George Monbiot writes: Pope Francis, a man with whom I disagree profoundly on matters such as equal marriage and contraception, reminds us that the living world provides not only material goods and tangible services, but is also essential to other aspects of our wellbeing. And you don’t have to believe in God to endorse that view.
In his beautiful book The Moth Snowstorm, Michael McCarthy suggests that a capacity to love the natural world, rather than merely to exist within it, might be a uniquely human trait. When we are close to nature, we sometimes find ourselves, as Christians put it, surprised by joy: “A happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.”
He believes we are wired to develop a rich emotional relationship with nature. A large body of research suggests that contact with the living world is essential to our psychological and physiological wellbeing. (A paper published this week, for example, claims that green spaces around city schools improve children’s mental performance.)
This does not mean that all people love nature; what it means, McCarthy proposes, is that there is a universal propensity to love it, which may be drowned out by the noise that assails our minds. As I’ve found while volunteering with the outdoor education charity Wide Horizons, this love can be provoked almost immediately, even among children who have never visited the countryside before. Nature, McCarthy argues, remains our home, “the true haven for our psyches”, and retains an astonishing capacity to bring peace to troubled minds.
Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect. It inspires belief; and this is essential to the lasting success of any movement. [Continue reading…]