This is a hose all of us can (and must) hold
(This post supplements chapters 6 and 12 of Connect with Nature) Australia’s latest State of the Environment Report was released recently. The message of the report is as clear as it is alarming. The already calamitous environmental degradation in Australia is continuing. The loss of biodiversity, ecosystems and species is happening worldwide, but Australia is among the countries leading the way.
The Report is yet another call for action in a world where so much needs to be done to improve the human condition and to safeguard the wellbeing and future of humanity. With urgent action required on many fronts (climate change, the COVID pandemic, rising cost of living, housing insecurity, poverty and homelessness, to name a few), it is very easy for us, as individuals, to feel overwhelmed and impotent. The temptation to opt out under these conditions is compelling. When we feel that there is nothing we can do, doing nothing appears to be the only option.
But where rescuing the natural environment is concerned, there are things we CAN do, both as individuals and together; we CAN ‘hold a hose’ (Dear overseas reader, this metaphor references an infamous excuse given by a former Australian Prime Minister for not being on hand in a bushfire crisis.)
One of the most vital and important things we can do is to nurture our own connection with nature and to help others do the same. The more we engage with nature the more likely we are to value it and to look after it.
You have more than my word on this. This statement is from the Royal Society, one of the world’s foremost scientific bodies:
‘Spending more time in nature can help improve our relationship with it and attach greater value to the habitats around us. Educating children about wildlife and local ecosystems can help to make our connection to the natural world clearer and bring about long-term behavioural changes in future generations.’
The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity agrees, proposing indeed that facilitating people’s connection with nature is an environmental care and protection strategy that could be rolled out across communities large and small.
The power of the strategy lies in its potential to cultivate what I call, in my book, ‘Connect with Nature’, an ‘environmental conscience’. An environmental conscience values nature for itself, for its intrinsic worth. It obliges us to accept that all life forms have a right to exist and to flourish. It reinforces our innate disposition to love, appreciate and be inspired by nature rather than the inclination to exploit, dominate and even shun it. An environmental conscience makes protecting the planet a deeply personal matter, something we expect of ourselves. It is our moral ‘muscle’ as far as nature is concerned.
An environmental conscience also promotes a mind-set that takes full account of the rights and needs of nature. Such a mind-set consistently assesses proposed actions in terms of their likely environmental impact. Imagine how nature would benefit if decision-making at every level of society were to be based on such an assessment. Apart from increasing the pro-environment behaviour of individuals, it would strengthen community support for environmental protection initiatives launched by governments and corporations. A government-run recycling program, for example, is likely to be more successful in a community where most people are already motivated to get on board.
The mind-set would also reframe government and corporate policy and practices, making them far less vulnerable to opinionated ignorance, ideology, economic self-interest and the distorting (and sometimes corrupting) influence of money and power. It would make possible the broad consensus and co-operation that are needed if action to save planet Earth is to have any chance of success.
A second vital thing we can do to save the environment is to heed the warning that it is not possible to sustain perpetual economic growth in a biosphere with finite natural resources and a limited capacity to absorb waste. Humanity is currently living well beyond its environmental means. An average individual human life today devours the resources of 1.6 Earths. The figure is much higher for those of us fortunate enough to live in economically developed societies. To discover simply and quickly how much higher it is and your own environmental footprint, click on this link.
In everyday terms, acting on the warning means doing such things as:
- buying fewer products and making sure the products we do buy are environmentally friendly
- maximising household energy efficiency and the use of green energy
- purchasing locally produced goods
- re-using and re-cycling
- reducing waste practices in relation to food, clothes, electrical appliances, etc
- minimising the use of non-recyclable plastics
- investing in environmentally friendly enterprises
- supporting political action committed to protecting the natural environment
- supporting financially and otherwise institutions and organisation that promote environmental wellbeing
- participating in, or otherwise supporting local and regional environment protection groups
- featuring care of the environment in family conversations, daily lifestyles and recreational activities
By themselves, cultivating environmental consciences across communities and doing all we can to be responsible stewards of the Earth’s resources are not going to solve the planet’s environmental problems or secure humanity’s future. The problems are far too urgent and complex for that to be possible. But both strategies need to be integral parts of the endeavour.