An Ode to Mothers Everywhere

A week ago Sunday we celebrated our mothers everywhere as the carriers of life and the bearers of life’s children yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Also, the scent of weddings, graduation, spring, and new life, is in the air. This past Saturday while many high schools and colleges graduated their senior students, we witnessed the Royal wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, celebrating the love and union of two individuals, the natural precursor to the creation of new life. Indeed, Mary’s month of May is the perfect time to honor life, celebrate important transitions in life, and recognize all those responsible for nurturing life.

Certainly, our mothers, grandmothers, great grandmothers deserve their special day in the month of May. Our lineage provides our base orientation in life that gives each of us a first place to belong- a family, tribe, culture, community into which we are miraculously born and welcomed into the world. Whether we choose to recognize it or not— our life is a gift; our life purpose and path is unique to each of us; and there are many others responsible for our birth and thriving being than we might realize. I would like to draw attention this month of May to vital others who are also responsible for nurturing life on earth, our life on earth beyond our limited scope of human ancestry. To this topic, this article is dedicated.

Women of the Earth-Driven by Regeneration, as Mothers of Humanity

Hail Women of the Earth not called (or not yet) to motherhood in the nuclear family to recreate human life. When you use your gifts and talents in professional pursuits and personal ventures to protect, sustain, and regenerate the natural resources of our Mother Earth; then our species has a better chance to endure to the end of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and our passage through the Anthropocene Era into the Age of Intuition. While sexual reproduction and the replication of life is primary to the continuance of our species (as well, any species), and while all living beings from bacteria to blue whales strive to have offspring; the ability to reproduce oneself is not the only necessary factor for life to persist. Women of the Earth are vital to our survival, too.

Origin of Life researchers around the world have worked for over a century to theorize, observe, experiment, and model different environmental conditions that may have been the precursor to the first prokaryote cells and eventually responsible for putting the flywheel of natural selection and evolution in motion for the next 3.5 billion years (and some researchers now say, 3.7 billion years). Now sitting here in 2018, we will never know for sure what happened on Planet Earth 3.5 billion years ago to spark life (or if that was the real beginning and/or if life hadn’t already existed somewhere else in our universe). The best that inquiring scientists can do is frame a story which matches evidence discovered— always limited and always subject to observer perception. And all that said, it is still exciting to contemplate our origins and to marvel at the complex miracle of the DNA double-helix genetic encoder for life. As well, there are a few reasonable and well-researched origin of life narratives that may help give gravitas to the various roles we now need to play in our changing world today— to protect our species (perhaps even all living beings) from inadvertently extinguishing itself.

Again, self-replication is an important feature of life; but not the singular, primary driver. All of life from Archaea to ferns to octopi to elephants to humans must also be able to extract energy from their environment to keep alive. A woman and man can’t very well have a child, if they die first, right?! Thus, whether life began in (or around) a deep thermal vent, a shallow sea, a surface hydrothermal vent, a geothermal pond, or a meteorite crater with just the right mix of metals and (toxic to us) gases (e.g. H2, CO2, iron, methane, ammonia, and hydrogen sulphide); the first life forms (and all life thereafter) had to solve the metabolic challenge of harnessing energy from their environment to grow and to reproduce… and (here’s the clincher) in a sustainable way.

So back to our women of the earth whose work it is in the world to ensure we don’t over-exploit and/or over-pollute our food, water, air natural resources that are vital to life- You are vital to life. If we as humans can no longer sustainably (or as we currently run an annual nature debt, regeneratively) extract the energy we need from our environment to power our efficient growth and to perpetuate our future development, we die. Thus, for us to remain viable— you (we) women of the earth are necessary as well to the persistence of our Homo sapiens sisters and brothers… and to the future evolution of our nieces and nephews. 

Women of the Earth-Driven by Compassion, as Mothers of Humanity

If we expand upon this analogy a bit further into the socio-economic-political realm, then those women of the earth dedicated to helping the most vulnerable, disenfranchised, disabled, or otherwise disadvantaged in our complex human society to sustain… are also responsible for enabling our species to survive. Merely, growing food, filtering water, and building homes doesn’t ensure that all members of our global family have access to food-water-shelter. And, in our modern world, sadly we have created a socio-economic filter that narrows the flow of vital natural resources primarily to those who have enough money to afford it. But, money is a funny thing. Money is the medium of exchange- not the actual bartered exchange of goods and services. Thus, money can under-value, over-value, distort value with taxes and fees and subsidies, and exclude the true value (not account for external costs to the environment, health, humanity) of the real exchange. Thus, having access to money does not necessarily equate to providing real goods and services to the collective whole. It just means that those who earn enough money to buy primary natural resources have the greater advantage to sustaining their lives and the lives of those in their family unit. But, the majority of people do provide some service, good, or value to society, and yet many are undervalued and struggle to earn a living. And anyway, everyone is valuable, so has the inherent right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… including food, water, shelter, education. 

Therefore, warrior women who compassionately care for all others in our global society-regardless of their monetary worth, social value, or ability to earn a living; serve as the great socio-economic equalizers, uplifting our common humanity. And curiously, their acts may not only be charitable, but they might also prove vital for our species to adapt, evolve, and survive, as well.

Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection in the Origin of Species; concludes that the fittest members of a species survive the test and trials of evolutionary time. However, the fittest, may not necessarily be the strongest, wealthiest, or most powerful. As earth’s life conditions necessarily and dynamically change in unpredictable, complex ways; one can imagine that when our environment takes a hard left turn— the rare, mutant individual (perceived as the weakest or diseased) in our meta-population may be the one who carries humanity’s survival gene. Then, the disenfranchised mutant would rightfully become responsible heir to the future of humanity in a tipped and transformed world. Imagine, a child on the autistic spectrum (now estimated to represent 1 in every 150 children, globally) one day serving as the gateway for Homo sapiens to evolve! (inspired idea by Dr. Zac Bush) In fact, celebrating the diversity and natural variability of all humanity— across mental, physical, bio-chemical, social, and cultural spectrums may prove central to our survival. Who knows? What geneticists call junk DNA in our biological coding may one day prove to be our biogenetic treasure. So, why risk cleansing our genes of perceived junk and selecting for specific DNA now considered desirable… only to find out later the true vital value of that perceived junk? (I intend to expand on this topic in a future article, so stay tuned.)

Women of the Earth-Driven by Unification and Integration, as Mothers of Humanity

For now, moving on and in line with our origin-of-life analogy and expanded vision of motherhood for humanity; there is another group of earth women I would like to recognize and to celebrate- those who support the integrity and unification of our global earth village. These community leaders are necessary for society to stay organized, healthy, and whole; just like the first cell membrane served to self-contain and self-organize Life’s Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)-the model of our oldest Archaea ancestor. This was no small task. According to origin of life scientists (e.g. Dr. Pier Luigi Luisi, ETHZ), LUCA was likely an anaerobic (non-breathing), CO2-fixing, H2-dependent, N2-fixing thermophilic organism, comprised 355 protein clusters (those common to the 6.1 million prokaryotic proteins, tested) and performed multiple metabolic processes simultaneously. LUCA was already a very complex being and there is little chance that these early Archaea could have come into being without a cell membrane to provide structure and to contain these processes; let alone run chemiosmosis- the complex biological energy exchange involving ATP and ADP that occurs across the cell membrane. So, without going into greater depths of molecular biology, suffice to say— organization  was (and is) critical to the origin and vitality of life.

Speaking culturally as well, no tribe or community has been shown to long survive in perpetual chaos. No social group has well thrived without defined boundaries, norms, values, and ethics to bind the members together. As long as rules are not rigid and continue to respond to the members’ changing environment and needs, community codes and cultural protocols serve to support the sustainability and integrity of the whole. And in Disney’s perfect, utopian world; all would remain happy, healthy and well, forever. However, when radicals run loose or society’s systems break down- as inevitably they will in the real world; the communal body experiences disease…and if it spreads unchecked to become a pandemic, then it can also lead to the degeneration of the entire body. 

Now winding back to our women of the earth… this is why, those who serve as community shapers, cultural leaders, mediators, counselors, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and healers are as critical to the survival of our species as our birth mothers. A group’s members, the body, the earth system will fall ill; and these warrior women heal us. And they heal us on many levels, which is essential especially now as we live in a globalized world where our identity as humans is multi-layered. We are each members of a family, a community, a bioregion, culture(s), spiritual group(s), country(s), lineage, social media group(s), virtual fandom(s), a socio-economic class, an age demographic… a world. We each have multiple, different identities to reconcile. And, inevitably we will become sick in one realm or at one level or a few. Thus, unifying women of the earth who help heal our individual and societal traumas are largely responsible for keeping the peace and unity and health of our community cell.

Lastly, as the structure of a cell membrane effectively distinguished one living being from another living being, when there was a union of two, then a new, unique living being effectively evolved. Dr. Nick Lane (Professor of Evolutionary Biochemistry, University College of London) theorizes that the first bacterium to enter an Archaea cell did so in order to increase the energy-producing capability of the cell. Essentially, the first eukaryote (true cell with a nucleus) evolved in this crucial life step and by acquiring mitochondria- the merged bacteria cell, accessed exponentially more energy to drive more complicated cellular processes and acquire a larger genome. Once this happened, the diversity of life began to explode. As an interesting historical side note, this life principle of inclusion has also led to some of the greatest innovations and advances of our human civilizations- from the Romans who invited the Phoenicians and a plethora of other peoples to the agora marketplace and colessium games to inform and advance the Roman art-artisan culture to the democratic republic of the United States- a destination for all nationalities to melt into our pot of diversity and a leader in innovation and technology, still today.

So, like the first bacteria who took the first risky plunge into its neighboring foreign Archaea cell, unafraid to chart new territory and confront new challenges; women of the earth, driven by unification and integration… immerse themselves into new situations-communities; and serve as those first mediators to help create the conditions for diverse, foreign bodies to collaborate and to evolve together into the future. So, without going into greater depths of molecular biology, suffice to say— organization and integration  was (and is) critical to the origin and vitality of life.

Thus, all women of the earth have been and will continue to be of vital importance to the survival and thrival of our human species as we live through the Anthropocene… and deserve to also be celebrated Mary’s spring month of May.

Published by Catherine Cunningham, PhD in Thrive Global


  • 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.