F ossil fuels, single-use plastics, food waste and deforestation are the usual suspects when discussing climate change. However, we frequently overlook a fundamental and devastating contributor to our environmental mess – Urbanites.
“One of the greatest causes of the ecological crisis is the state of personal alienation from nature in which many people live.” In 2008, Christopher Dye calculated that over 3.3 billion people – over half the planet – lived in urban areas. Approximately 75% of Europeans live in urban constituencies, whilst in the UK, the number rises to 90%. Within these areas, green spaces are often in insufficient supply and, as human populations continue to move into cities, there are concerns that we are becoming disconnected from nature and that this is affecting our well-being.
S o what exactly determines a connection with nature? The University of Essex describes a connection with nature as the ‘enjoyment of nature’, ‘sense of oneness’ and ‘sense of responsibility’ After speaking with London residents the consensus seems to be that nature is a luxury, that a connection to nature is something everyone wants, but too few have. In England alone, low-income urban communities are 10 times less likely to live in green areas compared to an affluent counterpart
Considering nature as a luxury is only one part of the problem, on the 7th of February 2010, a poll conducted for the BBC World Service found that almost four in five internet users around the world felt that access to the internet was a fundamental right. Yet over 50% of the global population has limited access to, and or, a “disintegrating connection with nature”. This is where the underlying environmental impact of urban culture resides, our society has become so disconnected from nature, that no one feels for or cares about it. In 2004, Mayer and Frantz stated that ‘if people feel connected to nature, then they will be less likely to harm it, for harming it, would in essence be harming their very self’. Without this connection, urbanites become emotionally uninvolved with anthropogenic impact and lack conviction with regard to reducing their environmental footprint. As stated by J R Miller ‘collective ignorance lead to collective indifference’.
W ith 90% of the population of England living in urban areas, it’s no wonder that this demographic cares little for matters regarding the environment. So, what could help them to reconnect and empathise with the natural world? In 1996 D.Sobel stated in his book ‘Beyond Ecophobia’ that ‘In rushing to teach them (children) about global issues and responsible activism, we neglect the fact that young children have a fascination with the immediate, and an undying curiosity that requires direct sensory experience rather than conceptual generalisation.’ In short, we should be primarily engaging our urban generations with nature; so that they may personally empathise with the problems it faces.
In 2010, the RSPB found that having a connection to nature is also linked to health and wellbeing. Children who disconnect from nature and stay indoors generally have a lower quality of life. For the health of both our urban communities and the planet, we must reconnect with nature.
So how can we combat this? Well, we can start by demonstrating the true value of human dependence on nature within our urban communities by teaching children the importance of maintaining our natural environment in the classroom to incentivising their future relationship with activities outside of school. In the words of Gavin Newsom, “You’ve got to change incentives for good behaviour as opposed to just disincentivizing bad behaviour.” Urban cultures need a personal, worthwhile reason to reconnect with nature’s value. Take London for example, it is 47% green space (27m^2per person), 33% of which is vegetated. There are numerous projects such as ‘A Green Kings Cross’ and the ‘London Wildlife Trust’ that operate all over the city with the aim of integrating urban culture with nature. However, due to the altruistic nature of these events, they become less desirable once the cold of winter sets in. Joe Bloggs would, understandably, rather spend their time indoors with a hot chocolate and a cosy blanket. But if we were able to engage communities with projects that expedited rewards and celebrated invested time, people would be able to personally appreciate the value of nature and begin to care.
W e are at the tipping point between an environmental breakthrough or collapse. We have the capability, resources and technology needed to combat our mistakes, we simply need a society that cares, and one ready to embrace change. Instead of exclusively educating the public on the abstract issues that impact our planet worldwide, we must also nurture people into engaging with their local environment. Through this interaction people may learn first hand, the value that nature brings to their lives.
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