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Why Lead with a Nature-Based Approach?

When we hear the word “infrastructure,” we typically think of things like roads, power grids, pipelines, drinking water supply, airports, wastewater, and telecommunications. While all of this infrastructure is necessary for modern life, there is an entire suite of infrastructure that is even more vital to our survival.

By Keith Bowers

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Living shoreline at Freshkills Park, Staten Island, NY

Wetlands filter runoff, attenuate flood flows, and recharge freshwater aquifers. Forests, in addition to providing timber, fuel, and food, cycle nutrients, store carbon, purify water and air, regulate climate, protect topsoil, and support an intricate web of flora and fauna. In fact, the diversity of flora and fauna that make up our planet function as infrastructure—from mycorrhizal fungi that connect plants together and transfer water, carbon, nitrogen, and other minerals (pipelines?); to dung beetles that decompose waste into food and shelter (waste processing?); to the 1,400 species of bats (making up 20% of all mammals on Earth) that serve as pollinators, seed spreaders, and insect regulators (pesticides?); to the top predators like the grey wolf, grizzly bear, or orca, which disperse nutrients from feeding and seeds from foraging, and controlling the distribution, abundance, and diversity of prey (power grids?). All of the ‘services’ provided by this flora and fauna are self-regulating, self-sustaining, run entirely on solar energy, and optimize the very notion of resiliency.

Arguably, green or ‘living’ infrastructure is the bedrock of our life-support system on Earth. So it makes sense that as we continue to build, rebuild, shape, farm and extract resources from the land and oceans, we must lead with a nature-based approach.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Leading with a nature-based approach first and foremost means a change in mindset. It means we embrace, respect, and honor nature’s capacity to provide us with life-giving services. Protecting and conserving nature, applying the Precautionary Principle and recognizing that all life has intrinsic value beyond our utilitarian needs are good starts.

From there we need to explore, embrace. and engage nature as the basis of design for everything we do. Solutions born of place (informed by weather, geology, soils, landforms, water flows, plants and all its lifeforms) tend to be more alive, more responsive, more engaging and more sustainable then those that are not.  Biomimicry (or ecomimicry) provides a wonderful template for incorporating nature’s strategies to create solutions that embody life.  Diversity is the cornerstone of nature, and along with ecosystem integrity, a key to resiliency. An intact, relatively diverse system generally has a greater ability to resist environmental stressors and to quickly recover after disturbance. Likewise, a diverse, inclusive, and equitable culture leads to similar outcomes, providing a positive feedback loop. Sustaining, nature-based approaches provide us with wonderful opportunities to reengage with nature, to get our hands dirty, to witness the amazing web of life and death, and to lose our hearts to something bigger than any one of us. It would be silly, and utterly foolish not to lead with a nature based approach.  Don’t you think?





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