This post was my first to be published at activisionary, a new independent group focusing upon environmental writing within which I am volunteering as an environmental journalist. Take a look at their site and my first article here.
The automatic response to the posing of the above question may be one of disbelief for most of the activisionary readership. This is my first article for activisionary but I am not trying to raise my profile by trying to shock. I am raising a legitimate concern of many environmentalists that people are losing touch and losing faith with the natural world. Indeed nature, as most ‘environmentally engaged’ advocates will automatically exclaim, is exciting. Nature provides for such a diversity of living systems and organisms that we can only dream of creating ourselves within anthropogenic systems. Nature provides us with life, with death, with danger, with beauty, with awe and with opportunity. Most humans don’t struggle to use nature to their advantage and exploit natural systems to fit human methods and end goals. However, we are losing something precious. We are losing both our identity as being a part of nature and our affinity for understanding, respecting and enjoying natural systems for what they really are.
What do I mean by that and does nature really matter?
Philosophically and historically our identity as being a part of nature has been eroding, beginning with the advent of the industrial and then accelerating during the more recent electronic revolution. We have invented our own systems of living and working to such an extent that many of us see ourselves as being set apart from the natural world. Whenever someone walks along a road in a busy city they are still engaging with nature. Environments do not just involve green pastures or wooded valleys or wide open plains. Environments are everywhere and all have their own importance and beauty. By seeing ourselves as apart from the natural world we increasingly lose our knowledge base and understanding of how to interact with other species and ecosystems. Consequentially, we also lose our capacity to respect natural systems and beings in a way that used to be possible. I am not harking back to a romantic age where everybody lived within nature in some Atlantean utopia. There have always been people who engage directly with the natural world, some, including Thoreau and Emerson, taking this to a further level. There have also always been people who prefer comforts and to detach themselves from engaging directly with the ‘natural world’. However, what is for sure is that our world is becoming increasingly urbanized and increasingly comfortable in outlook. This matters because whether we like it or not we live in a natural system, governed by natural laws and we share this natural world with countless other species. It is vital that we remember that.
I have recently become a member of ‘the Wild Network’ – site available here – a collaboration of organisations committed to tackling the issues outlined above. Young people today have to all extents and purposes lost touch with nature more than any generation before. The idea behind ‘The Wild Network’ is to market nature as a product. They have created a documentary film on the subject, information of which can be found by visiting here. It has become a real responsibility to sell the idea of nature as an exciting place and idea in which to relax, to play, to learn, to explore, to educate and teach, to get lost and to find oneself, to love, cherish, touch, taste, smell and more than anything appreciate. It is our responsibility to keep people interested and excited about living systems and the natural world.
One facet of nature and environmental activity that I find stimulating is the capacity for the environment to engage people and bring communities together. The state of one’s local environment affects not only the tangible and visible aspects within a community but it can affect happiness levels, community engagement levels and interest in local biodiversity. By making nature exciting and marketing it’s future, we can help communities that are ‘lost’ to rebuild themselves and re-engage with each other.
One thing I have not done in this article is offered forth a strict definition of ‘nature’ or ‘the natural world’. I have done this purposefully because it is a word that has already been too much embroiled in various ‘green’ connotations. I want people to reflect on how they see nature in their own minds and in their own local environments. Nature is a concept as much as it is anything tangible, something to be reflected upon and relished in. Explore it for yourself and you will understand how exciting nature really is.