Tallinn Botanic Garden


Broader understanding of plant consciousness could help mitigate climate change

Broader understanding of plant consciousness could help mitigate climate change


Plants have a highly developed intellect and they are showing signs of consciousness, and our understanding of it could bring about new, unexpected solutions to prevent the darker scenarios of climate change and mitigate our planet’s anthropogenic fever. This is the hypothesis to which Biotoopia is welcoming confirmations and objections in August. The hybrid conference and art event will introduce relevant breakthroughs in science and present a thematic art programme featuring over 10 artists.

The biosphere is a self-regulating system and a true hyperobject whose functional dynamics are mostly unclear to this day. However, statistical analyses show that out of the overall biomass composition of the biosphere, plants make up about 80%. To compare: humans comprise 0.01%. The proportion of plants in the biosphere shows the extent of their impact. We have a good understanding of the different roles of the plants with regard to maintaining life on earth, such as producing oxygen or absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere. However, when searching for solutions to the climate change of our own making, we usually talk about our technologies, leaving aside the only thing that can actually guarantee stability in the biosphere. For hundreds of millions of years, forests and the photosynthesising oceanic life have managed to keep oxygen and CO2 rather well balanced. The restoration of complete and species-rich ecosystems is our first assignment, next to reduction of greenhouse gases. As we get to know the plants’ self-regulation processes better, we might discover surprising solutions to our acute climate conundrum.

Today we already know that plants have a refined and analytical perception, a memory, ability to deliver calculated reactions to environmental changes, flexible communication codes and social connexions. In other words, they are showing signs of consciousness. Take a modest mimosa as an example, who closes its leaves when touched. During a scientific experiment, the mimosa showed the ability to quickly learn to assess real danger, and the ability to retain in memory the learnt signs of danger for quite a while. Or acacias, who in their symbiotic relationship with ants utilise different chemical compounds to influence the behaviour of the ants, making them more aggressive when needed, for instance. Indeed, the plants lack the organs of animals, such as a heart, brain, or a central nervous system, but that does not preclude them from remembering events, communicate with each other and other species and react to environmental changes purposefully.

The anthropocentric world view still insists that the absolute pinnacle of evolution can only be the human whose religion is progress and who directs and divides capital. This species is highly effective and has undoubtedly a highly evolved consciousness, and has until now lived at the expense of all other species, and this cannot go on any longer. If we want to change our living environment, we must radically change our attitude towards other life forms. Whether plants have a consciousness or not is reliant to a great extent on the question, what is consciousness. Today, science does not have a definite answer to that, but we can quite safely posit that different organisms can have very different conditions and characteristics of being conscious. That is, our own human consciousness may not be the best or only measure of consciousness. Which other measures could there be and how we could relate to them, is what Biotoopia is trying to discover.