And Grace will Lead us Home

As we salute the setting sun and celebrate winter’s dark return this solstice season in the northern hemisphere may we clear our minds of that which no longer serves, awaken our souls to our naturally intelligent selves, re-direct our passion and purpose true north, and warm our hearts with renewed hope for a new spring.
To live is to breathe. And to breathe is to participate in the energetic flow of all life, giving and receiving, generations forward and generations past. No one rose root, fire ant, newborn child, chirping tree frog, or giant sequoia tree branch exists in isolation from anything else– at any level from a microscopic cell to the macrocosmic universe within which we all dwell. We are connected. For good or for bad, rich or poor, in sickness and in health—we are not our self. We are bound to being—our fate, our feeling, our entire well-being. And for this, we can all share in the world’s past pain. We can all together celebrate the progress we made as a people & planet in 2022.  We can prepare ourselves now to visualize for all– our 2023 saturated with that sweet amber scent and golden sap in prosperity and peace.

As we salute the setting sun and celebrate winter’s dark return this solstice season in the northern hemisphere may we clear our minds of that which no longer serves, awaken our souls to our naturally intelligent selves, re-direct our passion and purpose true north, and warm our hearts with renewed hope for a new spring.

To live is to breathe. And to breathe is to participate in the energetic flow of all life, giving and receiving, generations forward and generations past. No one rose root, fire ant, newborn child, chirping tree frog, or giant sequoia tree branch exists in isolation from anything else– at any level from a microscopic cell to the macrocosmic universe within which we all dwell. We are connected. For good or for bad, rich or poor, in sickness and in health—we are not our self. We are bound to being—our fate, our feeling, our entire well-being. And for this, we can all share in the world’s past pain. We can all together celebrate the progress we made as a people & planet in 2022.  We can prepare ourselves now to visualize for all– our 2023 saturated with that sweet amber scent and golden sap in prosperity and peace.

As the days begin to lengthen, the light begins to grow, the moon waxes, and the tides, turn low; I wanted to take a moment at the changing of the annual guard to share a few reflections on 2022 and what I’ve learned from nature, as well, from those living close to nature this past year. May a few thoughts interest you, inform you, inspire you to grow well into 2023.

Themes & Memes:

Honoring the Pain of the Planet in 2022

Ramping Up Real Progress for People & Planet in 2022-2023

Promises Made in 2022

COP 27: Climate Change Conference, Egypt

COP 15: Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada

Building Toward Real Regeneration 2023

And Grace will Lead us Home

Be Like the Ancient Ones: Reconcile Relationships & Connect

Be like Mycorrhizae: Build Thriving Networks

Be Like a Seed: Embrace the Darkness

Be Like a Tree: Re-Create Joy by Giving

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Honoring the Pain of the Planet in 2022

Yes, the war in Ukraine drones on costing lives and limiting food and energy reserves impacting the rest of the EU and the world. Yes, inflation has peaked in the US and in other countries. World hunger has risen again, and the weight of humanity on earth has reached 8 billion (B) people. Extra-ordinary. Still in our modern world, 3.6 B people don’t have access to clean & safe drinking water. The digital divide continues to separate nearly half of us, while cyber security is a real threat to global stability for the other half whose businesses and banks are connected. Racial and religious prejudice– rooted in generations past, remains a key driving force for inculcating fear, anger, and anxiety in the underbelly of our society. The reproductive rights of women have been challenged, while extreme bipartisanism in the US continues to fracture our United States and citizens. Economic disparity has increased as climate has been particularly unjust, as extreme weather events—unprecedented droughts and heatwaves in Europe, floods in Pakistan, hurricanes and fires—affect poor and vulnerable communities the most. Global refugee populations continue to swell. We are experiencing a planetary heart attack and our compromised condition harms our health, home, and economy.

  • Climate Change: Given more frequent and global extreme weather events, climate change is now everyone’s lived reality and top world threat.
  • Wildlife: We’ve already lost 60% of our wildlife and 30% of coral reefs, wetlands, and forests since 1970.
  • Species: One million species may go extinct by 2050 due to nature loss if we don’t NOW #reversethered and protect at least 30% of land and sea.
  • Economy: Over $44 trillion USD (50% of Global GDP) depends on nature.
  • Health: More than 70% of global citizens feel isolated, depressed, & anxious about the future.

Oh, and of course, the Queen, died.

And still “the sustainable development goals call on us and guide us to build a better world” (Jeff Sachs, Director Sustainable Development Solutions Network, Dec. 2022)

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Ramping Up Real Progress for People & Planet in 2022-2023

As we have already breached the planet’s tipping point boundary on climate, we begin to feel the impacts of more frequent and fierce warnings of nature’s wrath when human havoc is reaped around the world. Thus, in order to avert irreversible, irrecoverable catastrophe, we really have no choice but to break our fossil fuel addiction and to shift to 100% renewable energy driven by the forces of nature.  We simply have gone too far astray from living the Middle Way in communion with the natural world. It’s time to swing the pendulum back to the center of balance and to trade-play fair, especially #energyforall, which should actually be free. 

The Good News is that we continue waking up, growing up, speaking up, and showing up to our collective future in greater committed numbers as active, concerned global citizens. Could 2023 be a ripe year also for raising up capital for a new climate economy and nature positive world?

The Good News is that the force of renewable energy from nature’s source– wind, solar, and hydro is now more cost-competitive than oil, coal, or gas in many world markets. Electric transport is now destined to be the way to move in the future. There is now wider knowledge and acceptance of nature-based solutions to climate change as a real cost-effective sector to drawdown at least 23% of atmospheric carbon.

The Good News is that international financial institutions and global businesses acknowledge that 50% of the global GDP depends on healthy natural systems. Global business depends on healthy ecosystems and local economies. More world leaders agree we’ve entered a period of epic biological extinction and that reaching the 1.5 0C climate goal is only possible with the restoration of forest-wetland-marsh ecosystems with robust biodiversity.

The Good News is that many economists now agree, we must invest in Nature in order to draw down our accumulated nature debt and sustain ourselves. More economists calculate the real cost to close our nature finance gap circling around $ 711B/ year. Although a large number, $711B USD is nearly equivalent to the total annual net profit of the tobacco industry or the soft drink industry. Could we smoke less tobacco, drink less soda—donate to conservation organizations instead; go on a diet for people & planet this 2023? Why not? New Years are great times to start new healthy habits!

“Key natural ecosystems are heading towards irreversible tipping points with dangerous consequences for the stability of our planet. This is why we need to set our global compass to halt and reverse nature loss to safeguard human and planetary health. A global goal for nature aiming at achieving a net positive outcome by 2030 is crucial to secure a nature-positive future for humanity within our planetary boundaries.” Professor Johan Rockstrom; Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Promises Made in 2022

COP 27: Climate Change Conference, Egypt

Honestly, this is the first time that I spent more time outside COP than inside. Perche? There’s now an entire culture, global tribe, and new ecosystem of action brewing on the fringes of the COPs, which is super rich, colorful, and exciting. While country delegations hash out international agreements; non-state, non-official actors from global citizens, indigenous elders, youth activists, concerned scientists, engaged artists, innovators, futurists, and new culture makers are coming together in sacred ceremony, designing a new global culture, vibrating on a higher frequency of true collaboration, compassion, and common purpose; and imagining the new world we are birthing now. In this domain, everyone’s welcome, everyone’s heard, everyone’s valued, everyone’s celebrated, everyone’s supported. There’s no sense of separation or unhealthy competition, no hierarchy based on wealth or power. Rather, there’s a communal integrity, a common respect for each other and mother nature, an unspoken coherence, and a collective sense of responsibility to act as stewards of our planet earth, home. There is a spirit of generosity, abundance, and a lot of cacao. And, most important, there is shared ceremony, a celebration of earth- our mother, our source of life… and a commitment to her care!

Thank you to Hatch Global for hosting an amazing journey on the Nile with change-makers from all over the world to set the tone pre- COP 27 for community, collaboration, and creative visioning forward in the world.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Thank you to Hub Culture for being the collaboration space- ground zero for climate-nature-diversity-city- regenerative agriculture conversations and cocktails the full two weeks.

Thank you to PWC- Extreme Hangout, Culture Cop, SDG Goals House, and Hope House for hosting amazing programs and conversations with a diverse group of people bringing rich and fresh perspectives to the conversation.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Thank you, always, to the World Climate Foundation and the Financial Times for bringing the financial and business interests to the climate and biodiversity dialogue. The World Climate Foundation was one of the founding partners of the Climate Investment Coalition that in 2021 supported an unparalleled total collective commitment from Nordic and UK pension funds of US$130 billion to be invested in clean energy and climate investments by 2030 and reported on annually.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Going forward, I really hope for the best outcomes in the formal global forums and I honor those who have spent countless, sleepless nights over many years doing the hard work of negotiating the climate text, breathing into their seemingly inexhaustible store of patience. However, given all this input and collective effort over the years, I honestly don’t understand why we have not yet delivered on so many commitments made in the seemingly distant past, like the $100 B annual adaptation fund promised every year since Copenhagen (remember Copenhagen-Hopenhagen-Nopenhagen) in 2009?! I was there; I was one of those creative youth activists, back then. Together with many of you, we produced a beautiful visionary Disney film with talent from Disney and ILM for the IMAX theater in Copenhagen. We premiered Eye of the Future over a decade ago… and the eyes of the future are still looking back and praying that we see beyond our own time.

Isn’t a decade long enough to hash out details with key stake-holders/share-holders, vet legal documents, create financial delivery mechanisms, and transact? Actions always speak louder than words; and these delays do not help build trust, especially when trust has been broken over decades by global north aims to acquire property and natural wealth from the rich and biodiverse global south. That said, all was not lost at this COP 27, given an end-day promise to set up a financial support structure to address the symptoms of climate change for the most vulnerable. This was a welcome response by many to the “loss and damage” to so many developing world communities have already faced. Written promises are progress, especially as global costs to recover from extreme weather events in 2022 rose to over $200 B, annually. However, it’s still seems odd that we focus resources on expensive recovery, rather than on more cost-effective, lasting sustainable resilience, yes? So, what is really holding us back?

I’ve dedicated the rest of this article to answering that question. I still have hope; there is always hope. This New Year is not written yet. It can be the year we begin to convert more climate adaptation and resilience-building commitments into capital and renew confidence in a better future for all. It’s always better to hope in the humanity of humanity. It’s always better to believe and intention that the “loss and damage pledges made, (as well, the $100B promised in an adaptation fund, as well, the additional 340 M EU new pledges for loss and damage) will be delivered in Dubai @ COP 28. After all, if the Avatar II film cost Disney $350 M USD (Variety) to produce, we should be able as an international community to muster up at least that amount to deal with our real climate-nature crisis in the real world. Right?

Regarding climate mitigation; even though this COP 27 seemed to regularly veer off its true north mission by allowing oil, gas, and industrial agriculture interests to infiltrate the convention with over 636 lobbyists and fossil fuel executives striking low emission oil, gas, coal energy deals on the side; momentum to transition toward our renewable energy future has now generated a tsnami of interest and investment. The clean energy market has matured and tipped. Renewables are now more cost-effective than outdated dinosaur fossils in over 70% of the world; including South Africa, Kenya, India, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines (Ed King). Investors see the end game for fossil fuels. Basically, no one wants to be caught pants down with stranded assets. Everyone wants to participate in renewable energy & technology investments, as evidenced by a 25% increase in investment to $708 B US in 2022 — despite the economic crisis. (Ed King) Electric transport is the way and wave of the future. So, maybe we are just in the betwixt and between, on the muddy road from here to there… we just have to keep plodding through the murky swamps of Mordor and be careful not to go there and back again… but to destroy the Ring.

Regarding coal, Indonesia committed to transition away from coal to renewables in an historic $20 B USD deal with other countries lining up to be next. Thank you to those of you working tirelessly in the “hard to abate” sector to drive those deals forward. And now, concurrently with this growing renewable energy market, we just need to watch out for mineral extraction and environmental-social impacts. And in regard to a growing and thriving carbon market, we just need to be aware of and avert attention away from the outlaws in this space—the greedy carbon cowboys who try tosweet-talkIndigenous and local property owners into selling their land rights and giving up their property rights in these market exchanges, instead of leasing them for specific carbon mitigation offset purpose. Yes, everyone should be welcome to participate in our new energy future, but all exchanges should be fair, equitable, and effective in delivering real carbon offsets and ensuring everyone is valued.

And on a final note of delivering authentic positive carbon impact; litigation risks are now increasing for governments and companies who are failing to comply with the Paris Agreement. The clever climate community is now forcing the hand of countries and companies, by making climate action a legal duty, not a voluntary global good choice without consequences. These past years have seen over 2000 climate cases on failed climate targets, air-water pollution, and human rights violations presented to legal authorities to fine polluters, procrastinators, and promisers who fail to perform. The always impassioned UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres made it very clear that “There will be zero tolerance for net zero green-washing in the future.” And to follow up on that directive, he established a new formal taskforce charged with stepping up regulation of commitments by countries and companies to the Race for Net Zero campaign. 

One would have hoped that we would have seen sooner the economic upside to mitigating climate change with new infrastructure and energy; so as not to have had to resort to threats and fines and legal lawsuits; now forcing the hand of many world leaders in business, finance, and government. But we do; and the real question now is: when the heart is not driving decisions to convert to clean energy and infrastructure; are the negative incentives nearly as effective, binding, and resilient in the long term?

PS The United States continues to be challenged to participate in international forums, but Congress still committed over $500 B USD to climate and clean energy in modernizing the nation’s electric grid, constructing a network of electric vehicle charging stations, investing in new battery chemistry to increase efficiency and storage of RE, and loaning money to upgrade energy infrastructure projects, nationwide. (Clean Energy Network, 2022) This achievement by our country should also be celebrated.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Promises Made in 2022

COP 15: Convention on Biological Diversity, Canada

Despite the little progress made on the Nature Positive front at COP 27, the great news to cap off 2022 was that Nature won big a few weeks later in Montreal at the COP 15 where 196 nations signed a turn-key international agreement to protect nature and to reverse biodiversity loss.  In a nutshell, the Nature Deal now outlines 23 environmental targets that clearly aims to protect (create conditions to re-wild) at least 30% territory on land and in the ocean by 2030. This Christmas gift for the world was a huge relief for the conservation community who hoped beyond hope and worked hard to get a good outcome from this long-awaited meeting.

“As the climate crisis is deeply linked to the nature crisis, both need to be addressed simultaneously to drive a swift transition to a nature-positive, carbon-neutral future.” Zoe Tcholak-Antitich, Global Commons Alliance

And in 2023, the actual implementation of these promises will be key. Whereas more than 18,600 companies now make public their climate impact data (a 42% increase from 2021); only 1,000 companies currently disclose their forest impact data (a 20.5% increase from 2021) and only 4,000 companies disclose their water security data (a 16% increase from 2021). CDP (Climate Disclosure Project).  And the future seems hopeful. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s (COP 15) Kumming-Montreal Agreement could change the numbers and the biodiversity game, #ReversetheRed. Now it will be mandatory by international agreement for all countries, every large business, and each financial institution to disclose their impacts and dependencies on biological diversity, as well, to report their impacts on nature. (Eva Zabey, Business for Nature).  For the international community, this fast-tracked process to monitor and to measure impacts of businesses and governments on nature will help identify real harm to nature and real natural capital costs to local communities in lost nature services. As well, a quantifiable set of KPIs to identify and to compare current states of evaluated natural systems can help accelerate investment in high leverage ecosystems and drive the current $500 B USD in annual subsidies toward restoring nature, rather than harming nature. This is great news to lead out a bright 2023 New Year.

And, we have a lot of work to do over these next seven years (as well Seven Generations) to radically increase land and marine protected areas up to 30% as only 17% of earth’s lands and 8% of the ocean are protected with restrictions on farming, fishing, and mineral excavation.

But, the further good news in response is that the 196 countries also agreed to protect the biodiversity hotspots in the other 70% (rest) of the planet and to hold businesses accountable for disclosing biodiversity risks and impacts on operations there too. (Dec 20, 2022, New York Times)

Therefore, the Global Biodiversity Framework Fund run by the GEF (Global Environment Facility) and meant to scale up nature-based financing will have both well-established global goals and quantifiable means to measure, compare, and track initiatives that aim to advance the Nature Positive agenda in companies and countries, worldwide. The combination of these commitments gives me hope that we can collectively reach our ambitious 2030 conservation aims for 2030. May the force and flow of nature be with us already now as we cross over to 2023.

PS: Even though the US is not party to the Convention on Biodiversity, President Biden earlier signed an executive order to also protect and rewild 30% of the land and marine shoreline ecosystems throughout the US. Concurrently, pro-active, conservation-focused State Governors, like California’s Gavin Newsom, also well-outlining a state-wide 30×30 conservation effort and committing resources to that effort.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Building Toward Real Regeneration 2023

True, we need to focus on the direct and indirect drivers of nature decline, set realistic biodiversity response timelines, and share conservation efforts, success, benefits, and abundance with everyone to flow together toward a nature positive future. (One Earth study, Earth Commission 2022)

True, we need legally binding international commitments, social contracts & new investment strategies among nations, business alliances & accountability partners that guide toward a nature positive future.

True, we need tangible, measurable targets & trackers, and robust monitoring protocols with positive & negative financial incentives to move companies & global markets toward a nature positive future.

True, we need financial delivery plans on nature and climate action that are clearly laid out-thought out with accountability partners and protocols to realize a nature positive future, so banks and investors take the protection of nature and reversal of biodiversity loss, seriously.

True, a universal nature-committed global playing field & game rules de-risks future investment for companies and enables them to confidently evolve their business models, services, products, protocols, and supply webs to be a positive force for the nature positive recovery, regeneration, and re-wilding of 30% of the planet.

True, innovative economists, investors, bankers, fund managers are creating new blended finance models; like the Conservation (Rhino) fund and the debt-for-nature swaps that Mark Tercek introduced to The Nature Conservancy (TNC) many years ago. (GEF Report Dec. 2022)

True, eco-investors have already demonstrated (in countries like Belize and Bermuda) the ability to bring real individual and institutional capital investment into the conservation space. “Financial innovation is already happening and attracting private sector investment from big institutional investors.”(Avril Bechimol, COP 15)

Nature recovery is within our grasp, provided we all act now. We stand ready to do everything in our power to shift to a society where nature, people and business thrive.” (André Hoffmann, Vice-Chairman, Roche Holdings)

True, socially, economically, politically in many ways we are aligning the right stars to pivot more rapidly and effectively toward a more positive nature future. But now, every person, every project, every political and economic decision, every personal lifestyle choice; matters. Educating the minds and influencing the actions of 8 billion people on the planet is no small task.

The only real game-changer that promises to change the climate-nature-human game and shift the mindset of the many planetary share-holders is the change of heart.

While all these formal political commitments, market motivators, and legally-binding international agreements move us in the right direction to truly transform our relationship with nature, “we must FULL STOP our destruction of ecosystems, habitats and species”. (Sue Liberman, Wildlife Conservation Society)

How do we do that? How do we move beyond legal frameworks, binding text, market drivers, and political-social mechanisms toward a real ethics and value system founded in conscious compassion and grounded in our belief that we are all connected? This question has become my quest for the past 20 years.

This decade must be the turning point where we recognize the value of nature, place nature on the path to recovery and transform our world to one where people, economies and nature thrive. Nature Positive Manifesto

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

And Grace will Lead us Home

We must awaken our natural intelligence. We must fall in love with one another and with our animal, plant, rock, river, and mountain kin.  Every human action must one guided by the intention to conserve life in the biosphere for love of nature… herself, our self, our One Self.

We can’t afford to merely respond to our climate-nature-food planetary emergency with only our logical, linear mind; nor to merely motivate good behavior with legally binding rules and regulations. If we do, then we may find countries and companies simply investing in legal loopholes to avert real substantive, systemic change if more economically viable or politically beneficial alternatives present themselves.

Similarly, if we respond to our planetary crisis merely by tugging on market mechanisms and positive-negative market forces; then we may discover we fall short of our true net positive nature impact and net zero goal because our apriori position prioritizes capital gain & reduction of economic risk; rather than first optimizing our positive impact on our natural habitat and home.

Further, if we continually grind on about the devastating state of the world, the climate catastrophe, the planetary emergency, the human loss-consent-cause of a world we destroyed by our ill intent; then we risk losing the heart, hope, and help to recover of an entire generation, diving into deeper depression. We risk aggravating an already climate anxious culture and creating a tipping point of despair that leads to inaction and little care.

Therefore, the only truly sane, systemic, sustainable, and successful cultural transformation will occur when we lead with positive vision, hope, and heart. It’s now become imperative that we leverage our 2022 promises to one another and pull on the right heart strings of humanity to stimulate positive action, generate deeper motivation to create lifestyle change, and engage all 8 billion of us as key stakeholders in the health of our shared biosphere.

We simply need to care; and grace will lead us home. How else will we ever seed finance the most vulnerable and impoverished people in the world to build resilience to a changing climate, if we don’t first care? How will we ever invest in the recovery of degraded, mined, or deforested lands or feel connected to those lands and responsible to return their vitality and health, if we don’t first care? How will we ever choose the life of a honeybee over a flush of funds we foresee from controlling the entire lifecycle of agro-forestry or agriculture’s lasting legacy (at industrial scale) from seed to tree, if we don’t first care?

The heart of the matter is that we must awaken to what really matters, to realize that all of life matters. We must intuit and feel in our bodies, hearts, minds that our lives and our physical beings are truly connected to all other lives and to the living planet we share. Leading our lives from this heart-centered place means cultivating true connection to our nature, native, navel (intuitive-true) selves. I call this intelligence, natural intelligence. And this natural intelligence is what I believe we now need to make the right decisions that keep us operating within safe planetary boundaries, reverse biodiversity loss, recover developed ecosystems, and return to nature’s Garden of Eden sanctuary in real, sustainable ways.

We have good global goals, targets, roadmaps, and right “initial” commitments in place. We just need a dash of Grace.

Grace is virtue, mercy, kindness, truth, beauty, service. Grace has the power to change, soften, purify, lighten the face of the entire human race. And Grace is normally not one, but three (you, me, and we) like the Graces in Greek mythology. Three sisters were gifted the gift of charm and beauty to awaken charm and beauty in everyone else they encountered. Imagine if all humanity led with that attitude of generosity and level of reciprocity! And Grace will lead us home.

We just need a little mercy from heaven and few humble human beings to shine their lights into these dark winter days—to deliver service and kindness in infinite random ways. We just need a few conscious, compassionate conservationists to re-seed nature and to sow seeds of love and coherence where weeds of fear, competition, and control destroyed our collective soul. And who better to learn from than our ancestors who still know the language, ritual, dance, and story to guide us in returning humans and nature to again be whole?

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Be Like the Ancient Ones: Reconcile Relationships & Connect

“Our ancestors tell us how to live in sacred connection…. Through that kind of connection, you remember who you are, you know who you are, and you celebrate who you are.” Mindahi Bastida, Ancestors

The Ancient Ones from the Nile’s Fertile Crescent to the fecund belly of the Quechan Pachamama territory know how to survive and how to thrive seven generations forward– to respect nature’s laws, to harmonize with the biosphere’s symphony already vibrating across ecosystems, to observe and to mimic healthy animal behaviors that show the tribe how to persist in peace, season after season. The Ancient Ones and the Indigenous Peoples today who embody their true nature and act on their natural intelligence are our greatest teachers for living with Grace– in resonance with nature, in coherence with others, in tune with their indigenous story connected to place, and in alignment with their higher power. 

If we want to weather the climate storm, rewild nature, and learn how to be good shepherds to our flocks, good farmers to our soil, good neighbors to one another; as well, good stewards to our living lands, deserts, mountains, rivers, and oceans; then we need to truly listen to and learn from Indigenous Peoples. As well, it’s smart to give agency to their chosen ambassadors and respected leaders to more fully participate in international negotiations because they will create exchanges that are mutually beneficial and optimal for the whole.

There is a reason that Indigenous Peoples, who represent only 6% of the global population (476 million) are responsible for the protection of the remaining 80% of intact, thriving habitats that support the greatest biodiversity of life on earth. There is an emotional intelligence that permeates the norms, traditions, and truths of most indigenous cultures. There is an intergenerational wisdom—a knowing of our inter-dependence on nature, a respect for all as integral to a thriving community, and a multi-layered remembrance of oral record and ritual to remember and to reinforce a richer treasure trove of natural intelligence within the living legacy of our four-legged brothers and sisters. The Indigenous People I am beginning to know are humble, gracious, thoughtful people of few words; but those words and their gracious demeanor is like gold.

And, the Ancient Ones… well, they live and breathe by a code of Grace. They influence without force. They impact with little or non-movement. They listen to the earth and the water below the earth. They observe with all sixth senses the direction of the wind, anticipating the change of the seasons across the plains or the undulation of the ocean tide. They speak to the animals and learn to mimic their beneficial behavior. They call the animals by name for they are close relations, all the same. They know the medicine from the plants, the fungi, the animals, and even the ants. They caretake heritage seeds and safeguard new life in good soil. They know how to hunt, forage, and fish; to make their own shelters to protect from life’s storms. They have created ritual to honor the living and the dead, to celebrate the seasons, to reintegrate a tribe member who has fallen ill, and to purify & transform themselves. They renew the sacred (whole) body-mind-spirit in sacred ceremony and there re-weave and reinforce the invisible connections among all living beings from the tribe to the cosmos’ integral vibe.

All is connected in the Ancient cosmology. I know who I am only when I have forgotten Me and embraced We. And only when You reflects Me and your health and wellbeing determines my own will I ever really realize I could have never walked this world, alone. Building thriving networks based on reciprocity is the only way to Be in true grace and harmony.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Be like Mycorrhizae: Build Thriving Networks based on Reciprocity

I am learning that the Ancient Ones understood that the collective identity of a people in a tribe or a community was first shaped by the hands of the land. The mountains, the rivers, the deserts, the plains, and the sea are considered our first ancestral relations, and so are revered.  (Mindhai Bastida, Ancestors, 2022) This is why it is so painful and devastating for Indigenous Peoples to be pulled from their territorial lands. They are bound to the earth by birth and heritage. They are connected to the soils, to the flow of nutrients and water moving through the soils. They are connected by nature’s flow to the plants, animals, and fungi, who share the same habitat and home. And so are we. We’ve just forgot that we are a branch in life’s tree; but now it’s time again to be free.

How do we get on a clear and direct path toward a thriving biosphere, where we as humans act again as stewards of our home habitat (eikosphere) and live in harmony with nature, giving and receiving nature’s gifts with gratitude and grace? We learn from the Indigenous Peoples– how to observe and how to mimic the intelligence of nature’s rhythm, pace, and persistent grace. We wake up our senses to again perceive and to receive the wisdom of the wild’s ways- the survival strategies of animals, the protective-productive processes of plants, the nourishing pathways of fungi… and the symphony of life supported by an elaborate network of mycorrhizae inhabiting earth’s fertile soils.

The question to now ask is: What can we learn from the Original People’s- our Ancestors nature reverence and revery? What does it mean to deeply feel, to know, and to truly understand that we exist in relationship to the land and to one another … just like mycorrhizae? It means the singular self does not exist. It means that there is no real separation between Me and You. There is only the collective We. And, just like mycorrhizae, we are meant to live in synergy. We were born to nurture one another, to share nutrients across the (forest) community, to distribute sustenance optimally-evenly where nutrients and water most need to flow.

What do we know about mycorrhizae? We know mycorrhizae is not a single, solitary organism or one species. Mycorrhizae (plural) is a union- a communion- a mutually beneficial relationship between the roots of trees and fungi inhabiting soil. As well, like different species of butterfly who have evolved attraction and connection to specific flowering plants over millennia, different tree species have established different fungal partners. Thus, there are many different pairings in forest soils, so we can envision mycorrhizae as a community of lifelong partners and friends. This dark, silent underground ecosystem together forms an elaborate, intricate network of fibrous, microscopic root-fungi strands, which if held as a cup of soil in your hands would stretch out at least 20 miles across the lands. Traveling this micro-thin, super-highway network; the fungi will optimize the delivery of nutrients and water to the tree roots as a fairtrade exchange for the photosynthesized carbon resource (food) the tree gives the fungi.

How can we be like mycorrhizae? What can we do to evolve as brilliant micro-thin fibrous conduits for giving and receiving what is needed in fair measure to sustain all in our community to whom we are connected? Perhaps we can this New Year reflect on our motivations and movements in everyday life and consider first how we can be in greater service, how we can offer more of our time and energy for others? Are we are leading with gratitude, trading fairly, and giving back to the source of the trade—the farmer, the fisher, the weaver, the cultivator, the caretaker with every holiday purchase we made?

I believe many are now thinking of ourselves less like a single ego point needing to make profit and a point, and more like a line tied to nature’s design. And if we were to become an even more conscious member of our collective groups or companies and perceive ourselves in more connected ways, then we would begin to think like a network and exchange value with the natural intelligence of mycorrhizae. Many companies the past years, have begun to re-evaluate internal resources and critically review linear supply-chains, even expand their field of influence over business and future investment decisions from the classic stakeholder concerned only with personal capital return to the shareholder concerned about capital, resources shared and community impact.  This is a healthy evolution from singularity to solidarity and short-term selfishness to long-term legacy.

Thus, as we evaluate our collective tribes to which we belong–families, social-interest groups, sport teams, spiritual organizations; like many in the corporate world, we can ask ourselves if we are becoming more conscious of our linear cause-effect interactions and reflecting more on the impacts of our actions rippling across our social chains? If we were, I believe we would train to be system-thinkers, to use decision-support tree tools, and to come to the table with the intention to serve. Knowing that if nature abhors a vacuum and operates on the principles of reciprocity; then I believe the universe of mycorrhizae will always have our collective back. There’s no need ever to fight for property, power, or material wealth. There’s no need to create an enemy to attack. If we believe in the network to provide, then karmically, consistently from somewhere in the network, whatever we give will come back. 

The problem today and the source of our collective pain is that not all humans believe in collective gain. Thus, there are givers and there are takers, and then there are peace makers. The peace makers know how to receive with gratitude and how to give with grace. A world filled with peace makers would absolutely lighten and brighten and transform humanity’s collective face.

So, this 2023 I intention to be the peace maker. It’s the key to building thriving networks and leading with reciprocity. Breathe fully OUT and breathe fully IN, for we not only exchanging oxygen and carbon dioxide within. We are stimulating our heart to care. We are calming our ego to dare trust the universe, to let go. We are beginning to believe the mycorrhizae (visible and invisible) network of life to provide what we need to survive and to thrive. When fear of lack is replaced with faith in abundance; then we can freely, fervently give in peace. We can trust mother earth’s network of mycorrhizae to nourish us with what we need, when we need it. We can release any false sense of entitlement or ownership to any place, people, or property. We can accept that we own nothing and exist connected to and in relationship with, everything. We can abandon our weapons of war to coerce communities, take territory, or mine natural resources. We can let go our anxiety to accumulate inordinate capital reserves or simple steal the latest patent or technology.

We can enter into new regions, relationships, and shared stewardship responsibilities with a gift. When we enter with a gift, we immediately and outwardly express to the recipient that he/she is valuable and valued by me. When we lead with a gift, we reverse the extractive cycle of exchange and create conditions for relationships to rebuild and for nature to return and for both to return value back to us, again. And when we re-balance resources on a routine basis, as through gift-giving rituals like the Pacific Northwest Potlatch, we remove a false hierarchy of variable value and return to valuing equally all beings and each one’s unique and essential role in the legacy of life.

We also tap into deeper truth that we own nothing. We remember that we are caretakers of the future for our children and present stewards of our habitat home for a brief moment in time. But we also begin to recognize ourselves in relation to all life we encounter, as conduit- beneficiary and benefactor of life’s water-air-energy exchange, and so akin to mycorrhizae, humbly serving the sustainability of life from the dark underground’s silent, safe, sacred soil.

“Nature is part of us and we are part of nature. We cannot exist without it.” Lucy Mulenkei, Chair of the Indigenous Peoples Advisory Group

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Be Like a Seed: Embrace the Darkness

Find your way to mineral and nutrient-rich soil, if you can; but make good the environment wherever you land. Embrace the darkness. Wait for the right and ripe conditions to break open your seed, then shoot your stem toward the warm sun with all the seed reserve you have stored away. Break through, shine your light, indeed succeed, grow like a weed. But, while expending energy to reach up and break ground, invest also in expanding your roots deep and wide in the new soil home that you’ve found. Take time to ground. Then, give a good look around—absorb all the new sights and sounds, make peace with your neighboring plants and animals for this is your new playground you will now share with all in your ecological community, year-round.

Do you know: As above, so below? Well, this famous phrase may reference a pairing between heaven and earth; but also a binding of the biosphere above and below. Tree’s branches above ground mirror roots below ground, all around; like sea ice floating in the salty ocean abyss where exists, an equal amount of ice as above, so below the water.

Veiled in darkness, the seed-breaking free from its protective shell, sourcing decaying life- now dead, is neither live or dead, above or below, soil or soul. The seed is both being and becoming in a dark earthen realm where the distinction between the living and the dead, divine is rather fine. Only when the seed bursts forth its shoot from the darkness into the light; does it draw the line.

What on earth, under earth am I talking about? What do I mean? Why is the journey of a seed’s development underground important for the human team? Well, we were also born into being, began to beat our little hearts in the dark womb of the mother, earth…just like a seed. And, as we were forming, our physical form was growing; we passed through the many stages of evolutionary being—from the fish to the salamander to the tortoise to the bird to the pig to the calf to the rabbit to the person. We were born in relation to all other living beings. We are naturally intelligent by design. The DNA- the genetic code, the seed of life’s legacy lives in us. And in the darkness of our becoming from two single cell united to a family of cells, forming Me, perhaps it is just easier to imagine our living legacy, bound in relation to the tree. We also spent time germinating in a dark watery womb as an underground seed in velvety black soil by passing through an initiation- a remembering and embodying the evolutionary beings we are bound to on life’s phylogenetic tree.

Our ontology recapitulates our phylogeny… meaning the human embryo in the womb “repeats during the rapid and short course of its individual development (ontogeny) the most important of the form changes which its ancestors traversed during the long and slow course of their palaeontological evolution (phylogeny)’. (Haeckel, in his 1866 Generelle Morphologie)

Further, as the seed, neither visible tree shoot nor decayed detritus root (other dead creatures, microorganisms, plants) but feeding on both and becoming both; we bio-physically-spiritually grow in relation to all that is living and all that is dying in the biosphere- above and below. And once we break open from the chrysalis, the husk, the sac into a biologically rich world; we start to feed on nature’s bounty (water-food-medicine). We interact with the trillions of microbes living in and on us. We realize we are what we eat. We are the dark soil of the mother at our feet. We are the genes and geology of our parents and ancestors, and the air-water-nutrients of our animal-plant relations passing in endless, closed loop cycles through us, throughout the ages, right here on Planet Earth… right down to every calcium bone.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Be Like a Tree: Re-Create Joy by Giving

The tree for me is the word, the truth, the life, the center of all life. She serves as a metaphor, a messenger, and a medium for life.

Imagine. The tree miraculously draws water straight up her stem shoots from earth’s underground well with her well-established roots, whose reach is ancient, deep, and wide. Then miraculously, she hoists clear crystalline water molecules energetically linked in a chain upward against gravity, especially after a goldrush of rain. Channeling nutrients and minerals across the great cambium-phloem tissue divide, she sustains herself and all the insects protected beneath the tree bark’s underside. Then, it’s the microscopic stomata pores underneath the leaves and needles who finally decide the amount of water the tree will retain or transpire. It all depends on the climate, the environment, and her age as to how much carbon and oxygen the tree can afford to respire. For this, the tree is the conduit–the crux that controls the flux of water and carbon across the biosphere out into the atmosphere. As well, she is an important donor to drawing down carbon and maintaining that system’s balance and rhythm.

The tree is the portal between earth and sky, and all life underground. She carries the spirit of life in vaporized water form and recycles it back to the biosphere, providing habitat and health to wildlife, plants, fungi—all living beings the world round. The tree sips the sunlight and converts invisible energy into visible and visceral super green energy food that ultimately empowers and sustains us, too. In essence, the tree serves as the lightning rod of life for the exchange of all energy-life-water-food that links the divine with all living creatures on earth, sublime. Various flowering species may need a flying insect or avian pollinator or other collaborator to plant her next seed; but to live, grow, and die with the sun and soil she’s got all the resources and roots that she would need. Thus, it’s super curious to me that we can treat the tree-the epitome of mother earth like trash and rip her roots out of the ground like a weed…for what “real” human need? Having spent the past few weeks planting her seed again in sacred ceremony along the Egyptian Nile surrounded by nature stewards from around the world singing her praises with people from the Nile in play, I wonder how hardened our hearts have become to still clear football fields of virgin forest in the Congo, Indonesian and Amazon biodiversity hotspots (for example) every day. We certainly now know how to harvest selectively, manage forests sustainably, and source other raw resources as substitute for wood products, paper and pulp. Thus, committing to avoiding deforestation and promising to finance a transition to a nature positive future is certainly an awesome first step and achievement in 2022,  but converting commitment to capital that drives new designs and business models will be our real critical mission now in 2023.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

I reflected much on the sacredness (wholeness) of life in the Sinai desert, along the Red Sea, and in the Nile river valley, especially planting fruit (food) trees in sacred ceremony with Maleka on our Lotus Journey. The teachings of the tree are becoming more and more clear to me. They want to be planted. They want to be leaves and roots and fruits for families and for communities. As an ecologist (and more specifically a mountain forest ecologist), I have planted many trees in my time. However, I do not believe I’ve ever planted trees before with such celebration and music and dance and prayer and meaning than I did in Egypt at the ancient Nile water’s door. And the ancestors of those waters, who are ancestors to us all, are clearly calling us back to connection with nature- to our Natura Vera—to recover and to regenerate ourselves and nature from our past Industrial Age fall.

I am really grateful for this experience to have planted these fruit trees (avocado, date, and palm) with such a beautiful guardians of Eden’s Garden …and right before Christmas when all through the house—no one is stirring; not even a mouse; but the scent of fresh pine and spruce lingers still throughout the house. My only complaint during this holiday season in celebration of the tree and the growing spring light is that it was very difficult to find a live Christmas tree- spruce, pine, or fir. And it made me think:

What might Christmas look like if we shifted our holiday tree hunt from tall, downed trees to small live ones? What if seasonal growers sold live spruce, fir, pine Christmas trees next holiday season? What if they even worked with local forest managers to create a local tree planting campaign, maps, planting instructions, and tree celebration suggestions tied to the tree? It’s just an idea; but sounds like a new green business 2023 opportunity to me.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022

Catherine Cunningham, PhD

Founder/CEO: Eikosphere & Natural Intelligence Media

CEC Member, IUCN (International Union of Conservation Congress)

PS Yes, I plan after little Christmas (Epiphany) to plant my two live trees that light up my Christmas home scene.

Thank you for reading. I’ve been reading, thinking, observing, reflecting, writing, traveling a lot this past year; so haven’t been sharing or connecting online. Like the northern spotted owl, I’ve been gliding silently, swiftly through the Dark Night of our human forest, tracking the soul, squinting at the sun, smelling the soil, disconnecting from all things artificially intelligent and off planet or out of our artifice world, moving farther and farther from the center point of dialogue on climate & nature, and venturing out into the heart of silent nature herself. And in my wanderings, I’ve discovered that as above, so below refers to the invisible bond between Heaven to Earth, but also the intimate interdependence between life above the soil surface and soul sky, as well, all below the soil who lie, where all living- breathing beings return when they die.

All is duality in our inter-connected reality— life and death; dark and light; sunrise and sunset; sky and earth; earth and underground.

Catherine Cunningham, Natural Intelligence Media 2022


Revolutionary Regeneration Initiatives to Restore the Natural World

1. Invest in Nature-Based Solutions that restore forests like Pachamama. They use remote sensing technology to detect early signs of deforestation and support local communities in protecting biodiversity.

2. Invest in seed banks, like Terraformation, whose mission is to replant biodiverse forests by collecting and replanting all the tree varieties needed to maintain healthy ecosystems.×30.html?smid=li-share

UN Biodiversity

#biodiversity #conservation #preservation #cbd #UNCBD #cop15montreal #indigenouspeoples #indigenousknowledge #leaders #paneldiscussion


  • Catherine Cunningham, PhD

    Mission Possible: Awaken Natural Intelligence in Our World

    Natural Intelligence

    Dr. Catherine Cunningham, PhD is an ecologist, anthropologist, writer, filmmaker, and media host producing films, interactive experiences, and online multimedia for international clients who are focused on positive economic, social, and environmental win-win-win solutions to global conservation and climate change.

    Catherine has travelled, written, photographed, and filmed in 70 countries, producing creative films and music videos in support the UN Global Goals and the human+nature planetary health narrative. Visit Natural to see where her work has premiered internationally. Over 20 years, she has interviewed hundreds of global thought leaders to promote sustainable solutions to climate change and conservation in creative ways. Catherine has written numerous articles on climate change, nature, and regeneration. She’s currently writing two books: “Naturally Intelligent by Design” — a fine art science and culture book for families and “Natural Intelligence”— a guidebook for well-navigating a post COVID-19 world by following nature’s principles. Partnering with Eurovision News and Events, Catherine is also an independent media host— producing content on nature, climate, and regeneration; syndicated globally by EuroVision’s News Direct. She is a regular contributor to Thrive Global and Medium. She currently produces communications for the Prince Albert II Foundation and participates in programming @ the World Economic Forum on Climate Change, Nature, and Biodiversity. As an university educator, Catherine taught undergraduate and masters courses in corporate sustainability communications at Arizona State University; global sustainability at Chapman University; biology, ecology, botany, and environmental science at Denver State College and Front Range College. In 2016, she designed one of the first university courses on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (also online), contributing to youth action on the UN Global Goals. She also created a post-graduate program with UNESCO on the MAB (Man the Biosphere) reserves. Catherine earned her PhD in Ecosystem Science at ETHZ in Switzerland, studying climate impacts on mountain ecosystems. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Cultural Anthropology and International Peace Studies from the University of Notre Dame and a Masters degree from Utah State in Ecology. Catherine speaks fluent English and conversational Italian. She loves creative collaboration, media production, mountaineering, outdoor sports, yoga, wellness, and travel.