In an intense time of debates and protests on climate change and the trash crisis, efforts to combat it, and growing awareness of its existence it seems that the heart of the message, the entire reason why climate change is bad or even what the result of it will be, isn’t fully understood. If you hop onto Instagram or Facebook you’ll see a barrage of posts and comments talking about how the Earth is being killed, murdered, destroyed, whatever. This is simply untrue and, in fact, isn’t even possible. Now, some of you may be people who post these things so before you start furiously typing down below, let me explain. Firstly, the Earth cannot be killed. It’s just a large ball of rocks; it’s not alive. Okay, so maybe this isn’t what is meant by “The Earth is dying.” Maybe what’s meant is all of the life on the planet is dying because of us and that if we keep going we’re going to kill it all off. This is probably what most people are meaning. However, this is also not entirely true. Are humans eliminating rainforests? The coral reefs? Melting the ice caps? Yes, yes, and yes. But those aren’t the worst parts of climate change! One of the actual worst parts is that we will go first. Before all plant and animal species die off due to our actions, we will. Any other life on the planet at that point will make a swift recovery and quickly forget of our existence. It will be okay. So instead let’s focus on the real problems: First, as I mentioned above, we are killing ourselves. Secondly, we are molding an environment detrimental to mental health.
While people may not understand that we aren’t killing the earth, the message that we are killing ourselves has become pretty widely spread through those who are aware of the problem and want to help it. Unfortunately, however, the message hasn’t gotten through well enough to the mainstream quite yet. This is part of the reason I criticize the talking point of “We’re killing the Earth”; because it takes away from the real point that could get people to realize they need to change. If we focused on this issue and made sure that, if anything, this is the one message or fact people hear about climate change things would start to change faster. Do some of the oil companies not care? Sure. Do some people in those same companies and politicians they have in their pockets outright deny it’s existence? Yep. But a lot of consumers would care, especially those with children and those young enough to have to see and live the consequences if we continue how we are. And what’s another word for consumers in most cases? Voters. We the people have the power to change who is in charge of our government by our vote and who is sitting on top of the market by our dollar. Aside from untrue talking points, the other results of our actions are terrible to be sure such as causing species to go extinct and changing every ecosystem but I think talking about the direst of them will catch more people’s attention and concern even if they don’t know if they believe in it.
Now that we’ve saved ourselves from extinction though who’s to stop businessmen and governments from destroying rainforests, using single-use plastics, polluting the oceans, and “developing” other areas of revered natural lands? How about an argument that destroying nature is pernicious to mental health? As has been established, we are currently causing irrevisable changes to nature: the trash crisis, oil drilling, and land “development” on beautiful and previously untouched areas, oil spills in the ocean, the destruction of forests and other natural habitats to get resources and the list goes on. In addition to this, there is a current project called solar geoengineering which is essentially blocking out clear skies with artificial chemical clouds aimed at helping combat climate change which might be starting soon. That means no blue skies and no star gazing. So how does the destruction of every good thing that existed before we got here have to do with mental health? It turns out: a lot.
Researchers Stephen and Rachel Kaplan from Michigan began studying the effects of nature not just as being enjoyable but also how it affects our attention, memory, and other central cognitive processes (1989). The original and continued research done by psychologists across the country has shown that exposure to nature can help restore our cognitive abilities which not only affects our ability to be productive but also our stress levels. These studies and findings have lead to the Attention Restoration Theory (ART). The most recent research being done on ART by psychologists David Strayer from the University of Utah and Ruth Ann Atchley and Paul Atchley from the University of Kansas has shown that three days out in nature away from man-made structures and technology completely restores these functions and enables greater creativity (2012). Additionally, the World Health Organization lists on their website, “Living in cities is associated with a higher risk of some mental health problems — such as mood disorders, anxiety, and schizophrenia — when compared to living rurally.” It stands to reason that the more we destroy nature, fill it up with trash, block out our access to clear skies, and build man-made structures, the worse the world’s mental health will be. Why is this the case though?
The literature states that one of the main reasons we get worn out and stressed out in man-made environments is because they are so obviously designed. There are straight lines, car horns, phone alarms, and blocky buildings everywhere. Everything is predictable and we are constantly interacting within a realm of understanding we already have and which we created for ourselves. This has lead to not only a different interaction between the brain and the outer world but also increased multitasking. So why is it that nature helps these issues? The answer can be summed up in one word: fractals. Fractals are everpresent in nature. They are the design structure which the natural world is built on. They are unpredictable, beautiful, and infinitely complex and intricate. When our minds see fractals they instantly recognize them and react differently than they do to the rigid edges and abrupt noises we experience in an urban environment and our minds instantly start to destress and restore. Most people know that the trash and pollution crises are bad because they’re just ugly and now the research is backing it up that these things are actually affecting our minds on a fundamental level.
Aside from the fact that we are killing ourselves and destroying habitats for other creatures, we are creating an environment that will become harder and harder to just be happy and relaxed in if we continue to do the things we are. This is one of the strongest arguments for protecting nature that even climate change deniers can’t argue against. Even if you believe climate change is false, there is still a very compelling reason to preserve the nature that is left and stop the destruction spree we’ve been on: we simply won’t be living the good life if we continue.