My last night in New Zealand, Sarah, friend and ex-pat American exchange student, asked me a simple question: “What is wrong with kids who have been taught to save the panda or polar bear yet do not receive an outdoor education?”
To put this into context, we’d been discussing the trade-offs of Nature Deficit Disorder versus the Environmental Awareness bestowed upon this emerging generation by its parents. Is the best scenario a generation of urban dwellers who are kept apart from nature and mystified by the charismatic macrofauna that adorn Envirokidz cereal boxes enough to conserve their habitat? Shouldn’t conserving the land for top-tier organisms and ecosystem engineers protect the pristine nature we have left through ecological trickledown economics? Doesn’t making technologies like the low-flow toilet and the Prius trendy spread eco-awareness through social pressure?
—Ok, I’ll admit that it was more than a simple question. Though that night I fumbled to retort her argument, her words got me thinking. And now, sitting in the San Diego suburbs, a single county with nearly as many people as the entirety of the NZed, I’ve come up with an answer much more sophisticated than, “I agree with the benefits the previous generation fought for, but appreciating nature is recognizing the little things that remind us how we are a part of it.”
Nature is beautiful, awesome, and bizarre. It is often powerful and moving. But nature is also human. We are a part of it on both a macroscopic and microscopic level and until all of human nature recognizes this fact, we’ll continue to force our dominion upon it.
Don’t children inspire their parents to reconsider the magic of the landscape? Studies in Berkeley show that the parents of children who interact with the urban streams are more active and engaged in their protection (cite).
Aren’t scientists on the forefront of ecological monitoring beginning to recognize the impact that pharmaceutical urine is having on our fish, frogs and bugs? These are both examples of person-level nature having a sizeable impact, regardless of urban or rural living. Awareness is the first step towards understanding. To break off a piece of Lovelock’s Gaia, the world lives and breathes. Its mystical mechanisms maintain homeostasis, and the planet adapts to stay fit just like our body fights off the common cold. Are we that cold? Or, are we part of what’s sustaining equilibrium? There is no doubt that indigenous peoples modified their environment to promoted a homosapian-centric ecosystem but bioregional traditional ecological knowledge kept distinct systems diverse while disease kept populations in check.
If this has always been the case, why stop now that the reach of a single person has never been farther? Where, while wearing a cotton shirt made by a factory worker in Pakistan, drinking tea sourced from China, and working on a computer whose parts were diasporically produced in East Asian, I am touching every corner of the globe simultaneously? Hasn’t the time for adapting the human experiment never been more urgent? Doesn’t Gaia’s new technological cerebrum, continuously evolving and consistently improving efficiency with every bandwidth upgrade, provide the best tool for amalgamating our global experience into a new iteration of the same game? Are any of us truly outside of nature’s magic, or have we simply forgotten how to keep up?
These ideas are the essence of Alnus & Frankia. Named after an iconic symbiotic relationship between a fast-growing tree and a nutrient-giving bacteria, and through this story of my environmental education (and not just the natural one) in California and New Zealand we will also examine the human ecology of planet Earth.
Humanity. Ecology. Synergy.