Biophilic Infrastructure: Letting Nature Lead the Way

For all the ink and pixels spilled over the past year on political infighting about what qualifies as “infrastructure,” one of the most notable omissions has been any real mention of the natural world. The biosphere we all inhabit is, fundamentally, the infrastructure for life itself. As we know all too well, humanity has, for the most part, neglected, destroyed and actively pillaged many of the natural systems that support our continued existence by cooking the climate, unleashing a looming micro-plastic apocalypse, triggering a tragic global decline in all biodiversity benchmarks and more.

What will it take to turn our attention towards the rebuilding of our natural infrastructure, for the benefit of all life and human society? How can built infrastructure elegantly and respectfully engage with and support nature? The answers are not easy, and our understanding of these systems is only just scratching the surface of the evolutionary timescales that nature functions on. However, we know enough to get started – and, unsurprisingly, it often begins with letting nature lead. In this discussion, experts and leaders dive into what a more enlightened, effective, biophilic and biomimetic infrastructure conversation needs to look like.

With: award-winning environmental journalist and author of Eager: The Surprising Secret Lives of Beavers and Why They Matter, Ben Goldfarb; Pyrogeographer and Assistant Professor in the Management of Complex Systems Department at UC-Merced, Dr. Crystal Kolden; Director of Education and Community at TreePeople, Ariel Whitson. Moderated by Teo Grossman, Bioneers’ Senior Director of Programs & Research.

This discussion took place at the 2021 Bioneers Conference.


Ben Goldfarb

Ben Goldfarb is the author of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter, winner of the 2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. His work has appeared in publications including the AtlanticScienceOrion Magazine and the Washington Post. He lives in Spokane, Washington, with his wife and his dog, Kit (which is, of course, what one calls a baby beaver).

Learn more about Ben Goldfarb at his website.

Crystal Kolden

Crystal Kolden, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Fire Science in the Management of Complex Systems Department at the University of California, Merced, is a former wildland firefighter. She conducts research on how humans can mitigate catastrophic wildfire disasters while embracing and acknowledging fire as our ancestors did. She lives in rural California, where she burns the land to heal it.

Ariel Whitson

Ariel Lew Ai Le Whitson, Director of Education and Community at TreePeople, leads and manages TreePeople’s environmental education, water equity and community organizing departments. The engagement team supports thousands of community members across Southern California, with a focus on environmentally and economically stressed communities that have faced historical environmental injustice, in actively participating in initiatives focused on climate change solutions, reforestation, water security, fire resilience, urban soils, waste management, and planting a healthy urban tree canopy.

Teo Grossman

Teo Grossman, Senior Director of Programs and Research at Bioneers, previously worked on a range of projects from federal range management to state-level assessments of long-range planning to applied research on topics including climate change adaptation, ecosystem services, biodiversity, and ecological networks. A Doris Duke Conservation Fellow during graduate school, Teo holds an MS in Environmental Science & Management from UC-Santa Barbara.

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