2015 is the United Nations International Year of Soils. It is a year to highlight and celebrate the fundamental role that soil plays in sustaining life on our planet and providing our food, fibre, fuel and much more. The International Year of Soils also presents an opportunity to focus on long-term solutions to the many challenges that soils face. In its natural form, soil teems with billions of living organisms, most invisible to the naked eye. It is full of life. The benefits soil brings us are humbling yet often go unnoticed. That may help explain the poor treatment it often receives. As a potent expression of the Earth element, soil represents life, regeneration and reconciliation. There is a lot we can learn from it, if we take the time.
Feng Shui (which translates as ‘Wind-Water’) is referred to as both an art and a science of ‘placement’. It has a long and complex history in China where it has been used to harness the living energy (ch’i) of the universe to benefit people’s lives. Yin Yang and the Five Elements/Phases (Earth, Water, Fire, Metal and Wood) are essential components of feng shui. By applying the principles of feng shui modern practitioners say it is possible to develop a healthy, happy, harmonious and prosperous lifestyle, achieve balance, and energise and enhance your life. Even your cat can benefit from the recently ‘discovered’ art of ‘Fang Shui’. Feng shui can be used to help clear the clutter in your house and learn about the future through the interpretation of heavenly bodies. It is no wonder that feng shui is a global phenomenon.
Goethe and I share the same birthday, albeit in different centuries. We also share an interest in science, art, literature, the natural world, communication and the elements. Best known as the author of Faust and other literary classics, Goethe also produced an extensive body of work on geology, botany, zoology, colour theory, physics and meteorology. The elements of earth, air, fire and water are woven through his efforts to read the book of nature and understand the human condition. Great thinkers and writers like Darwin, Alexander von Humboldt, Hermann von Helmholtz, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, Carl Jung and Rudolf Steiner were influenced by Goethe’s work. There is still much to be learnt from him today.
Since 2005, the last Sunday in September has been designated World Rivers Day. In 2015 it falls on September 27th, an occasion worth celebrating. Water is an element that is essential to life and rivers have a special place in cultures around the world. Called the arteries of our planet, they inspire creativity in all sorts of mediums. People love to paint, draw, photograph, film and worship them. Stories and songs about rivers and waterways abound. They are the source of parables, metaphors and lessons in life. What a wonderful day to share some of the river related material, both practical and philosophical, that has captured my attention as part of the elemental world.
‘Elemental ecology’ was coined in 1968 by Professor Bill Jackson, a Tasmanian academic. It was captured for prosperity in his scientific publication ‘Fire, air, water and earth – An elemental ecology of Tasmania.’ This time last year I was preparing a spoken paper for the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) conference that would revisit Bill’s concept. My first post on elemental ecology was written before the presentation, this one provides an update 12 months on.
Albert Einstein is the most famous Alumni of ETH Zurich, which is consistently ranked amongst the top Universities in the world. It is encouraging therefore that this illustrious institution ran a four semester course between Autumn 2012 and Spring 2014 on architecture and the elements – Earth, Water, Air and Fire. The Chair of the Department of Architecture, Professor Dr Josep Lluis Mateo, used this framework to examine how the elements connect the conceptual and physical in architecture. In doing so he wanted his students to think from the start about the structure and materials of the buildings they were designing.
Very few western scientists take the elements – earth, fire, water, air and space/spirit – seriously. David Suzuki is an exception.