a different lens, and actually learning about how to work in a way that nature is showing us all the time. And as we come to the end, because I can't believe we're at the end, I feel like we could just in the beginning. We will absolutely on the shownotes. You know, we will obviously link to what you're doing. And some of the people that you've mentioned would be absolutely wonderful. But there's something that I want to I'm left with is about these possibilities and creativity and imagination. And really, the whole of this talk for me has been feeding that for me, it's been feeding this sense of hope, feeding this sense of going back to that tomato, I don't know, I'm struck by that tomato and thinking,

Deborah: who knew? What would end up talking about? Yeah, would have

Marina: known but there's something around. Okay, when I think that I can't, you know, in the trajectory of the life, we're often taught, we're taught about linear thinking, we're often talked about talking about getting from A to B, you know, and that's the goal. But there's something amazing for me about that, well, we don't really know what's going to emerge. And I'd love if you wouldn't mind. I don't know how you wrap it up, because there's just so many wonderful things. But is there something around that creativity, emergence homes that you would like to kind of, yeah, just say, as we unfortunately have to kind of draw it to a close.

Deborah: If I can do it in a in a lean way. Emergence. Emergence is a wonderful word emergence is actually a word that's used a lot in this living systems approach. And in this kind of new ecology, because emergence is what happens in living systems when there's a lot of change in the system. And if there's a lot of change in the system, so for example, in a forest, you know, there's changes in climate or a pest that comes into the system or a big fire or something like that, the system has to set up the trees, the plants, the animals, that whole ecosystem has to have to do something right in response to those big changes. And you can use this as an analogy for the situation we're in right now, with climate change and biodiversity loss, we're in a situation where very rapid change is happening. Now, in a living system, where there's a lot of diversity, there's a lot of different species, there's a lot of connectedness, they're working together in that ecosystem to exchange value. There's a lot of resilience in that there's lots of different strategies for dealing with things like this. These are these are characteristics of healthy living systems. When there's a healthy living system, and a big disruptive set of changes comes along, what tends to happen is emergence, emergence of something new emergence of a new constellation of species or emergence of a new way of dealing with something. And often that emergence is life affirming. It creates the conditions for more life, if that living system is healthy, and diverse and resilient and connected. And this is a really important lesson for us right in our society right now. If we can be more connected, if we can build resilience, whether that's local food, local energy, mutual aid support systems, if we can be very much communicating with each other and sharing value, as we navigate these massive changes environmentally, and socially, we have a much better chance of something emerging from that complexity, which is life affirming, and means we can continue to live and thrive on this planet. But if we keep decreasing diversity, and we keep polarizing into silos, and we keep competing instead of cooperating and we keep fighting with each other, we have a much less chance of navigating these massive periods of changes and these challenges we're facing. And that's just how complex living systems work. It's not linear, but we can create the conditions for positive tipping points and We have a much better chance of positive emergence and creating a future that is preferable and resilient and hopefully goes towards restoring and regenerating the health of the living world and with us as part of that. So emergence is a very important word. And there's a very wonderful book called emergence out there as well, which I've been enjoying reading. And we'll put that in the resources too. And you mentioned creativity, and I will wrap it up here. But having these lists living systems principles gives us kind of a framework for how to be a good citizen, right? And having a framework is important in complexity. Because if we just stand in the middle of complexity and massive change, and go, Oh, my God, what do I do? It is overwhelming. But if we have a framework that we know, supports life to thrive, then we can. So this is one of the things that Rob Hopkins, the founder of trends, the transition movement, one of the founders of the transition Movement said is when because he talks and writes a lot about imagination and creativity now and how we need that in the world today to face these, these challenges. creativity happens best within a set of parameters. If you just give someone a piece of paper and say, maker thing, it's a bit, what do I do, you know, there's so many options. But if you say, make a representation of how a robot is baking a cake, you know, and use these two colors, this piece of paper, then you might be Oh, I could make a sculpture, or I could make a drawing, or I could make it you know, it's like, when you have parameters to design with it, it creates kind of order from complexity. And it gives our creativity, some boundaries. So if we look at how nature has these natural laws, and we use that, to channel our cleverness, it means we can start to make products, processes and systems that are life affirming. And we know it's gonna stay within nature's boundaries, country boundaries, because we're using the same practices and principles that make Jesus. So there's like a deep practicality as well as a kind of container for our creativity and imagination. And we're a hugely imaginative species. So I have a lot of I don't, I don't necessarily think it's all going to go well. But I think we have a really good shot at it, if we can, you know, follow these principles, use our creativity. And remember that life creates the conditions for life to thrive, and that we can participate in that, then we've got a chance of positive emergence from this mess.

Marina: Well, I absolutely hope so. And feel that, you know, part of being here and talking about all this stuff is, I hope, contributing to something that will help that process move along, and that we're part of a community that is here that is emerging, and I can't help think of, again, going right back to the beginning of a conversation, just how, you know, we stand on the shoulders of others, don't we and thinking also of the young people that are coming behind us, and how they, you know, they are also going to contribute to new ways of emerging and thinking and, really, I just want to thank you so much for all the work that you've done the many many years of researching, investigating making these links. And, you know, it's hugely helpful for me and for others to lean into people that have gone before us, you know, so that we can learn with and from and yeah, I really appreciate everything you're going to share on the show notes. And, you know, thank you so much.

Deborah: And yeah, one of the things that we're doing is developing ways to support young people with this and to develop kind of co-creative, participatory learning experiences where young people so they can learn about these principles and apply them in creating livelihoods for themselves and applying it to their activism and applying it to their local areas. And so, yeah, if you're interested in finding out more about that, do get in contact, and we can talk about how you might do that with young people in your area. Or if you are a young person and you want to learn more about the things we've been talking about, let us know. Yeah. And we hope to be able to help you with that.

Marina: Fabulous. Thanks so much.

Deborah: Thanks very much, Marina. It was really fun.

Marina: Thanks for speaking to me today, Deborah. It was totally full of inspiration. Join me next week for episode 36 When I explore some of these biomimicry principles, and how we might begin the journey of being part of a growing community of net positive contributors. Thanks everybody and see you next week.

Thank you for listening to this episode of The Wild Minds Podcast. If you enjoyed it and want to help support this podcast, please subscribe, share and leave a rating and review wherever you get your podcasts. Your review will help others find the show. To stay updated with the wild mines podcast and get all the behind the scenes content. You can visit theoutdoorteacher.com or follow me on Facebook at the outdoor teacher UK and LinkedIn. Marina Robb,

The music was written and performed by Geoff Robb.

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