I am often asked by reporters, friends and people I meet on our nature walks, “What is the greatest threat to our environment?”
I can tell they think they know exactly what I will say. At times they even try to answer for me. “Climate change right?” they cry out as they look to me to sadly agree. No, I say. “Ok habitat loss?” or “ It’s pollution right ?” “Plastic? Fracking??
Sill not agreeing with them they finally give up ask ok what then? My answer is the issue that scares me the most and is far worse than all those critical issues combined because, know unless we learn to somehow overcome and conquer it, in the long run nothing much else will matter.
If there is an issue that keeps me awake at night it is the seriousness of how many people are becoming disconnected from the natural world around them.
If the average person does not care about or even see the Robin on the front lawn or even glance at the hawk flying overhead how can we ever to expect to convince them to care about what happens to the future of our environment ?
Why would they even blink an eye about a bulldozer clearing a few acres of trees if they no longer feel that nature is important? Why care about climate change or vote for people that do care about the future if their connection to the natural world has been forgotten or at the very least ignored ?
There is more than enough blame to go around as to the causes for the disconnect. Urban sprawl has less nature for us to find close to home, technology occupies more and more of our free time, our educational system provides little or no time to keep our children interested in nature , and of course there is the big one, FEAR.
Our “fear,” or maybe just a serious lack of understanding of nature, is falsely creating more and more reasons to avoid a walk in the woods and meadows and close our doors and windows and just stay inside. The fears run the gamut from being attacked by a wild pack of coyotes to being hissed at by an angry goose or chased by an aggressive wild turkey as highlighted on the evening news.
From slipping in the mud to getting cold toe , their worries seem to have become extreme and now has limited their nature connection to a wilderness hike from their f ront door to the far off reaches of the driver’s side door of their SUV. Take precautions? Absolutely! But hiding inside is not my idea of living .
Ultimately as a result we continue to lose more and more natural areas. As the trees go to development, the fields to warehouses and the meadows to ratables we continue to lose our linking to nature. Our children have nowhere to walk through a forest or play in a pond, our seniors lose their places to rest and relax, and society losses a place to regain their souls. Study after study reveals evidence on how much healthier both mentally and physically a society is when they get to spend time communing with the natural world around them .
We will need to decide for ourselves if we no longer care to watch a Hummingbird sip nectar from a flower or see a Monarch Butterfly come to rest on a milkweed. Will we accept getting cold hands and feet to watch a Bald Eagle hunt for fish along the river banks or to see your first Snowy Owl perched silently on a meadow? The decision you make will affect all of us and the future of our natural world .
But there is hope and the solution is up to us all. Get outside and take a friend, a child, loved one, neighbor, whoever you can find on a walk in woods and meadows that we still have here in the Garden State. Conservation organizations cannot do it alone. We all must convey our respect and love of nature to all who will listen so that we all learn to care to be sure there will still be places that future generations of people and wildlife can survive and thrive.
Since humans first walked in a forest, felt the tall grasses brush their sides and looked for the answers to questions of the spirit in the wilderness we have known that we need to be in nature. We are part of it, it is part of us.
Wallace Stegner , writer and conservationist, once said, “Wildness can be a way of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.” Somehow, despite our long work days, family obligations and the stresses of life we all need to stay connected to nature in some way.
We need to realize that nature is real, it is happening just outside the door. So open it, go out and reconnect ! We are all depending on you .