“As it turns out, the vast majority of bacteria in the soil and in our bodies benefit us. And throughout the history of life on land, microbes repeatedly deconstructed every piece of organic matter on the planet—leaves, branches, and bones—fashioning new life from the dead. Yet our relationship with the hidden half of nature remains modeled on killing it, rather than understanding and fostering its beneficial aspects. In waging war against microbes for the last century, we’ve managed to unwittingly chisel away much of the foundation on which we stand.”
This week’s Podcast is with authors David Montgomery and Anne Bikle of The Hidden Half of Nature. As a Geologist and Biologist, together David and Anne provide a fascinating insight into the soil world and our human gut health. Shining the light on the little “Animalcules” (as Antoni van Leeuwenhoek called them) or Microbes that are a community of players that ultimately work in symbiotic relationships with both ourselves and plants in the soil.
Guiding us to an understanding of the important role they play not just on this basic level, but globally as well. Join us on the discovery of how microbes originated to be inside us and how we can move forward with this new understanding on this weeks episode.
For more information on David and Anne: https://www.dig2grow.com/
To get The Hidden Half of Nature on Amazon, click here
To come join the conversation and share your thoughts!
FULL TRANSCRIPT BELOW:
Episode 28- The Hidden Half of Nature
Hailey: Hello Thrivers! And welcome to this week’s podcast. We have some special guests on here today. I want to introduce you to the book, I have it on Kindle. I would prefer it in a beautiful green cover, It’s called “The Hidden Half of Nature”. Now, we have special authors here David Montgomery and Anne Bikle, welcome! Welcome to the podcast!
David: Thank you!
Anne: Good to be here!
Hailey: So I want to introduce you to these amazing, very wise, beautiful souls who have written this book. Let me give you a little summary.
So David, he’s a Macarthur fellow and professor of geomorphology at the University of Washington, Internationally recognised geologist. He studies landscape evolution and the effects of geological processes on ecological systems and human societies. The connection there is important. Author of 3 award winning popular science books and he’s also been featured in documentary films, and much much more. So it’s very special to have you here, David.
D: Thank you, thank you. Happy to talk to you!
H: And Anne, equally as amazing, she’s a biologist whose wide range of interests have led her into watershed restoration, environmental planning and public health, she’s an engaging speaker on public health and they built a natural environment. She has also worked extensively with community groups and non-profit organisations on environmental stewardship. Thank you so much, Anne!
A: You betcha!
H: And this beautiful couple, in case you don’t know, are actually married. Even though they’re on separate screens! So I just wanted to, before we go into it, how did the idea of this book come about with the 2 of you together?
D: Oh boy, do you want that or do you want me to start on that?
A: Sure, I’ll start it and then you can pick it up… Well, it’s kind of interesting, Hayley. We sat to write a kind of a different book from one stand point and that is that we had I, cause I was a chief trouble maker on this, I wanted a garden when we first bought the house that we’re still in. And it was kind of an odd house in Seattle that there was hardly anything growing on our lot. And this is an average-sized city lot in the Seattle area, which is around 5000 square feet or a little bit larger at 6000 square feet. But there’s hardly anything growing there except these old growth lawn that was field with dandelions, and not even the nice kinds. The ones with big stickers and just not friendly at all. So I set about turning this sort of barren gate into a garden. And after several years of doing that, one of the things I had done eventually was to bring organic matter in. When I say organic matter, I don’t mean that I’m just going out buying bags of compost and bags of this, and bags of that. I had blown our budget on plants. Why? Because I have a bad case of plant lust! So there was no way to buy a bunch of bags of stuff. So I started looking around the neighbourhood, looking for things that were cheap or free, and lo and behold, there was quite a bit around you in a city in terms of organic matter that you can haul back to where you live and you can turn it into mulches. Basically, different concoctions of organic matter.
So the kinds of things I was collecting around the neighbourhood were coffee grounds from the local coffee shop. We have a neighbour, a block away or so, has this very very large oak trees and in the fall, all those fallen leaves, I gather it up. We also, Seattle has a lot of trees and so people are doing pruning their trees and I would have the arborist drop off these free wood chips. So I’m mixing all this stuff up, I’m layering it 4 inches or so, sometimes 6 inches, on top of the planting beds and after a couple of years of doing this, Dave was watching and enlisting his help on certain things and at one point, we’re looking at the soil and he was like, “Hey look at this!” They’re starting to build up a nice, dark, new layer of hummus. And at that time he was working on another book called “Dirt”. In any event, some years passed and we thought,”Let’s write a book about the garden and about the potential for soil in particular to sequester carbon and that’s when Hidden Half of Nature started out but it was also at a time when the human microbiome. So what is the human microbiome? All of the micro organisms that are indigenous to the human body, meaning they’re supposed to be there. It’s bacteria and fungi and archea and even more. So a lot of research was coming out at that time on the human microbiome and how important micro organisms are to human health and Dave and I thought, it’s not just human health that all the micro organisms are important for. They’re extremely important as well for soil health. And when you start looking at soil health, you realise, “Oh, plant health is imminently related so soil health” and if you have a wild setting or an agricultural setting and you have animals, the cows, the chickens and the pigs, these animals, their health is also imminently related to the plant health, which is in turn related to the soil health, which is in turn related to the microbial communities. So that is where this book kind of started.
H: Yeah, that’s amazing. It started in the garden and then your exploration, that’s something that you mentioned. You wrote, it’s a well-known book called “Dirt: Version of Civilization” if I’m not mistaken. So while you were writing that book you were noticing these things that are in your garden.
So it’s one system. Even us, as sentient beings, don’t control it. There’s an unconscious overriding system that makes sure that all things work together. And I absolutely love this idea that, you know, I like to call her ‘Mother Nature’, ‘Mother Earth’, even though you know, that’s not very scientific, but I do like to call her that. And I do like to say ‘she’ but even James says in his book that — he wrote the first book and had a lot of slack and ended up writing a second book that was aimed for the scientific people. Cause his first book was a little bit more poetic and still explained a lot of science especially — there’s a couple of chapters there that, you know, especially the one about the stratosphere and all the science. That was quite scientific. But not science-y enough for some people so he wrote a second book, I think it’s called ‘The Age of Gaia’, and that went more into the science. He even said when he called Gaia ‘she’, it’s like when we build a boat, many different parts floated out in the water and christen it and we call it ‘she’. It was the same sentiment.
And the same thing, I call Mother Nature ‘she’ and it’s not this idea that there’s this woman that organizes it all but there’s this — even when I was studying quantum physics, Dr. Rupert Sheldrake wrote a book about morphic resonance, how animals in one area, if they figure something out, automatically animals around the world — the same animal, same species — suddenly works it out. Like, there was this famous scientific experiment of these Blue Jays, I think they were Blue Jays in England where in one area, they started to work out how to take the milk caps off the milk bottles. And almost instantly, all of this species could do it. It’s believed that there’s a morphic resonance, that information is spread across through this field, this frequency that allows all of the same species to have a collective intelligence, if that makes sense. And so I feel like Gaia has this collective thermostat to make sure that all systems run together.
James, specifically, was looking at the stratosphere and he was talking about how this carbon, and nitrogen, and methane, and all these different chemical gases that need to be particularly balanced and it’s actually quite amazing that it does. He talks about how the mangroves are a vital part of our atmosphere because there’s organisms in there that help transfer or transmute different gases to keep us in balance. And the more we get rid of mangroves, the more we’re actually going to destroy and create this unbalance. We’re changing things and not realizing that the whole thing is connected. And if we’re not careful, it’s either going to cause us extinction, the human race, and then it would balance itself out like we are disease or cancer. Or it will completely destroy ourselves and the planet.
I believe it’s the former, that if Gaia Theory is true, I feel that we are — you look at what’s happening here, we as a species, there’s sickness that’s going around, obesity, we’re out of balance. As a human race, it’s obvious we are not surviving in it or thriving on this planet right now. We’re sitting behind screens, we’re sedentary, we’re eating processed food that’s not even real food. Our human race is going into — and we’re killing ourselves off through disease. Yes, we’ve survived, we don’t really have issues of disease and famine as much as prior to hospitals and things. But where we’re now, we have the food and the technology to, you know, heal infections and things like that, we’ve gone out of balance in other ways.
This brings me to my second point. I’m always really passionate about the power of the mind, self-development, becoming the best version of yourself. And I’m studying sort of with self-coaching scholars at the life coach school, this concept of the primal and the prefrontal cortex brains. I’m going off on a little bit of a tangent here but I’m going to come back, circle back and you’ll see what I mean… So every human has what we call a primal brain and a prefrontal cortex. Now the primal brain is what some people call the ‘lizard brain’, it’s the brain that has three things as it’s sort of goal. It’s to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and do what’s most easy. These three things run the whole of the primal brain. And if you don’t follow that it tells you that it’s a matter of life or death. Back in the days when it was cavemen and we needed to go out the cave which was unsafe, we needed to get out and find some food, the seeking of pleasure. Cause we know from food we’d get this natural pleasure, this hit of dopamine through eating that it would encourage us to get out there and get food when it was dangerous. Otherwise we’d just end up staying in the cave.
Right now, in this world, if we’re being run by the primal brain, we are not having to go out, we’re ordering food in because it’s easier and safer, it’s much more efficient. We’re ordering food that’s processed, giving us too much of a dopamine hit, an unnatural amount of dopamine — our brain thinks it’s life or death over donut or chocolate. We’re sitting there, we’re seeking pleasure through watching Netflix and movies and all of those kind of things, we’re eating sugary processed food, and we’re sitting on our butts doing it, becoming sedentary.
So our primal brain is causing us to take the easy route, right? And I also mean this on a level of our global environmental decisions as well. If you can find a bin, people are just like, “oh well, I’ll just throw it” especially here in Indonesia where there hasn’t been much education on if you just throw a plastic bag of rubbish in the jungle, what actually happens? Their primal brain is like “What the easiest? Well just throw it over the fence” they don’t know.
Now, the prefrontal cortex. This is the difference between us and many animals around there. We have the ability to plan ahead. To try and succeed as a human. To have goals, to think about “Hang on, if I eat this donut, is it really life or death? No, it’s not. It’s just that I’m really addicted to sugar.” So you can have this almost outside experience of “I know this isn’t the right thing to do.” When you don’t understand that there’s these two brains, when your brain is saying “I need chocolate right now”, you have to. And you’re not understanding it’s just the 2 or 3 year old child brain. Because they’re the ones that don’t understand when you say “No, you can’t have that” they’re the ones that chuck tantrums and inside us, our primal brain is doing the same.
As a human race, we have the ability to really thrive on this planet. To help this Gaia theory to come back into balance. If we continue to remain in our primal brain, we’ll keep making immediate decisions that are causing damage because we’re avoiding pain, seeking pleasure, and taking the easiest route. Whereas if our prefrontal cortex, if you set yourself up for success, you can start towards a thriving situation.
Say, for example, you really know that you want to minimise your waste, right? But if you don’t go in and use the prefrontal cortex and go “You know what? I’m going to organize that I have recycling set up to catch up around here. I’m going to go in and organize so I have a recycling bin.” so that I know that my primal brain, in the moment, which can only think pretty much in the present moment, will do the right thing because I’ve already created easy options for it to throw recycling in the recycle bin.
The same goes for sustainable fashion, whole food eating, you have to require yourself to create some plans. Writing down, what is it over the next week, what’s the best way that I can eat so that I’m eating healthy, whole food, beautiful, delicious fruits and vegetables that are grown from regenerative agriculture. I know that for me to get myself set up for success, you need to go to the market and organize your food and then have that all planned. Because we know if it comes around to Monday and we haven’t organized everything, that first moment that you’re hungry, the primal brain is going to set in and you’re going to order processed food.
This is just one of the examples. I think of us on a global scale… Let’s look at mining rather than using regenerative energy, solar panels. Right now it’s easier, we know how to mine and use coal and oils and those things that we know we’re eating through our environmental savings bank. We can see that it’s going to get empty soon but we’re not doing anything about it because from a primal aspect it’s easier to do this way, you know? The hard way is to shift a planetary behavior to be a lot more regenerative and use sustainable methods. So this is where we need to become conscious of these decisions. “Am I doing this because it’s easier? And it gives me quick pleasure? Or am I doing this because I know that I need to align with thriving with nature?”
Next time you’re going about your way, you want to think about your own health, that’s the first way you can help Gaia. Because if you start to make that prefrontal cortex healthy decisions, either growing your own vegetables or supporting a regenerative agriculture farm or biodynamic farm, you are aligning yourself in the right direction.
The Gaia theory, I like to think that there is this big macro organism. I mean, it is hard to believe that there’s so many macro micro systems all aligning with each other and can just manage to stay the comfortable temperature that it has for us humans to exist. That there has to be some kind of regulation, a global overall macro regulation system that is balancing across the atmosphere, the molten lava in the center, the carbon balancing through the plants and ocean and atmosphere. But we need, for our survival, what’s the ironic thing for our long term survival, we need to get out of our survival brain, the primal brain, because it’s going to run us into extinction.
So next time you’re out there, look around your house, have you set yourself up for success from the prefrontal cortex or are you allowing your primal brain in that present moment to make decisions or try and use willpower to resist the primal brain. Whereas if you set yourself up for success using the prefrontal cortex, are you going to allow yourself to thrive on this planet and with this planet?
So that’s today’s ponderings, the Gaia Theory or Gaia Hypothesis, alongside our primal and prefrontal cortex. It’s something that I’ve woken up with this morning, and yeah, enjoy! I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to come over to ThrivingWithNature.com and add some comments. I love seeing your discussions there, it’s absolutely exciting to meet like minded people who — you don’t always have to agree — what I enjoy is like minded people having conversations about these kinds of topics.
So yeah, thank you so much for listening Thrivers! What an absolute honor it is to have you here. I’m really grateful for you all and I wish you a beautiful, happy, thriving day!