How do you want to protect the nature that you are moving away from?

How can present and future younger generations want to empathize and protect a natural world threatened by human activity that is disappearing ever faster and these adults of tomorrow know less and less about it?

In other words: how can we feel connected to other creatures or environments if we have never met them?

IPBES reports document this decline of life and warn us: today 75% of the surface of continental ecosystems and 40% of oceans are severely degraded; one million species are threatened with extinction in the near future.

The diminishing experience of the non-human

In a highly acclaimed book published in 2005, Last Child in the Woods (translated into French under the title Free childhood), American journalist Richard Lowe noted that young people are increasingly moving away from natural spaces and outdoor activities.

“Our society teaches young people to avoid direct experience with nature. »

In 2015, a case that did not spare France, as the work highlighted, showed that 39% of children aged 3-10 never played outdoors during school days, and only 50% of children played outdoors every day for at least 2 school days. week. The phenomenon of “disengagement” with serious consequences (obesity, attention deficit disorders, etc.).

Both children and adults are spending less and less time outdoors.
Unsplash / Caroline HernandezCC BY

In his book, Richard Lowe chose to name this phenomenon because it is often used to describe everyday life in a process of accelerated artificialization: “nature deficit disorder.” This “disorder” is not a medical diagnosis, but a set of symptoms, clinical signs, and consequences of our modern societies’ tendency to increasingly isolate us in a sphere that eliminates, even “turns off,” the experience of the inhuman world. .

It should be remembered that this alienation applies to all age groups.

In a study published in December 2022, a group from the University of Leipzig realized this distance by calculating the distance that separates individuals from natural elements: according to their estimates, this distance has increased by 7% in the last two decades. Also, according to their calculations, individuals in the world will live an average of 10 km away from a natural area.

Sources of natural scarcity

Among the various reasons put forward to explain this disconnect, let us focus on three main reasons.

First, there is the phenomenon of land degradation, a central element of biodiversity loss. This process has reduced people’s experience of the natural world by the same amount as the population in France has grown 3.7 times faster since 1981.

With 80% of the French population now living in “urban units” (more or less large), we are increasingly cutting ourselves off from the natural and perhaps homeless world.

The loss and fragmentation of natural habitats is considered a major factor in the collapse of biodiversity.

Then comes the culture of fear: we “fear” and even abhor certain elements of nature.

Fear of night, wild animals, insects, touching grass, walking barefoot, walking alone. Fear of viscosity, humidity, the dead… At the same time, hatred of rain, cold, wind, any natural element beyond our control.

Read more: Stop Being Afraid of Spiders, They’re Fascinating…and Benevolent!

This repression associates the experience of “nature” with the feeling of “danger.” This fear, coupled with a sense of insecurity in urban areas, forces children to overprotect and prefer a “safe” interior to a “dangerous” exterior. In a survey made public in 2018 and conducted in more than a dozen countries in Europe and North America, it was called “closed generations”, literally spending their lives indoors.

Finally, we must mention the virtualization of the world: outside of work, we spend more than 4 hours a day in front of a screen, and the number of connected devices at home in OECD countries has increased fivefold between 2012 and 2022 (from 10 to 50). ).

This virtualization will promote sedentariness and help with many disorders related to our current lifestyle (cardiovascular diseases, obesity, type II diabetes, depression, anxiety and stress, mental fatigue, irritability and aggression, etc.).

A group of teenagers where everyone is on their cell phone
Smartphone, computer, tablet… Screens are everywhere now.

In complete environmental amnesia

Another phenomenon that explains and reinforces the disconnect: experts in ecopsychology, a discipline that analyzes the relationship between psychology and ecology, has identified it as “ecological generational amnesia,” which causes each new generation to consider the environment it grew up in.

Thus, there is a permanent change in the “reference” of the environment, which results in forgetting its previous state (due to lack of experience). Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht talks about “eco-agnosia” in his book “New Words for a New World”.

“With such limited experience in passing nature down to the next generation, each generation objectively accepts an impoverished nature as the norm. […], nature disappears and there is an exhaustion of experience. »

This philosophical, political and “economic” question arises in relation to the possible imaginings of a world in which it will be a matter of finding our place. After two centuries of profound transformation, where would the reference to a “natural” society be located?

This situation, unprecedented in the long history of mankind, calls us to deeply rethink the way we live, but more so the way we do our work in the world.

To create a world is to reconstruct the “diplomacy of interdependence” between living things, using the words of the philosopher Baptiste Morizot in his book. ways to live (2020). It is about ensuring mutual understanding and orderly sharing of the environment, away from the trappings of human domination and land appropriation. Creating a world also means taking an integral part of the fabric of life, which we will better defend as we know and love.

“Reconnection” tools to explore

Practical ecopsychology or biophilia workshops and courses all over France offer to revive these connections with living things and our feelings of interdependence.

There are also many guides to follow to reflect the majority and to imagine the paths this reconnection might take: let’s quote Baptiste Morizot again, but also the photographer Vincent Munier or the anthropologist Nastassja Martin; and on the “classics” side, of course, the poet and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, his work Walden or life in the forest (published in 1854) became the bible for environmentalists.

“Toro Bay”, a place in the middle of the forest in Massachusetts (USA). Walden built his house to live in nature for two years (black and white photo from 1908).
Detroit Publishing Co./Library of Congress

Some may be interested to see how other cultures—think Asian, American, or African spiritualities, for example—have developed a different, stimulating approach to dealing with the nonhuman.

It is hoped that these changes will be accessible to all ages, all environments (school, university, organization, collective, private, prison) and all social classes, especially by making natural cycles and processes more visible, opportunities for imagination and alternative lifestyles. location (such as school children or ZADs).

But also by experimenting with alternative ways of creating common products, such as production, consumption, collective knowledge and know-how sharing, a low-tech philosophy that encourages simple and sober innovation.

Yoan Svejcar, an independent researcher-practitioner in ecopsychology, co-authored this article.

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