Living a sustainable lifestyle is not only about protecting the environment - it is about understanding nature as well!
The move to live in a sustainable way has become more and more important in recent years and has become a necessary lifestyle choice for many people living in western countries, in order to protect the environment. As per its definition, a sustainable lifestyle aims to reduce not only one’s use of the Earth's natural resources, but also those of the society in general as well. However, to us, leading a sustainable lifestyle involves something far more. It is not only about reducing our impact on the environment, but also recognising that by being one with nature, we start to understand and respect its resources again.
In recent decades, we have changed into an “indoor generation". Research conducted as far back as in 2001 by the Environment Protection Agency revealed that Americans already spent 87% of their time indoors, plus another 6% in an enclosed vehicle. A two year study conducted by the UK government in 2016 revealed that more than one in nine children in England have not set foot in a park, forest, beach or any other natural environment for at least 12 months. It therefore doesn’t come as a surprise that in recent years a lot of us have lost our connection with nature. In an recent interview with BBC4 Caroline Lucas, who is a co-leader of the Green Party in the UK, claimed that because of this challenge two problems arise. Firstly, by not being with nature in childhood, children not are only at a increased and immediate risk of suffering of mental disorders, but also have a 55% higher risk of developing a mental disorder later in life. Secondly, children nowadays are not very well equipped to look after nature, because they do not have the necessary knowledge to do so. Another person who is passionate about this topic is Kristine Tompkins. She is an American conservationist, President and Cofounder of Tompkins Conservation, former CEO of Patagonia, Inc. and the newly designated UN Environment Patron of Protected Areas. She states that “you can’t protect a place unless you understand it. You can’t love it until you know it”.
But what can we do to change this? With the United Nations projecting that 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050, immediate action is necessary! We would like to highlight the latest trends to help people be more part of nature again.
One solution according to Caroline Lucas is to add natural science again to the national curriculum at school so that children learn and understand nature again. In this way children would be better equipped to protect nature as they know more about “natural practical skills”. Another option are social projects such as “Our Bright Future” which is a non profit organisation supported by the Wildlife Trust, which brings together the youth and environmental sectors. Each project by Our Bright Future is helping young people aged 11-24 gain vital skills and experience and improve their wellbeing. At the same time, they act as catalysts for delivering change for their local environment and community; whilst contributing to a greener economy.
There are also options to bring adults closer to nature again. Since 1982 forest bathing, also called “Shinrin-yoku”, has been introduced as a national health programme in Japan. Forest bathing has nothing to do with exercising in the forest, it is more about sitting or walking among trees to disconnect from our busy lives and technology overload. Basically learning to be quiet and to appreciate nature again. This is not only good for our physical health but also for our mental health as well and has the additional bonus of making the Japanese participants feel closer to nature.
A similar movement has started in Scotland, where since October 2018 doctors in Shetland can prescribe a walk in nature to their patients. It is the first programme of its kind in the United Kingdom. There is even a whole leaflet on this topic available which suggest wide ranging nature activities - from comparing two kinds of grass to cleaning up the beach. For every 90 minutes spent outside per day, there will be a decrease of activity in the part of your brain typically associated with depression.
We think that all above are interesting and applicable concepts. In our opinion it is indeed essential to involve children and adults more with nature, whether by going on the weekends to the outskirts of a city or letting your children join, for example, a Scouts/Guides team.
For more information in Scotland’s nature therapy: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/doctors-in-scotland-can-now-prescribe-nature
For more information on Our Bright Future: http://www.ourbrightfuture.co.uk/
For more information on forest bathing: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/aug/22/forest-bathing-california-shinrin-yoku-nature-therapy
For more information on Kristin Tompkins: https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/you-cant-protect-place-unless-you-understand-it-you-cant-love-it-until-you
For more information on Caroline Lucas thoughts: https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/caroline-lucas-green-party-conference-nature-mental-health-wildlife-a8570986.html
For more information on children spending less time outside: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/feb/10/concerns-raised-over-amount-of-children-not-engaging-with-nature