Nature Untouched

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Solène Wolff is a Berlin-based researcher and environmentalist, passionate about knowledge exchange in ecology, regeneration and architecture. Solène co-created Highvisioned, an environmental accelerator. She is the co-founder and managing partner of PLANE–SITE, a content and communication agency focused on the built environment and its users. Her research focuses on strategies for a climate positive architecture, regenerative future and spiritual ecology.

DWIH: Hi, Solène! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. 

Wolff: Thank you. Glad to be here!

DWIH: Let’s start from the top. What is rewilding?

Wolff: Rewilding means giving back space for nature to repair, with little to no human intervention. This is a refreshing instrument to help solving climate change. Imagine ecologists working on an arid soil. They are digging ponds, reawakening dormant wetlands, stripping poisoned topsoil and sowing wildflowers, all to kickstart the land’s own ability to regenerate. After this habitat establishment phase (Core), the ecologists fence off the land (Corridors, for migration and movements). They introduce European bison and wolves (Carnivores) to naturally manage the land. For the next 20 to 30 years the land is left untouched. Soon it starts producing the natural capital so vital to our survival: carbon sinks, biodiversity, clean air, healthy soil, clean water, flood protection.

Solène Wolff

That’s what rewilding is about: a regeneration approach focusing on the “3 C’s” – Core, Corridor, Carnivores – mitigating the species extinction crisis and restoring healthy and sustainable ecosystem functions.

DWIH: So rewilding is really about nature thriving by itself. What role then should humans play in rewilding?

Wolff: Humans are the heart and soul of rewilding: our main role is to find our place back into what we call ‘nature’. Funny how semantics have been accentuating our disconnect from the Earth: nature is often described as everything that is not human, although we are deeply embedded into the threat of life. Our mission is to respect not to be geographically present everywhere on the planet — and on other planets. Individuals foster this by protecting untouched areas. Policy-makers enhance it with urban policies limiting urban sprawl, land-use, agricultural and environmental laws promoting net biodiversity gain. Companies nurture it by pivoting productions and supply chains to source and impact on as little resources as possible.

This way, we move away from a plundering land-use rationale of humans on nature to one learning to respect the living world in its entirety. And this brings us, human beings, unprecedented opportunities for prosperity! Economic, health and societal benefits are immediate rewards.

DWIH: One challenge of rewilding is finding ways that people can take action on the issue in their own lives. How can rewilding be taken to the streets of Berlin, New York or elsewhere?

Wolff: Rewilding per-se can’t happen in any city: rewilding encapsulates the reintegration of large predators. By nature, these species do not settle in human-led environments. When we see wolves and bears preying on cattle, this is because we harmed ecosystems and trophic cascades (ensuring them to have enough food), by logging operations, roads constructions, etc. You therefore can’t rewild cities. It has been used as a buzzword in media and urban planning, but doesn’t reflect the bold and innovative restoration approach that is rewilding.

The good news is you can renature cities! Many cities have been implementing incredible projects on that matter. See Paris’ and Madrid’s urban forests. In North America, the ‘depaving’ movement transformed asphalt areas into natural areas. Frankfurt, Hannover and Dessau-Rosslau launched a five-year experimental project, the “Städte wagen Wildnis” initiative, which translates as “cities dare wilderness”.

Both instruments are needed. Rewilding and renaturing, while not to be merged into one term, are gate-openers for regeneration of the vast living world.

DWIH: In your talk at the FUTURE FORUM: Building Biopolis, you discussed how rewilding demands a cultural perspective shift on economics, growth, care and even our understandings of ourselves and our connections to the world. How should we begin this collective reimagining?

Wolff: This is an excellent question, and a tough one. I have a slightly unconventional perspective on the matter. Most human structures we created are a result of our brains. We base our identities on systems: economic, health, political. Today, the earth is pointing out that life has to be at the center. There is a need to depart from the intellect that placed domination (people on people, people on animals, people on nature) as foundation of our relationships. Once we leave this paradigm, there is a vacuum of identity that allows us to develop the required awareness for regeneration.

It is simpler than it sounds: with a daily mind and body hygiene, we reach that state of consciousness. Yoga and meditation together are the easiest form of mind-body hygiene. Make it mandatory in schools and, in three generations, the world will be balanced again. That’s where our collective reimagining starts.

DWIH: Solène, you are a masterful science storyteller, as we can see above, and it’s a skill many scientists could use more of to make their important work more sticky for listeners and ultimately more impactful for society. If you could offer one piece of advice on storytelling and communicating impactful ideas, what would it be?

Wolff: Depart from the intellect and tell us a story. Knowledge, be it facts or hard numbers, is there to give us a plan: we reflect on a situation, such as city planning and climate change, and provide a direction to go – through imagination and anecdotes. So tell stories! They are prescriptions for courage. They illustrate how to run a race – and win. We are not born with courage; we may possess bravado, even arrogance. But courage is a quiet, spiritual muscle discovered only when you face your greatest fear. Stories embolden, strengthen and establish how we can become our very best.

And when it comes to solving a climate crisis or a crumbling economic system, this is right on point what we need: good stories.