Abha and Sanjeev Singh are a well-off couple living with all the luxuries and comfort. Still, there is a feeling of something amiss. And with June 5 being celebrated as World Environment Day, they can now put a finger on it. It’s Nature they have unconsciously distanced themselves from.
This is a common complaint among people living in big cities and small towns these days.
“In the mad rush of development, we have been damaging nature and living away from it. There is nothing in our life to connect us with nature. This is the curse of modern living,” Singh, a resident of Patna, said.
It is apt, then, that the theme of this year’s Word Environment Day – being hosted by Canada – is to reconnect with nature.
At a time when the rising mercury has badly hit normal life, added with increasing air pollution and fear of climate change, people are worried. This has provided an opportunity for people to rethink and explore the relationship between humans and nature, and understand the invaluable support nature lends to human well-being and prosperity, Sunita Ranabhat, an expert on ecosystem at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) said.
“Human survival depends on nature, and its appreciation and recognition should concern us all. Direct communion with nature strengthens our sense of being connected to nature, which is why this year’s theme urges us to experience nature first hand. It implores us to make an effort to understand nature and make it a point to involve ourselves in activities that are built around natural elements for today and tomorrow.” she said.
Ranabhat suggests that people, who have been forced to live away from nature, could do something as simple as maintaining a small garden in the balcony or keeping a potted plant on office desks.
“We need to change our habits. We need to stop polluting and degrading natural resources and need to commit to restoring and enhancing them. We need to set priorities and utilize renewable resources.”
She added that we need to spend time with nature and make it a point to take time out to connect with it. Perhaps some weekends can be spent exploring nearby parks, mountains and forests. Besides, we need to inculcate an appreciation of the natural world in our children.
Families can do something outdoors together, if only once every week. “Regional cooperation is of utmost importance. We need regional-level collaboration to conserve, manage, and utilize nature sustainably at the larger landscape level, and maintain harmony between humanity and nature.”
According to Ranabhat’s latest research paper, humans are inherently connected to nature and have been dependent on it and its functions for millennia.
“The history of human existence and civilization is intertwined with nature. Humans cannot thrive without nature and its benefits. Nature and its elements are integrated into the daily lives of people. The goods and services that nature provides – ecosystem services – contribute to human prosperity and wellbeing in countless ways. Human dependency on nature is not limited to subsistence. Economic and social development, and the cultural, emotional, and aesthetic aspects of our lives are dependent on and closely connected to nature.”
She said the role of nature in society has changed with changes in societal needs. “With industrialization, urbanization, and economic development, humans have distanced themselves from nature. Humans have long been taking nature for granted and ruthlessly exploiting it.”
According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Report (2005), approximately 60 per cent of the ecosystem services nature provides are being degraded or used unsustainably. Similarly, pollutants such as untreated sewage, chemical and pesticides, and injurious smoke are released into water, soil and air. These have disastrous impacts on nature and ultimately, human beings.
“Human reliance on nature is a reality. Human dependency on nature grows with economic growth. Demand for ecosystem services – hydroelectricity and (eco) tourism, for example – is on the rise. We need to value nature and recognize that we need to build a relationship of interdependence between nature and ourselves,” she said.
Ranabhat said the fact that people are connected to nature is an undeniable fact. This is evident especially in mountainous regions. Mountains, symbols of nature, provide a vast array of ecosystem goods and services to one-fifth of the world’s human population.
A factsheet published by the United Nations in 2011, the International Year of Forests, states that the livelihoods of more than 1.6 billion people depend on forests, and that forests are home to 300 million people around the world.
Forests supply human communities with materials necessary for household and commercial use. In developing countries, forests contribute 20-40 per cent to an average household’s annual income.
Imran Khan / IANS