What is Ecological Intelligence?

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Ecological Intelligence is not just about information, it is also about knowledge.IMG 6097 Copy


We ask one of our Students from SAN Ecosystems, after completing the first module of the 14 month correspondence course, for her opinion on Ecological Intelligence based on what she has learnt. 


Student Emma Hay writes:



The definition of ecological intelligence may be construed as a wide one, encompassing many different facets of consideration.  On the surface, ecological intelligence is regarded as the ability to respond to one’s environmental niche; to adapt and engage with specific ecosystems through a process of experiential learning.  Thus, many would argue that humans harbour such intelligence and are thus ‘top of the food chain’ or the ‘pinnacle of evolution’.   Such ideology would be demonstrated through scientific disciplines and specialisms that focus in on very particular details rather than the whole, as well as through direct control or dominion over and interference with the natural world, such as man-made oceanic reefs, fenced and controlled game parks, biological control over invasive species etc.  While it sometimes useful and necessary to conceptually sub-divide (eco)systems to make their interactions easier to consider, we must not lose sight of the fact that no part of a system ever exists totally in isolation.  Even the smallest elements within systems could also be totally dependent upon it.  However, ecological intelligence is not just about information, it is also about knowledge. 

Ecological intelligence may, for example, be explored from various angles depending upon the world view or ideology guiding the consideration.   A scientist may focus on the specific conditions involved, such as ecological niches, food chains and webs, and the environmental services supporting and linking them.  The economist may consider intelligence as an accounting balance sheet, weighing up costs and benefits of our environment and the impacts therein on economic growth.  The Buddhist may consider the connectedness of consciousness and the impact we have on each other and our planet as one and the same – a shared inter-dependence of consciousness. At the heart of ecological intelligence would then exist not only information about ecology, but also knowledge about the place of humans within this ecology and a combination of all of the above.  It is thus intelligent to be knowledgeable about the bio-centric nature of our living planet.  It would be intelligent to recognise our (human) utter interdependence with all ecological systems and how our very existence depends upon the environmental services that create and sustain the conditions for all life on Earth.  Ecological intelligence would see and value food webs and vast interconnections of all biotic and abiotic components and in doing so, would not be willing to self-sacrifice though denial of such interdependence. 

Some ecological intelligence may be sought in books, on the internet, through research and interest.  However, some of the most ecologically intelligent beings have no such access nor need for such intellectual information because knowledge is inherent within their lives and being.  Practices and philosophies that make use of herbal medicine, that have intimate knowledge of nature’s cycles and respond to them accordingly, those who protect and respect all sentient beings, seeing their inalienable worth rather than “resources” arguably demonstrate ecological intelligence.  The one way ecological information is known, but intelligence is lacking, is whereby the planet’s ecology is damaged, degraded or destroyed through anthropocentric means that benefit only the smallest of minority groups whilst endangering all others in the mane of economic growth.  This is the not intelligent, despite the various scientific specialisms and technology applied in the process. 

My ecological intelligence is directly linked to my emotional and personal growth.  The more time I spend immersed in nature, the more connected I feel to our planet and a sense of ‘cosmic consciousness’ that surpasses the intellectual and often delves into the realm beyond the five senses.   Information about ecosystems helps me to understand interconnectedness in a less abstract and more real sense.  Observing and really ‘seeing’ nature increases empathy but also makes the awareness of our ecological crisis more burdensome at times.  My challenge is to learn as much as I can from observation and analysis (aided greatly thought the use of permaculture principles), but whilst also attempting to develop a more intuitive, non-cognitive and more sensory intimacy with nature.  The latter is a life-long process of reconnection and is greatly aided by spending time outdoors, living in close relation to nature’s cycles and loving the planet and all it contains,  irrespective of what it ‘does’ for me or how I am  impacted personally.   I feel that our abundance of information as a species is not translated into intelligence and this is evidenced by the ecological crisis that we now face that is deemed ‘anthropocentric’ by the largest panel ever converged to assess such matters – the United Nations IPCC.