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These days it seems that there are billions of things fighting for your attention at all times, from latest news headlines to trendy new TikTok dances, and it can be pretty overwhelming. The average person spends about 7 hours a day on screens, and new studies have shown that the attention span of the average person has dropped to 8.25 seconds, which is officially shorter than that of a Goldfish! We’ve seen an increase is anxiety, depression, and division throughout numerous aspects of our society over the past few years, which can make it easy to lose touch with the bigger picture of the world we live in, and perhaps putting down our phones and re-establishing that connection is just the very thing we all need.
Back to the Basics
Since the beginning of time, numerous cultures all around the world have been indulging and connecting to the outdoors as part of their very way of life. A great example of this has been made popular in recent times, the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, also known colloquially as ‘forest bathing’. It involves spending time outside in a forest to clear your mind, allowing the sounds, smells and colors of the natural world to bask over you, and studies have shown its effectiveness and improving mood. It may all sound a bit ‘woo woo’ or ‘hippie’, but there’s actually a lot of powerful truth hidden here in practices like this!
As much as our egos like to tell us differently, us humans are still just a bunch of wild animals, and our role in the environments in which we live is crucial to not only the health of everything else that lives in them, but our very own. Our eyes, for example, have evolved to see more hues and shades of green than any other color, meaning that we’re able to pick out nuances in terrain and vegetation incredibly well - we’ve evolved to be amongst the forests, jungles, grasslands, etc. Being immersed in green has a calming effect on our minds, slowing our heart rate and reducing anxiety, which is why having indoor plants can help you feel more grounded and at ease in your home or office. Access to daylight in office buildings or windows with views of greenspace has been shown to dramatically increase productivity, mood, and camaraderie within the office, while new programs experimenting with implementing tree cover in urban areas have seen increases in neighborhood friendliness and connection, with a substantial reduction in crime. It doesn’t take an expert scientist to see the connection between our animal mind and how it’s influenced by the health of the world around us!
Biodiversity Involves You
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If we can expand on this idea just a bit further to look beyond the plants and trees that surround us, we can come to a greater understanding of life on this planet and our role amongst it. Sure, trees and plants need water and sunlight to survive, but that’s not all - they require a host of different microbes in the soil to break down nutrients, pollinators to fertilize them and mix up their gene pool, and primary consumers or animals to eat their fruit and spread their seeds around. Trees breathe in CO2 to create the food we eat and the air we breathe, and when we breathe out it we do the same for them - we’re all intricately connected in a push and pull of our very existence that inherently depends on the other. The few pieces of life that we can see with our eyes are just the tip of the iceberg of all that exists out there, and the roles of these unseen heroes are pivotal in big ecological systems such as the carbon, nitrogen and water cycles. Without them, life on this planet would cease to exist entirely.
This is quite possibly the biggest reason why the concept of ‘biodiversity’ is such a big deal, because the health and quality of life on this planet quite literally depends on the quantity of life on this planet. Species richness means that when changes take place, there are enough individuals to adapt, evolve and procreate to survive so that these larger cycles can continue to function to the benefit of others. Species diversity means that when an opportunity for one species ceases to exist, there is another species who can function in that niche, to step in and fill that role, to adapt and grow. Collectively, this biodiversity requires enough individuals of any species to have a wide range of genetic diversity so that the population as a whole can adapt to those changes as they happen, and as we’re all aware, we’re currently facing quite a bit of change these days. In an era of climate change, it’s so important that we maintain this diversity of life so that Life, in the grand sense, can adapt and survive - humans included.
In order to understand where we need to go, we first need to look at where we’ve come from, and I’m sorry, but here comes the mildly uncomfortable part where I talk about the influence of humans on these cycles, and the broader impacts of those actions on our planet…bear with me!
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Reconnect With Your Roots
Over the past few hundred years, or since the agricultural revolution, collective consciousness within western society united by multiple different mindsets has looked upon the natural world as ‘outside’ that of the human world. Us humans built walls and fences to keep nature out, built entire industries destroying ecosystems in pursuit of resources that better the human experience while neglecting other life, and told stories that reinforced a mentality of fear, dominance and control of that deemed ‘wild’. Much of this mentality continues today in the way that our societies operate, and the way that we even think or talk about the concept of ‘nature’. We’ve built roadways, buildings, and technology from unnatural materials that will never break down and return to the earth, that disrupt those cycles, and we’ve done it using an energy source that has succeeded in altering the chemical composition of our atmosphere to a point that influences the very global systems we depend on to live. Yet just because we come from a dark past, doesn’t mean that we can’t have a bright future!
Faced with a threat as existential and looming as climate change, we’ve all been forced to step back and reevaluate our role within our world, these systems, and amongst other life, and within that lies incredible opportunity for truly compassionate and constructive progress. Maybe instead of thinking of ourselves as ‘other’ then nature, we can finally recognize that we are truly a part of it, and thus we can change our mentality and behavior to act in ways that allows for all life to flourish.
As easy as it is to tune out and get sucked into the digital world of unnatural materials, commodities and trends, perhaps the single biggest thing we can do for positive change is to put down our devices and step into the natural world once again. To immerse ourselves in those green spaces, to feel the connection to the air you breathe in tandem with the trees, and recognise that our very survival depends on the survival of everything else. We are but one tiny sliver of all life on this planet, and if we have the power to potentially destroy it all, then together we have the power to create a world in which we can all thrive.