Why is it that humans get so upset by the sight of a zoo animal entrapped in a small concrete pen, and yet fail to see the parallel in their own lives? Being trapped in a concrete urban jungle, breathing toxic fumes while driving on a tangle of highways, spending hours each day in an office high rise – it’s pretty much the same thing. We humans are animals, too, and desperately need contact with the natural world, but we forget this.
One might argue that zoo animals don’t know any differently, so it doesn’t matter; but then one could say the same thing for humans. When we live in urban settings with minimal contact with nature, we also lose sight of how rewarding it is to interact with the natural world. We forget how magnificent trees are, how clean the air can be, how fascinating wild animals are, and what a stress-reliever the countryside can be.
Surely we are living in the most nature-deprived time in history. A new survey from Britain found that seven out of 10 people say they’re losing touch with nature. One third said they couldn’t identify an oak tree, while three-quarters don’t know a hawthorn tree. Thirteen percent say they haven’t set foot in a rural area for two years. When it comes to wildlife,
“Thirty-three percent of those questioned could not identify a barn owl while 66 percent couldn’t recognise a turtle dove. Both these farmland birds are in decline with turtle doves being one of the UK’s fastest declining species after populations have fallen by 96 percent since 1970.”
Perhaps most distressing was hearing 33 percent of parents say they don’t know enough about wildlife to pass on knowledge to their children. This is profound and heartbreaking because, once that sort of casual, everyday knowledge about one’s surroundings is lost, it is difficult to recover. Nor does it bode well for the future of conservation. Having a personal relationship with flora and fauna is what motivates a person to want to protect it; it’s difficult to get excited about preserving something that one does not understand or love.
Deborah Orr, a columnist for The Guardian, believes this national nature disconnect comes from the same place as the gambling and alcohol addictions that currently plague the British population. She writes:
“Humans have intervened so decisively in the processes that create life on Earth that we are increasingly aware only of our own interventions, and not of the vast ecosystems that make them possible… It’s hard to resist the idea that people are losing their place in the world, in a profound sense. Alienation from nature makes it [easier] for nature to be destroyed, on the planet or in a single human body.”
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we continue to be sustained by natural systems – and not to understand those is just as disrespectful as it is foolish.
Nature holds countless benefits for us humans, including many cures for the ailments of modern society. Behavioral disorders improve when time is spent in nature. Nature gives opportunities for frustrated teens to prove themselves and build self-esteem. It offers relaxation to stressed-out adults and entertainment for energetic little ones. It boosts morale, wards off depression, cures brain fog, and lowers blood pressure.
Allowing ourselves the time to venture into the great outdoors – no, insisting on it and making the time for it – should be a top priority, especially when it involves children, who must love the planet if we want them to fight for it someday.
Check out the original story on TreeHugger.com here.