Lago agrio, Ecuador

We’ll (Only) Protect What We Love…?

Nature. The environment. The outdoors. When there isn’t a catastrophe to remind us of its powers, when we don’t encounter majestic animals or landscapes that remind us of its beauty, it’s often just a background. It seems static, given, a rough outside for us to extract wealth from and make our lives easier, at a remove. Lacking in understanding about our dependence on ecological functioning, and even lacking in simple care about the places we live in and with, it seems obvious that love is the answer.

Get people outdoors and to an appreciation of all the pleasure and beauty that is a natural landscape, and how could they not develop a relationship with it? How could they not want to fight for these beautiful places as much as we do? It all seems so obvious and logical. Unfortunately, things are not that easy.

In fact, the problems are manifold.

Lago agrio, Ecuador
Oil pollution in Ecuador. Travel there uses the same oil; at home in comfort, the same. Despoilt landscape not worth it? Unspoiled surroundings worth it? But what about the people, indigenous or otherwise, living there? … Image from Julien Gomba, Flickr

Many a love for the outdoors proves itself in travel to far-away “unspoiled” landscapes, contributing to their destruction and perhaps, in lifting only the extraordinary wild landscape to the paragon of nature, making it all the easier to forget about all the other landscapes we live in, which are heavily changed and would be in need of restoration to ecological functioning. But, they just aren’t the loved nature, and like a family member having gone off the deep end, they are shunned in fear they’d throw a bad light on us all.

Arguing for a love of nature to be the ‘natural’ solution to apathy also misses the diversity of human likes, and the diversity of relationships between us and nature.

Apparently, all people would profit from being in green surroundings, even if they don’t think they would. Still, even that may mean a quiet walk only to some, but an exhilarating mountain bike downhill or a leisurely parkway drive to others – and still others may not see the appeal at all. It may actually be a good thing, too, for if everyone suddenly started to love nature and had to get to the next wilderness to express that love, everything would probably end up looking like Central Park on a nice Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, even the greatest nature lover may not realize the impact of things that just are the way they are and are just done in certain ways, but aren’t seen as being related to nature. How many nature lovers would, simply out of their love for nature, consider the overall impact of the trips and travels they undertake, the food they eat, and even the money they give as donations? These are all things that are at a remove and that don’t seem negative but simply normal and even necessary. Thus, they are not easy to change and not easily affected by a love for nature or any other “green”/”environmentalist” attitude.

Much of this, however, may be based on the same understanding of love that is perhaps at the root of today’s increase in the breakup of marriages: It is a  love that wants the object of its attachment and the connection itself to remain static and always just show the beautiful sides which one has found in it (rightly or thanks to rose-tinted glasses). It cannot, however, handle the dynamics of the relationship, the will and changeability of the ‘partner’, and the need to grow together.

Community Garden
Urban – “unnatural”? – community garden. Nature that’s also needed.

The love for nature we could use is one that is an active loving and care, understanding that this is a partnership where the other side sometimes needs to be left to its own devices, sometimes can be enjoyed, and always needs to be cared about. Not just, however, like a treasured object polished and put on display, but like a partner brought into our lives and cared for in the ways we make a life.

‘In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.’ – Baba Dioum, Senegalese poet and environmentalist

Start, for example, by reducing how much you consume and how much impact you have therewith (and look for long-term savings by buying less, but also look for better quality to gain further advantages). If you have a yard, don’t drown it in lawn fertilizer and pesticide but make it more species-rich and, if you can and want to, more useful by planting wild flowers, herbs or vegetables. Do learn to enjoy the outdoors (and do your health and fitness a favor) by going for walks or runs – and start where you are to see how and what nature surrounds you, us, always and everywhere. And if there is none, don’t flee, but co-create.


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