What is ecofluency? Definition and examples
what ecofluency means: defined by Dr Saskia von Diest in 2019 as “the ability to fluidly […] converse with more-than-human nature using the expanded spectrum of human sensory awareness”, ecofluency is a way of thinking about the natural world, one which builds upon the existing concept of ecoliteracy.
Coined in the 1990s, ecoliteracy, “the ability to understand the natural systems that make life on earth possible”, can be seen as being constrained by its formulation of engagement with nature as a one-way path to a static body of knowledge. By contrast, ecofluency – a hybrid word combining ‘eco’ from the Greek for ‘house’ or ‘habitation’, oikos, and ‘fluency’ from fluentem, the Latin for ‘free-flowing’ or ‘relaxed’ – proposes a more participatory relationship to, dialogue with, and understanding of the “interconnected ecological systems” which govern our planet.
On Ecofluency.org – an organization von Diest founded which provides consultation, teaching, and facilitation in nature communication – she states that adopting this thinking necessitates an alteration to our understanding of ‘nature’, reconceptualizing it from “a background for human activity and food growing, to an animate web of inter-related organisms”. As such, this mindset requires that learnt obstacles to ecofluency must be dismantled.
Von Diest therefore further describes ecofluency as not only a science, but also an art and as a “magic[al form of] […] communication with Nature […] help[ing] us to share with and listen deeply to animals, plants, insects, microbes, rocks, rivers, planets, and any aspect of other-than-human Nature”.
Who is Dr Saskia von Diest?
Von Diest holds a PhD in Plant Pathology and a joint postdoctoral research fellowship with the South African Stellenbosch University and Coventry University in the UK. She has presented on intuitive farming at conferences, been published in scientific journals, written for farming magazines, and facilitated workshops. Her twin passions are: to develop ecofluency so that it can help to inform holistic decision-making in relation to growing food and for personal development, and to “creat[e] opportunities for others to have their own experience of communicating with non-human Nature”.
Her experience includes 14 years teaching and facilitating across various countries, and 12 years’ communicating with animals, insects, and plants, under Anna Breytenbach, a supposedly telepathic “animal communicator”.
How can ecofluency be used?
In the three-day workshop Ecofluency for Holistic Decisions, run by von Diest for the Organisation for Noetic Ecology, she proposes ways in which ecofluency can enable decisions around, for example, home-grown food or choices of pet food which maintain harmony with the natural world.
It has also been suggested that ecofluent engagement with nature may help to cultivate “a conservation ethic that supports pro-environmental behaviour”; ultimately, this could perhaps prompt transformations in our food systems.
In her thesis, ‘Could Biodynamics Help Bridge the Gap in Developing Farmer Intuition?’, von Diest draws on the work of Austrian occultist, social reformer, and claimed clairvoyant Rudolf Steiner (1861–1925) as a way to “develop[…] intuitive communication with nature […], and the necessary evolution of the human-nature relationship”. Biodynamics, itself originally developed by Steiner, was one of the first organic farming movements, but also integrates pseudo-sciences such as sowing and planting according to an astrological calendar and the use of ‘sympathetic magic’ (“magic based on the assumption that a person or thing can be supernaturally affected through […] an object representing it”) – for example, “burying ground quartz stuffed into the horn of a cow […] to harvest ‘cosmic forces in the soil’”.
Von Diest also suggests that ecofluency can have applications in relation to “building a home, understanding the behaviour of wild, domesticated and even microbial beings, and deepening relationships with landscapes”.
Whether one takes all of von Diest’s claims around her notion of ecofluent “nature communication” literally, or considers her broader project “‘woo woo’ or ‘new age’”, it is inarguable that a more respectful attitude to the natural world would be enormously beneficial to our beleaguered planet were it more widely adopted.
Admittedly, a reciprocal, nature-centered mindset is already inherent to numerous extant Indigenous populations across the globe. Mallory Jang (Wet’suwet’en First Nation), quoted by Indigenous-led NGO and non-profit organization Cultural Survival, characterizes many Indigenous Nations as “believ[ing] that humans are part of Nature, that the two are equal and interdependent […] with Indigenous people having responsibilities and duties toward Nature to ensure their mutual survival”. Similarly, Enrique Salmón (Rarámuri [Tarahumara]), head of the American Indian Studies Program at California State University–East Bay, considers that “Indigenous people view both themselves and nature as part of an extended ecological family that shares ancestry and origins”, and that “the interactions that result from this ‘kincentric ecology’ enhance and preserve the ecosystem”. What is this system of coexistence if not ‘ecofluent’?
Lands and territories where Indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC) act as custodians “cover at least 32% of the planet’s terrestrial surface and the majority (91%) are considered to be in good or fair ecological condition today”, as a result of generations of sustainable living and the “safeguard[ing of] many of the world’s remaining natural landscapes”. Therefore, any program which can respectfully draw upon Indigenous practices and custodianship should be embraced.
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