Understanding the Challenges
Disconnection from Nature
In part, biodiversity-loss reflects our disconnection from nature. Modern urban lives have many comforts and conveniences, novelties and thrills, but it is becoming increasingly clear that these come at great cost. In one survey 73% of mothers worldwide said their children preferred to play outside, yet only 5% of mothers in China said their children explore nature often (i). If we do not feel that we are part of nature we do not feel any pain when we are playing a part in damaging nature.
- Playing and exploring nature is not only fun, it develops a sense of self and one's place in the world, and encourages creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development.(ii)
- Contact with soil also strengthens immunity to disease. People brought up isolated from nature are more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit disorder.(iii)
- As the pursuit of economic growth demands increasing productivity from dwindling resources, we often feel squeezed and pressured, leading to stress and illness. Reconnecting to nature is a valid solution.
It is not necessary for us to return to ‘primitive living’ to re-acquire this essential connectedness. We can do it by spending quiet, reflective time in nature; by growing some of our own food and nurturing soil; by watching birds, flowers and insects; by tuning in to natural sounds, scents and patterns and by simply communing with life. To calmly experience nature is to transcend anxieties and find happiness.
i. Singer, Dorothy, Singer, Jerome, D’Agostino, Heidi & DeLong, Raeka. 2009.
Children’s pastimes and play in 16 nations: Is free-play declining? American Journal of Play Winter 284-312.
ii. Kellert, Stephen R, 2005. Nature and childhood development.” In Building for Life: Designing and Understanding the Human-Nature Connection. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2005.
iii. Charles, Cheryl & Louv, Richard, 2009. Children’s Nature Deficit: What We Know – and Don’t Know.
Exploitation of Dwindling Resources
We are at a unique stage in history. After more than a century in which expanding fossil-fuel availability has opened up new worlds of technology and leisure for us, we have entered a new era of energy descent. We have passed the peak in the global supply of conventional crude oil and, based on current knowledge, there is no sustainable replacement for the huge volumes demanded now and in the future. It is well known now that two thirds of the fossil fuel stocks listed as assets in corporations and Governments must stay in the ground, unburned if we are to have any chance of keeping our commitments to limit the global temperature to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. The natural-gas, coal and uranium peaks will soon follow. Fracking is not the answer, as it is destructive and uneconomic.
We will need all our ingenuity to adapt to this new (yet age-old) constraint. We need to change not only how we fuel transport, heating and cooling, but how we nourish our soil and power our economy. Money was devised as a convenient way to pay for goods and services, especially human labour, but has become an end in itself. In the past century, oil and other fossil fuels have come to dominate the economy and to a great extent have replaced human labour, at least temporarily. This expanding economy has had social as well as environmental costs. Many rural communities have been whittled down in the name of ‘cost-effectiveness’ forcing people to move to the cities, while many poor farmers struggle for ownership over their land and resources. Our deliberate destruction of our climate and of nature is not at all economic as we are using up our irreplaceable assets and treating them as income.
New technology gives us new opportunities and will continue to develop, albeit increasingly constrained by resource-scarcity. But more fundamentally, the economies of the future must re-engage humans in creative work, both manual and mental. Energy descent requires us to greatly reduce consumption, re-integrate people into farming and forestry, put prudence and long-term thinking back into resource management and rebuild economies that work, primarily, at the bioregional scale.
i. Post-Carbon Institute Energy Bulletin: http://www.energybulletin.net/primer.php
ii. International Energy Agency, World Energy Outlook 2010: Presentation to the Press:
At the same time we face the vast, unprecedented challenge of climate change. Modern industrial society has caused a massive and rapid change in the composition of our atmosphere. This is raising global temperatures, expanding oceans, melting icecaps and glaciers, and altering seasonal weather patterns. The result is worsening drought and fire, flooding events, more frequent extreme-weather events, unpredictable crop yields and crop diseases, all of which lead to food insecurity. We are now perilously close to a series of tipping-points that could cause runaway climate change, when the ecosystems (like Arctic tundra and deep-seabeds) that store ‘greenhouse gases’ and those (like tropical forests) that remove them from the atmosphere are pushed out of long-term equilibrium.
We can only avoid these catastrophes, and the looming impacts of existing climate change (such as ocean acidification), by immediate and profound changes in how we live - by a great turning towards low-carbon living and ecological restoration.
Shrinking of Natural Habitats
In recent decades the Earth has been losing natural ecosystems, species and genetic diversity on a scale not seen since the great prehistoric mass-extinctions, and this is happening at a rapid pace. This loss is caused by many factors, including overharvesting of nature (especially trees and larger animals), urban expansion, pollution, erosion and sedimentation, the spread of commercial forestry, mining and agriculture, human recreational activities, climate change, invasive species and other habitat modifications. Biodiversity loss does not just mean losing the big, spectacular creatures, like tigers, gibbons and elephants that are often the first to disappear from the landscape. Today, much of the land has even lost its micro-diversity: the overlooked array of life in its soil. While such losses are sometimes rationalised as an unavoidable consequence of “development” they are really the opposite – the squandering of the natural capital on which our wellbeing depends.
While there will be trade-offs between conserving biodiversity and meeting immediate human needs, our first duty must be to ensure that ecosystems can function and continue to give us the wealth of services we need – the provisioning, regulating and cultural services. This means halting our depletion of nature, healing damaged landscapes, and reviving populations of endangered species. It also means restoring our reverence for the myriad life-forms, and the complex, inter-linked systems to which we belong. We must realise that we are nature and what we do to nature we do to ourselves. We must live our lives in harmony with nature.