Stefano Mancuso (Catanzaro, 56 years old) has always been fascinated by modest mimosa (also known as no-me-touches or popsicles) that plant that, when touched, bends and closes and somehow communicates with you, although today his favorite tree is the orange tree, which he considers “beautiful ”, and the Japanese walnut tree, a unique tree in the world, with no living relatives. A passionate botanist and researcher, Mancuso is one of the stars of plant-related science communication and the greatest defender of their intelligence. He is a plant neurobiologist and his more than 250 articles and five essays have so shaken the scientific foundations in this regard that even people start talking about a neuroscience for plants, the true center of life on Earth. “Plants represent 85.5% of our planet’s biomass. Animals, only 0.3%. It is urgent for the human being to stop being at the center.” The scientist and professor at the University of Florence does not believe that there is a future on Earth that does not involve staying out of the way. In your last book, The Nation of Plants (Editora Pergaminho, 2020), fantasizes about the possibility of one of them taking the floor at the United Nations General Assembly.
Question. And what would she have to tell us?
Reply. Without a doubt, the first thing he would say to us is, “What the hell are you guys doing?” I wouldn’t understand anything. And also: “you are behaving like the stupidest species that has ever set foot on the planet.” And nothing happens because the world’s temperature increases one degree, two or three? What happens to us when we go from 36.5 degrees to 39.5 degrees? Don’t we get sick? Because that’s how the planet is. We are behaving like a virus. Human beings are the most primitive virus on the planet. She would also tell us that we need to be aware. Accountability. And perhaps also that the problem is that we are too young.
A. The human being is a very young species. We’ve only been on Earth for 300,000 years. We think we are very smart because we write Don Quixote and why we can debate topics like this. But is this a demonstration of intelligence? We think we are better than other species. And when is someone better? When you have a goal and reach it. And what is the purpose of life? To live! The average life span of any species on planet Earth is five million years. And it’s unthinkable that we’ll even live another 10,000 years. Isn’t that amazing?
P. Is there no way to stop this? You talk about cities that look like forests, would that be the solution?
A. There could be. But, first of all, we have to protect the Amazon rainforest. Consider it a world heritage site, because it really is. And pay for it together. So that not another tree was cut down. We will not do as in Europe. It was a huge forest and today there are no trees left. In two centuries, we’ve slaughtered them all. And the worst thing is that architects continue to believe that ideal cities, and I say this ironically, are nothing more than cement. Do you know how 2020 will be remembered? Not because of the pandemic, but because it was the year that human beings produced more synthetic material than life. Everything is speeding up. We keep creating cities as if we were in the Neolithic. It made sense then, now it’s crazy.
P. What do you mean?
A. In the Neolithic, they fenced off a territory to keep it away from the dangers of nature. Wild animals, of course. Today, when these dangers no longer exist, we do the same. Between 70% and 80% of the world’s population lives in cities built on the margins of nature, hardly allowing them to enter, as it was then. And that only represents 2% of the Earth’s space, that is, we live crowded together. They consume 80% of available resources. And it seems that architects don’t want to hear about anything that undermines their idea of the city. Because I’m not referring to tree-lined avenues or parks, I mean that plants should be everywhere, inside and outside homes.
P. Inside the houses too?
A. Of course! Everywhere! It is not true that at night they take the air. Anyone who sleeps next to you gets 100 times more! And everything they provide is advantageous. In Norway they did an experiment. For two years, one of the classrooms in a school was filled with plants. And the behavior and even the grades of that class, which was almost indomitable, were analyzed and compared with that of another in which there was no plant. In the room with plants, grades were 30% higher, students had become 45% less sick, and socialization was much better: there was no bullying andamong students! If we had plants in schools, the bulying tocabaret, it is very likely.
P. And what do you think of world politics about it?
A. It’s a disaster. They do a lot of domes. Domes of all kinds. But everything is pure theater. It’s hypocrisy. In a year, China produced as much cement as the United States in a century. But it’s not about blaming China. Because China is producing for the whole world. Europe washes its hands, says it is reducing the levels of everything, but it does so because it orders its things to be manufactured abroad, without realizing that we are on the same planet. Isn’t that stupid and hypocritical?
P. The human being does not have the cooperative intelligence of plants. Was the pandemic useless then?
A. No. Maybe people have gained a little awareness. But in two years no one will remember anything. The only thing that distinguishes us from other animals is our brains. It’s bigger. And we believe that makes us better. But as a species we are in diapers. We are like babies. If you give a baby a hammer, it’s likely to destroy everything you find. When the baby grows up, he will find that the hammer is also for building. That’s what happens to our brain right now. We are not using it as we should.
P. In other words, it’s a matter of time.
A. Yeah, but we’re killing him.
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