Updated: Oct 21, 2020
With a presidential election only weeks away and a global pandemic in full swing, it is to be
expected that we are seeing more and more information about environmental issues in the news. The continued existence of humans on this planet should be a topic of discussion in every home across this great land. At the risk of sounding like "Debbie Downer," I am not convinced that we can save ourselves. It's more a matter of how much time do we have left? Can we slow down the process of destruction? And can we be healthy, happy, and whole in life despite the looming environmental crisis?
Like every other plant and animal, humans are part of the natural ecosystems in which we live. Over time as we’ve become more "civilized" we have created barriers between ourselves and our natural environment. We literally grew out of the earth and away from it. We act as if we no longer need the natural resources that allowed us to evolve and thrive as we do today. Most of us are living in an artificial world full of manufactured foods, plastics, chemicals, and concrete. Let's not forget the made-up and intangible worlds of economy, internet, entertainment, and politics. How much time do modern humans spend performing simple tasks such as building and tending to fires, finding water, hunting for and gathering food, and building/maintaining our homes from what nature has provided?
When I go for nature walks, I feel so much gratitude for the experiences in my life that have allowed me to see the inter-dependence. I knew as a young child that the forest was my true home and it’s where I went for comfort when I was angry or sad. It’s where I went to dream. It’s where I went just to be safe and to forget about all the things I wanted but couldn’t have. Not much has changed. After recently moving back to my hometown and revisiting those same forests, I’ve realized how much is at stake if we lose our wildness. Let’s face it, we’ve already lost much of the natural world. Are we really going to use up our resources, keep trashing the planet, and die off ourselves?
It was my plan to dump a lot of depressing statistics on you at this point in the article. I am not going to do that. Instead, I will offer some easy-to-read indicators and conclude with some links for you to check out at the end of the blog post. You're welcome! :-)
Since prehistory, humans have killed off so many animal species that it would take an
estimated 3 to 7 million years of evolution for them to develop an equivalent amount of diversity again. Due to climate change, habitat loss, and an odd, but deadly fungus at least a third of amphibians now face extinction. Insects are disappearing at an alarming rate, even deep in the few old-growth forests that remain. Meanwhile, in the oceans, coral reefs are dying too quickly to be recovered. Did you know that half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef have died since 2016? It seems we are headed toward a biological decline, not unlike those that have happened five other times in Earth's past -- those we refer to as "great mass extinctions."
Let's just suffice it to say that there is no time left. We have gone past what is reversible. Now we are here. So...how are we going to deal with the situation??
Some are suggesting rewilding. Rewilding was first academically defined in 1998 by American conservation biologists Michael Soulé and Reed Noss. According to Soulé and Noss, "rewilding is comprehensive, often large-scale, conservation effort focused on restoring sustainable biodiversity and ecosystem health by protecting core wild/wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and highly interactive species (keystone species). The shorthand definition of Rewilding is the "3 C's"--conservation of Cores, Corridors, and Carnivores. The ultimate goal of rewilding efforts is to mitigate the species extinction crisis and restore a healthy and sustainable ecosystem function in areas that require little or no human intervention or management."
This will take money, time, and effort. Will governments support the effort? Highly unlikely.
So what are we, as concerned citizens with a laissez-faire government to do? No one is mandating the changes we need and for legitimate reasons. Changing our lifestyles to the degree necessary to reverse just SOME of the damage would mean major sacrifice and lifestyle changes for most of Earth's human inhabitants. It would also likely mean the collapse of society and economies worldwide. Life as we know it would have to drastically change, and we all know how people fear change. How I wish I had answers!
As a young college student studying biology and ecology, I was optimistic. I graduated with my zoology degree, and despite knowing that I was likely to make very little money as an environmental educator that's the direction I took. I was passionate and I wanted to teach children and adults about the natural world. I was sure that if I could show them the magic, the mystery, the beauty, and the miracles of nature they too would love it as I did, and be inspired to take care of it.
That didn't happen. The school trips and visits to wild places were frightening for most inner-city kids and were treated as a mini-vacation from schoolwork by the rest. After only 6 years in the field, and having turned down a couple of "dream jobs" because they simply didn't pay the rent, I gave up. Society doesn't value environmental education. Disheartened, I ventured off in another direction.
Now, all these years later I ask myself easier questions. How can I plant seeds? I'm not talking about tree seeds. I'm talking about mental seeds, subconscious seeds that may sprout up later as environmental awareness? Isn't repetition the key to getting people to notice or create a new habit? That's what I've heard.
Will we live and die in ignorance and denial, or will we realize that nature is essential to our wellness? Spread the word. It's true.
With human life's trajectory already aimed and launched, and knowing that we can't rewind time to reverse the damage, how are we to cope? How do we "rewild" ourselves?
Spend time in nature. Spend time in nature, and spend MORE time in nature.
Enjoy what we DO have left. The more time you spend in nature exploring it and learning about your fellow earthlings the more reverence for it you will find. You will find inspiration in the smallest things, fullness in your heart, and peace in your mind. In the words of Van Gogh, "If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere." This is how I'm choosing to live, and you can, too.
How are we to fit in all this leisure time with nature? With a little creativity and effort, one finds many ways...
8 Ways to Commune With Nature (even in the city!)
Stand on the earth (not concrete, but the earth) and feel her beneath your feet. Begin to imagine her as your first and most primal Mother. Feel her under you, feel her as part of you. Feel her gravitational pull holding you close and be grateful for her embrace. You are at home. You belong here.
Look up at the sky. When I've lived in urban areas, I have even laid on the ground so that my view of the sky would be unobstructed. Breathe deeply and just notice what you see. Are there clouds? The same sky looks different from day today. Let your mind drift for a while.
You are nature. Your being here is miraculous! Listen to and feel your breath moving in and out of your body. The air you are drawing in and letting out is the same air that every other plant and animal also respires. The connections within the web of life are many. Breath is an easy reminder.
Become friends with a tree in your yard or neighborhood. Each time you walk by it, say a silent greeting. Sometimes I don't care who hears and I say it aloud! Explore your new friend with all of your senses. Observe its shape, ponder how the tree might describe its life story, responding to changing conditions as it grew. Explore its textures, smells, colors, the sounds it makes when it comes into a relationship with the wind. Breathe with your tree. Tell it your secrets. Tell it your woes, ask for advice. Offer something back-- your thanks, a song, a poem. Touch your tree. Feel it and know that your touch and presence is also felt. When you visit the same tree repeatedly, you notice many subtleties and details you may have otherwise overlooked. If you visit often you may notice how it changes with the seasons...or not. Fascinating!
Take a walk outdoors for exercise. This one seems obvious, but some of us need reminders.
When you dine out, go to restaurants with outdoor seating. Turn your face to the sun and feel its warmth. Recognize the grandeur of our solar system.
Grow house plants. Yes, I know...most are artificially bred and not exactly like their wild cousins, but they are still part of the natural world. There is much to be learned about how the adaptations of each species allowed it to survive in its natural habitat. Have you ever over-watered a succulent or cactus? Then you've learned something about nature! If you can master indoor gardening, I guarantee you will take much pride in your accomplishment and find great affection for each of your "babies."
Diffuse essential oils in your home, light an essential oil candle or fill your room with the fragrant delight of an aromatherapy mist. Tree of India's Forest Therapy Synergy Blend is my favorite for this. Research is showing repeatedly that breathing the phytochemicals emitted by trees is good for our health in myriad ways. Don't take my word for it, check out the research for yourself.
Studies have shown that our mental health, our physical health, and our immunity are all dependent on our connection and closeness to the natural world. We simply cannot live apart from the Earth (not for long!) I'm going to keep saying it like a parrot. I will shout it from the rooftops. I will say it until I'm blue in the face. STAY CONNECTED TO NATURE!
It matters, you guys!
As promised, I will close with some links to articles, statistics, and studies about the present condition of the Earth at human hands. I'm not trying to scare anyone, but if you are unaware of our present reality it's time to look at the facts and decide how you're going to carry on. We should all be watching. After all, we are all in this together whether or not you are in denial and don't change the facts.
Jessica Lohrey is a lifelong naturalist, yogini, and aromatherapist. Jessica spends as much time as possible in wild places and brings her love for nature and spirituality into the offerings at Tree of India. Learn more about Jessica's offerings.