Name: Elliot Connor
Human Nature and a Stick Insect
Learning Life Lessons from a Walking Toothpick
“Stick insects are just like people really- they like being on top of things, spend a lot of their time just hanging around, and have no need whatsoever for males (they can clone themselves at will).”
Hey! I’m Elliot from sunny Sydney and this is my girlfriend Ochre. We have heaps of stuff in common, although dates are still a rather silent affair. Together Ochre and I are trying to break down the barriers humans have built around themselves to prove their superiority over other animals.
Okay, so you probably have just a few questions right now. “Are you crazy?” is probably high up on the list, and I’d have to say that I am- a little. But mostly I’m frustrated, incensed if you will, at the appalling disregard humans have for other lifeforms and for their planet. If it’s not too cliché for you, David Attenborough sums it up nicely:
“I think sometimes we need to take a step back and just remember we have no greater right to be here than any other animal.”
And this has never, ever, been more important to accept, to understand, than it is today. Right now. Because we can try as hard as we like to save ourselves from the looming threat of climate change, but if we stay trapped in this little anthropocentric bubble of ours… well, suffice to say, we don’t stand a chance.
Anyway, Jane Goodall speaks of her dog Rusty as one of her greatest teachers, and for me it happened much the same. Except that my insight came not from a cute, furry canine, but rather from a certain young stick insect I appropriated from the local zoo. Her name is Ochre, and most people think she’s a monster- one of my friends decided she was a scorpion, and honestly that head of hers gives a lot of people the creeps.
Now, there’s a lot of debate in the environmental sector about flagship species- those big, charismatic animals like tigers and pandas which unfailingly get the lions share of funding. People don’t want to give up their hard-earned money to save a few worms!! So the 97% of species which are invertebrates are effectively left to fend for themselves, and we get the population crashes now known as the Insect Armageddon.
I’m beating around the bush a little here, so I’ll get straight to my point: Ochre made me finally realize how disconnected us humans are with the natural world around us. Mankind has spent centuries if not millennia building up mental and physical barriers around itself, keeping Earth’s other lifeforms at a distance whilst repeatedly telling itself how different it is from them, how unnaturally intelligent and unique. Most of this stuff is utter garbage, but that’s a debate for another time. For now, I’ll just say that these same barriers which once helped us to survive have now become our greatest threat to survival. They prevent us from appreciating the power of nature, which has regulated changes in our climate time and again.
You’ve probably heard of biomimicry- when people steal ideas from nature to make their own flashy new inventions. Thanks to animals, we have or will soon have bullet-trains inspired by kingfishers, antifreeze inspired by cod, painless surgical needles inspired by mosquitoes, wetsuits inspired by otters, wind-turbines inspired by whales, space rovers inspired by desert spiders, gene-editing technologies inspired by bacteria and many, many more brilliant technologies. Yet never have we even thought of giving credit to nature for its profound effect upon our lives. It’s just not how we do things.
Perhaps I’m beginning to sound a little preachy here, and for that I apologize. I only ask that you consider how different the world would surely be if we accepted other lifeforms as valuable and independent beings on “our” planet.
There’s another point I’d like to make, and it’s about indigenous persons. Until only very recently, the traditional owners of lands across the globe were treated as lesser beings, unworthy of rights and incapable of leading their own lives without paternalistic protection. The huge areas they once occupied were colonized, appropriated by strangers for farming and countless other uses. Even in the modern world, they are, almost without exception, disadvantaged in a host of ways compared to the general populace.
Now, I have long considered the situation with Earth’s biodiversity to be a striking parallel with this. These creatures have held possession over the lands for unimaginably longer than any hominid could hope to claim. They have been unquestioningly trampled upon by the progress of our civilization and remain in a severely marginalized state. Could they possibly reach the same recognition, the same fraught balance that indigenous groups have?
Hopefully you will have realized by now the link between this damaging societal mindset I have ranted on so long about and the topical problem of our age- climate change. Because so long as we continue to distance ourselves from the environment, we cannot keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. It really is a simple as that. The change, if any, in our behavior will be little and too late, applying band-aid solutions which fail to address the root cause.
Back to my own story: this January, I was holed up in a freezing cold castle in Southern France for a month in mid-winter. Having failed to find somewhere a touch sunnier to spend my summer holidays, I was taking a crash-course in animal care through some volunteer work at a wildlife hospital there. That meant cleaning and recleaning hedgehog cages, tossing dead chicks to vultures and giving an injured owl flying lessons. But more than that, it meant many long winter nights alone.
It was during this time that I first came up with the concept for my charity- Human Nature Projects. Because I was fed up with conservation. The year-and-a-half preceding that date had been spent giving heart, body and soul to this field- volunteering for more organizations and projects than I could count, sending hundreds of emails to offer my help, and generally making a fool of myself. Yet after all that, I had met zero young people, made zero useful connections… and, well maybe I had a few memorable experiences.
I decided we were in desperate need of a united voice to reimagine this field- a voice that I hoped Human Nature would provide. I foresaw booming youth engagement, targeted messaging to a range of audiences, long-term ambitious collaboration between charity groups and a societal shift towards accepting other lifeforms as being just as amazing, important and valuable as ourselves. “Reconnecting the Family Tree of Life.”
Fast-forward several months to June this year. I’d survived the gear shift into year 11 at school, and generally felt I had a bit of time on my hands. Boy was that to change!! So I started up Human Nature, and things went absolutely haywire. Just like that, I was working 15-hour days, calling out to contributors in what can only be described as all four corners of the world: Lesotho, Britain, Mexico, the Philippines, Slovenia, US, Kenya, Hungary, India, Botswana, Iran, Morocco… to a fairly sheltered young student like myself, this was about as exciting as it gets- waking up each morning not knowing which countries the coming day might add to the list.
What’s the moral of the story? Well, I guess it would have to be that every person can make a difference. Human Nature is about empowering individuals to change the world- shifting perspectives, promoting collaboration, and targeting messages to the audiences that need them most. I couldn’t have done it alone, but it did take bravery to start it. So make the leap. Try something new. Because barriers were made to be broken.
Learn more about Elliot and Human Nature at their website.