Recent studies now confirm the 1950’s initiated a major change in society’s appreciation and connection to nature and its life-sustaining benefits. Life on Earth actually requires the elements only nature can provide. Numerous studies have documented the psychological and physical benefits of the natural world. Eighty percent of all living organisms could not survive without trees and forests, and people who are connected to nature are happier, feel more vital and have more meaning in their lives. Current studies found that hospital patients require less pain medication, show less fatigue and recover faster when they can view outdoor vegetation from their room. Yet, our appreciation for nature and the life-sustaining elements it provides, is becoming less important with each passing day. Sadly, our children today can identify more Pokémon characters than species of wildlife. Yes, much has changed with the increase in urbanization and advanced technology, including our modern-day advanced dependency on computer technology by young and old.
Since graduating from high school in the mid-1950’s, and I have observed major changes in society’s connection to nature over the past 70 years. I still remember when I was 10 years old, my best friend and I, skipped school to spent the day trying to capture an orphaned cub bear and the trouble we encountered when our parents finally found us that evening. Fortunately, we were unsuccessful. At 12 years old, I spent hours stalking squirrels and rabbits which my grandmother cooked for me. My uncle, who was only 4 years older than me, use to let me help run traplines for muskrats and sell the hides for one dollar a pellet. By 14, I had a business selling nightcrawlers for fishing bait and was learning to fly-fish for crappies and trout. Much of my time was spent enjoying nature. Realizing my connection to nature was what life was about back then, and is certainly why the natural world became my life’s focus. My career with the U.S. Forest Service, unfortunately, found me caught up in this National effort to focus on what we can extract from the forests rather than what the forests needed from humanity. 25 years later, little has changed in the management goals for our remaining forest covered lands! We still focus on a sustainable flow of products from the forest, instead of the required elements that sustain life which only our remaining forested lands can provide!
Retirement provided time to reflect on what I had experienced and observed. The picture wasn’t as pretty as I remembered, and it left me questioning and deeply concerned. With further study and analysis, it became apparent that our relationship with nature is being radically restructured by human advancements. Advanced technology is resulting in our world becoming increasingly divided between the natural and the unnatural. It is vital we rediscover our dependent connection to the natural world, if we desire to prolong human existence on Earth! We must remember that we co-evolved with nature and are just part of nature, which explains why we benefit health wise and psychologically from our interaction with nature.
As important as our connection to the natural world is, I have been troubled by the fact society has become so alienated from nature! It seems impossible that people are still ignoring the detrimental damage humanity has had on the natural world. We are alerted, almost daily, to the facts that our weather is changing, sea levels are rising, the world populations are expanding and the carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere is rapidly increasing. Recent data confirms that our interest and appreciation for nature is rapidly declining and the consequences are detrimental to life on Earth.
The trend to urbanization, which swallows up natural areas and removes people from their natural surroundings, is one of the dominate reasons for humanity’s disconnect from nature. We now have generations that cannot see beyond the local grocery store for the source of their food. We just experienced a massive winter storm that has taken at least 60 lives. It was a storm like we have not experienced in modern times. The frequency and severity of major storms, due to changing climatic conditions, has intensified worldwide, yet little is being done to find solutions to improve the issue.
The other major change, that has influenced humanity’s connection to nature, is the rapid advancements in technology. We have almost reached the point we believe we can substitute technology for nature! With our superior intelligence, we now think we are capable of creating an artificial nature with technology! We are so advanced, we can scrub the atmosphere of toxic gases, produce artificial oxygen, manufacture the world’s required supply of pure water, control our sea and ocean water levels, convert toxic waste into fertilizer and control the climatic changes we are currently experiencing. We have advanced beyond the abilities of our “Great Creator”.
There was a time when children played in open green fields and adults spend Sundays in natural surroundings enjoying the peace and tranquility. There is no question that a love for nature is often born from an exposure to nature as a child. The connection to nature is certainly a strong predictor of pro-environmental attitudes and behavior in adults.
Humanity’s advanced scientific minds will never create an artificial nature! Working with nature to restore the damage we have done to the natural world is the only solution available. This requires an in-depth knowledge of nature’s way. It means intensive management of the forest elements required to sustain life, rather than managing the resources from the forests. It won’t be easy, but if we had the intelligence to destroy, we certainly have the ability to help restore and re-build some of the natural world! Nature needs help, and being a part of nature, means it is our responsibility to assist.
The question is, how do we get the general population to accept the magnitude of the issue and become actively involved in finding realistic solutions to protect the natural world? Our current lack of concern for nature, is destroying the future of our own species. The truth is we can do much to prolong life on Earth, but it will require change. Our grand-children and future generations are depending upon us to find and implement major changes! Alienation must be replaced by concern, ignorance must be replaced by knowledge and facts, and complacency must be replaced by action. Environmental education and the science of forestry, must re-create the goals for managing our remaining forest covered lands!