Natural Intelligence

Happy August, friends of Rock Creek Strategies! This page has been quiet since April, as we’ve worked to get the business up and running.

Today I’m pleased to introduce Amos Zerah, an experienced sustainability manager and ecologist, outdoor education professional, and recent master’s graduate of the University of California at Irvine in conservation and restoration science. Amos is a Rock Creek Strategies fellow and brings a fresh and innovative voice to our work.

Thank you for your contribution, Amos!


Natural Intelligence

Everybody is talking about AI and big data these days. We invest billions of dollars and work hours in these smart, cutting-edge technologies that make our lives safer, faster, healthier and easier. Indeed, this is an exciting time, and the opportunities for groundbreaking transformations are many and inevitable. 

So, let’s talk about an exceptional opportunity — actually, a land of endless possibilities. 

What if you had access to the most complex, sophisticated and reliable technology ever developed? It took millions of years to design, the lines of its algorithm are still being written, and they will probably never be fully discovered or understood. This is the operating system of life, which encompasses the entire variety of life on Earth, in all its innumerable forms and interactions — from genes through individual species and their communities to entire ecosystems. Big, big data…   

Biodiversity surrounds us, and, not surprisingly, includes us. It is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ attraction for nature lovers. Biodiversity actually created us and keeps us all breathing, metabolizing, and creating. With all the technology humans have invented so far, in 2019, we still depend on microbes, fish, insects and trees to perform vital services like cleaning the air and water, fertilizing soil, crop pollination, pest and disease control, waste decomposition, and urban heat mitigation. Moreover, not only they provide us protein, medicine, fiber, fuel, and other privileges like tourism and spending time closer to nature, our natural ecosystems also hold the most promising solutions for climate change. As if that were not enough, the estimated economic value of all these ecosystem services is many trillions of dollars. 

Mosaic of aspen and spruce in fall colors, Denali National Park, Alaska. How much carbon does this forest hold? Photo: Amos Zerah

Mosaic of aspen and spruce in fall colors, Denali National Park, Alaska. How much carbon does this forest hold? Photo: Amos Zerah

Did we get your attention yet?? Do you see the opportunity here?  

Three months ago, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) published its global assessment report which was described as “the most thorough, most detailed and most extensive planetary health check ever conducted.” For many of us in the conservation industry, there were no big surprises about global degradation trends, but there is no doubt that the numbers in this report are exceedingly alarming. 

To continue with our big-data analogy, we humans, one of an estimated 10 million or more species, are wiping out entire pages of the precious code of life, and the more modern we become, the more efficient we are at this task. From global habitat loss of almost 50% to as many as one million species that could be lost in the coming decades, we are using tools like agriculture, fishing, and CO2 emissions to degrade our own life support systems. Putting the loss of genuine beauty and nature’s intrinsic value aside, in terms of health, we are actually erasing our own DNA and endangering our immune system. 

The good news is that we still have the ability and the intelligence to save and nurture ourselves and the life around us. And, as promised, this scenario is brimming with great opportunities... for governments, corporations, investors, and all of us who are willing to think creatively and contemporaneously. We are talking here about no less than a revolution — The Natural Revolution if you will. It is Natural, first and foremost, because as sapient creatures we now understand that in order to survive and thrive, we have to adapt and change something very fundamental in our relationship with our habitat.

West Himalayan common peacock ( Papilio bianor polyctor ). This is the official butterfly of the Indian state of Uttarakhand, which means that this insect is part of the identity of more than 10 million people. Photo: Amos Zerah

West Himalayan common peacock (Papilio bianor polyctor). This is the official butterfly of the Indian state of Uttarakhand, which means that this insect is part of the identity of more than 10 million people. Photo: Amos Zerah

How do we help?

By the end of their assessment, the IPBES members, along with all the hundreds of scientists who participated in the study, chose to add a vital section: Approaches for sustainability and possible actions and pathways for achieving them

Here are some great examples: 

●     Promoting sustainable agricultural practices and multifunctional landscape planning 

●     Reducing food waste from production to consumption

●     Managing and restoring biodiversity beyond protected areas 

●     Improving the levels of conservation funding through partnerships with the private sector

●     Improving corporate social responsibility measures and regulation 

●     Managing marine plastic pollution by effective waste management, incentives and innovations 

●      Encouraging alternative business models and incentives for urban conservation

●      Promoting nature-based solutions such as green and blue infrastructure

●      Developing strategies, voluntary standards and guidelines for renewable energy projects

What’s beautiful about these solutions is that, 1) there is still plenty of room for other innovative approaches and technologies, and 2) none of these approaches is futuristic or imaginary. Solutions are already being implemented globally, and they work beautifully for both humans and nature. From countries that ban single-use plastic bags to innovative collaborations among corporations, NGOs, and local communities to restore coastal ecosystems, humanity is moving forward! Fueled by growing customer demand, the urgency to act and the understanding that it is the natural thing to do, there is no need for artificial intelligence in order to reach this conclusion, although it might be useful (not to mention incredibly awesome).  

True, the current scale and pace of this revolution are still too small and slow, but that is about to change very soon. The next two years are going to be very interesting to follow, as China will host a landmark UN conference to draw up a new deal for biodiversity, and the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea will meet to negotiate a new global oceans treaty. Yes, you heard right! For the first time, the issue of biodiversity loss is on the G8 agenda. And this is only the beginning. In fact, innate and indigenous wisdom has been whispering in our consciences for a very long time, and now we are finally willing to listen. Most importantly – we have started to act. 

Like everything in nature, change is inevitable. 

Stay tuned.