Foto JohnJohn D Liu

First exposed to large-scale degraded ecosystems in the Loess Plateau in the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River in 1995, I became fascinated by how human history has altered physical landscapes. The loss of biodiversity, hydrological regulation, weather regulation, climate regulation, soil fertility and agricultural productivity had led to massive poverty and continuous ecological crisis. Over the years I have witnessed the steps the Chinese people have taken to restore this region’s ecology and have tried to understand the implications of what I have seen and documented.

Although not steeped in academia I began to be encouraged to follow a more formal study. I pursued part time graduate research at the University of Reading from 2008 to 2012 and continue to pursue my thesis now at the VU Amsterdam.  I have received various fellowships to continue this line of inquiry from various institutions including the University of the West of England (UWE), The Rothamsted Research Institution of the UK, IUCN NL, VU Amsterdam and now the new Nature Resilience Initiative.

Over the years I’ve learned a great deal about the biophysical aspects of natural ecological systems and about scientific methods of study. This has led to some findings that seem to be of urgent and immediate relevance for the future of humanity.  Namely, that it is possible to rehabilitate large-scale damaged ecosystem if you understand the basis of ecological function and value function over productivity.

In 2006, the British Government, World Bank and Global Environment Facility (GEF) supported me to travel to Africa to share my experiences in China with several governments and academic institutions there. This has led to a series of trips to Africa and large-scale restoration in certain parts of the continent and where this knowledge has been respected there has emerged a visible shift in understanding and developmental practice that seems to reverse the decline and poverty of the past and lead to sustainable outcomes.

Having seen and documented many of the most degraded ecosystems on Earth I began to research functional systems and have now studied and documented many pristine or near pristine systems in all parts of the world. This has led me to begin to see the “acupuncture” points on the Earth where dynamic equilibrium is either preserved or disrupted. This has also clearly shown flaws in economic valuation that have been compounded for generations.

My current thinking is moving in two directions. 

One is in specific techniques to physically restore large-scale ecosystems in many parts of the world and bringing all of these to bear in “Vocational Training Centers for Ecological Restoration” where large numbers of people can be trained in these technologies and techniques, as well as to experiment with consciously collaborative ecologically and socially sustainable lifestyles.

The second is in identifying and correcting the flaw in macro-economics which creates the perverse incentive to degrade the ecosystem and pits individuals, corporations and governments against each other for individual benefit at a time when we need to act together as a species for our mutual survival.

I admire what the Spring College is attempting and I’m keen to share my thoughts and documentation with all those who wish to do so. I hope to do collaborative study with you at the Spring College.

Documentaries by John D Liu

John taught on the Spring College courses Earth Hope and Soil, Soul, Society. Most of John’s documentaries are available online, via the website of his own organisation, Environmental Education Media Project. The documentary Green Gold, which was broadcast on VPRO Tegenlicht in 2012 can be found here.