This blog series is about the root causes of environmental degradation. Here in part 2, I will discuss human disconnection from nature.
Disconnection from nature is something that almost everyone can either relate to, or observe in others. How many people do you know that have never gone camping? Who, in your life, values their connection to technology or money over their connection to nature? How many people do you know that grow their own food? When was the last time you went to a place far away from other humans and their structures, just to listen and be? Fewer people immerse themselves in a natural environment of one form or another than in the past. Moreover, we are seeing people city or suburb-bound who are missing a piece in their life puzzle: time or space dedicated to immersing themselves in the natural world. This is so significant simply because this allows us to remember our human place in nature, and how we are all very closely connected to it.
Understanding the significance of our connection to the environment is critical. Humans are inextricably linked to the environment, since we as living beings are derived from it. We thus necessarily affect each other. Nature impacts us in every way, just as our actions impact all other beings, both living and inanimate. We, as members of the world’s ecosystems in which we live, are constantly dependent on the environment from weather to natural resources. Likewise, we affect nature through our actions and how we interact with and use it. Apart from our material needs, nature also impacts our spiritual well-being. Nature is sacred and priceless; it cannot be bought out or commodified, because it is valuable in its essence. Still, humans do just that, and thus create a system in which the land is abstracted and separated from ourselves.
There are many examples throughout history where western culture has become gradually disconnected from the land. One of the more recent developments is how we produce our food. Richard Louv’s “The Last Child in the Woods” explores the historical point when humans grew closer to machines and further away from nature with the severance of food origins and dwindling farm life. He describes this exodus as the start of a chain reaction leading to what we see today-- and he is not alone in his observations.
Aldo Leopold writes in “A Sand County Almanac” about how the human population started leaving farms, forests, and small rural areas, and thus lost direct connection to the land. He found that in order for humans to treat the natural world with the love and respect that it needs, they must stay connected to it. That is, they must know and understand it. This is essential because, as stated by Erazim Kohák in “The Embers in the Stars,” humans “live their lives in and as their bodies whose rhythm is integrated with the rhythm of nature.” Since our severance from the land, humans have forgotten this rhythm. When we began using machinery to farm the land, that strong human connection to the earth in the form of growing food was lost.
Of course, feeding an overpopulated and hungry world is complicated, and it is simply preposterous to suggest that we cut out machinery (although we can change it…) and regress to the subsistence strategies used thousands of years ago-- but this is not the point I am trying to make. The real issue at hand is that this is just one of the many disconnections we have experienced since the industrial revolution. Losing the land connection prohibits a necessary understanding, knowledge and respect for nature.
The topic of this discourse is the human disconnection from nature, causing anthropogenically initiated environmental issues. However, an understanding of the impacts that such a disunion has on us is essential to addressing this problem. Understanding this is imperative because by negatively affecting the individual, disconnection is creating a positive feedback loop-- a downward spiral of sorts in which humans will only further disconnect themselves from the environment. Our alienation from nature is detrimental to every aspect of being: spiritually, mentally and physically; it impacts human individuals on every level.
One of the most observable impacts that disconnection has on us is Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). Nature Deficit Disorder is a phenomenon coined and articulated by Richard Louv, described as the result of his “three frontiers.” This “disorder” is not a medical diagnosis, but rather a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. These costs or “symptoms” include diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, depression, and physical and mental illness. This disorder stems from rapidly growing technology (encouraging indoor activities), disconnection from food and where it comes from (also a result of improved technology), and many other instances resulting in the overall theme of disunion with nature.
Nature Deficit Disorder is more than just a “disorder;” it is one symptom of a much broader disease that has plagued the human psyche for years (those pesky roots again-- changes in how we grow food was just one of them!). Although the “disorder” is the result of an overall societal disease, NDD as described by Louv impacts children. This alone is a sign that this phenomena is the product of changing societal tendencies, which directly influence children in their developmental stages: a time when they are most influenced by the actions and values of their mentors and guardians. Therefore, there is no easy fix; no medication, no pill. The solution, just like the problem, is deeply embedded in our culture.
NDD can easily be blamed on technology, yet there are subtle aspects to consider when playing the blame game. Technology has the capability to foster wonderful advancements that improve the world and human life. Using this post’s example, farming technology has undoubtedly improved our ability to feed ourselves. However, these very technologies have pulled us away from the environment from which we came from. There are legitimate problems that people are experiencing (like NDD), and it is evident that it can be traced back to our reactions to these technologies, not the advancements themselves. By becoming dependent and using them in place of real experiences, we are no longer using them as the tools they were intended to be. Technology can so easily be abused, and it is essential that we use it, engineer it, and grow with it-- but always be conscious of it.
Moreover, be conscious of your connection to the environment. All problems have roots, and the first root to the environmental dilemma is man’s disconnection from nature. It has only caused more suffering for us in the form of NDD, among many other impacts to ourselves and the environment. What is the remedy? Well, there are deeper roots yet to explore, and much to be done to address them. In attempt to make change without overwhelming any single person, focusing on one’s individual’s improved connection may be a collective cure. Every person has the power to make lifestyle choices, and even the simplest of actions can make a difference. Invest your time, energy and focus on connecting to the land. Do research, ask questions, and decide for yourself where true value lies.
If you feel anxious, depressed, uneasy, stressed, or unhappy, go outside. Even if you feel fine, go anyways. Go play in the woods, go walk down a trail. Go find a place where you are inclined to hold your breath out of fear of disturbing the silence. Reflect on this-- see for yourself the impact of rediscovering that connection.
Leopold, Aldo, Charles Walsh Schwartz, and Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac. London, Etc.: Oxford UP, 1968.
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2005.
Kohák, Erazim V. The Embers and the Stars: A Philosophical Inquiry into the Moral Sense of Nature. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1984