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Our connection to nature is in our DNA


Our connection to nature runs deep within our bodies and souls – we are tied to this planet and are part of the great system.

Here in North America, many of us have forgotten this. Our culture doesn’t value connection to nature as we once did.




A study observing pop cultural references to nature over the past 50 years found that across millions of fiction books, thousands of songs, and hundreds of thousands of movie and documentary storylines, a clear and consistent trend emerged: Themes of nature play a significantly less major part in popular culture today than they did in the first half of the 20th century, with a steady decline after the 1950s.

What happened in the 50’s? Screens.

The 1950s saw the rapid rise of television as the most popular medium of entertainment. Video games first appeared in the 1970s and have since been a popular pastime, while the Internet takes up a significant portion of our time (6 hours and 42 minutes a day, on average). Classic paintings and stories from our grandparents demonstrate a time when children played in open fields and adults spent their Sunday afternoons in nature. Now, A British study showed that kids know more about Pokémon characters than the names of trees growing in their area. There are less and less cultural references to nature - we think about it less and less.

These findings are cause for concern, not only because we lose the immense physical and psychological benefits from engagement with nature, but also because we are losing out on curiosity, respect, and concern for the natural world.


“Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature,” “among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.” Without that connection to nature, people lose interest in protecting it and fail to see how connected it is to our lives — our food sources, our climate, our quality of life.”
– Richard Louv

It’s messing with us.


Research is increasingly finding links between contact with nature (or green spaces) and human physical and mental health. Living in cities with little green space is associated with increased levels of mental illness, particularly anxiety disorders and depression. Similarly, living in an area which is continually exposed high levels of noise can be associated with a wide range of adverse impacts on health, quality of life and well-being. Those who live near green space are 24% more likely to be physically active than those who do not. By 2050, 66% of the world’s population is projected to live in cities. According to a study sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency, the average American spends 93% of his or her time indoors.



Having access to green space can improve the quality of life for many people.

Most notably, the work of Frances Kuo and her colleagues finds that in poorer neighbourhoods of Chicago people who live near green spaces—lawns, parks, trees—show reductions in ADHD symptoms and greater calm, as well as a stronger sense of connection to neighbours and less violence in their neighbourhoods. A later analysis supported the notion that green spaces tend to have less crime. All of these findings raise the intriguing possibility that experiencing nature even in brief doses leads to more kind and altruistic behavior. In Japan, the practice of forest bathing or “Shirin yoku” is prescribed for anything and everything, and time spent outside has been shown in some studies to support immune function, decrease stress, and lower blood pressure.

This really shouldn’t be a revelation. Our connection to nature is right there in our DNA. In the book Your Brain On Nature, authors Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan, explain that biophilia, defined in early 20th century medical dictionaries as the instinct for self-preservation or the instinctual drive to stay alive, was in the 1980s redefined by Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson as “innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms…having the potential to influence the matters that mental health care providers concern themselves with: cognitions and behaviours.”

Translation: our connection to nature runs deep.

Make nature time a priority in your life. If you’re like me and live in a city apartment, add some greenery, take a walk, be with nature. This doesn’t need to look like anything. Just go outside and simply be.



References

Bertram, C and Rehdanz, K (2014) The role of urban green space for human well-being Kiel Working Paper, no. 1911

Bratman, G N, Gregory, N, Hamilton, J P, Hahn, K S, Daily, G C, and Gross, J J (2015) Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation PNAS 1510459112 CABE Space (2010)

Chen-Hsuan Cheng, J, and Monroe, M C (2012) Connection to Nature: children’s affective attitude toward nature. Environment and Behavior 44(1): 31-49

Clayton, S (2003) Environmental identity: a conceptual and operational definition. In Clayton, S and Opotow, C (eds), Identity and the natural environment: The psychological significance of nature (pp. 45-65) Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Fuller, R A, Irvine, K N, Devine-Wright, P, Warren, P H, and Gaston, K J (2007) Psychological benefits of green space increase with biodiversity Biol. Lett. 3, 390-394

Goddard, M A, Dougill, A J, and Benton, T G (2010) Scaling up from gardens: biodiversity conservation in urban environments

Keniger, L E, Gaston, K J, Irvine, K N and Fuller, R A, (2013)

What are the benefits of interacting with Nature?

Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 10, 913-935 London: Sustainable Development Commission (2011), Sowing the Seeds: Reconnecting London’s Children with Nature. Retrieved 18/04/2017 from http://www.londonsdc.org/documents/Sowing%20the%20Seeds%20-%20Full%20 Report.pdf

Louv, R (2005) Last Child in the Woods: saving our children from nature deficit disorder Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books

Lederbogen, F, Kirsch, P, Haddad, L, Streit, L, Tost, H, Schuch, P, Wuest, S, Pruessner, J C, Rietschel, M, Deuschle, M, and Meyer-Lindenberg, A (2001) City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans Nature 474(7352), 498–501

Maas, J, Verheij, R A, de Vries, S, Spreeuwenbe, P, Schellevis, F G, and Groenewegen, P P (2009) Morbidity is related to a green living environment J. Epidemiol. Community Health 63, 967–973

Novacek, M (2008) Engaging the public in biodiversity issues. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 105 (1) p11571-11578

Miller, J R (2005) Biodiversity conservation and the extinction of experience Trends Ecol. Evol. 20, 430-434

Peen, J, Schoevers, R A, Beekman, A T, and Dekker, J (2010) The current status of urban-rural differences in psychiatric disorders Acta Psychiatr. Scand. 121(2), 84–93 Plymouth

Sandifer, P A, Sutton-Grier, A E, and Ward, B P (2015) Exploring connections among nature, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human health and wellbeing: Opportunities to enhance health and biodiversity conservation Ecosystem Services 12, 1–15

P.W. Schultz (2002) Inclusion with Nature: The Psychology Of Human-Nature Relations. In Schmuck, P & Schultz, P W (eds), Psychology of sustainable development (pp.61-78) Dordrecht: The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers

Shanahan, D F, Lin, B B, Bush, R, Gaston, K J, Dean, J H, Barber, E, and Fuller, R A (2015)Toward improved public health outcomes from urban nature. Am. J. Public Health 105, 470-477

White M P, Alcock I, Wheeler, B W, and Depledge, M H (2013) Would you be happier living in a greener urban area? A fixed-effects analysis of panel data Psychol. Sci. 24(6), 920-928

World Health Organisation (1948) Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organisation as adopted by the International Health Conference in 1948 New York, 19-22 June 1946, and entered into force on 7 April 1948

World Health Organisation (2014) Global Status Report on non-communicable diseases Available from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/148114/1/9789241564854_eng.pdf?ua=1

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