Are you Vitamin N (Nature) deficient?
Layla Kadri // Columnist
It’s clear that our modern society is generally less connected to the natural environment than past generations. In Vancouver, many might consider our urban sprawl to be very “green,” specifically regarding inner city green spaces, Stanley Park and of course, the great Sea-to-Sky corridor. We also live next to Squamish, the nation’s Outdoor Recreation Capital. Defining Vancouverites to be nature-deficient might be a head-scratcher, but the truth is – it takes more than physically being in nature to connect with it.
The inner workings behind those reasons are a complex series of social factors. It may be due to urbanization, innovation and increase of technology, lack of leisure time, perceived wilderness risk, growing pressures from our economy, or simply the lack of immersion in nature as children.
Many texts exist around the topic of nature deprivation and disassociation. Notably, is Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods published in 2005. The book shares the reality of how children today have grown disconnected from nature, and details its repercussions. It also shares research on how exposure to nature is essential for all facets of a healthy childhood development – physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It advocates for nature as a therapy for wellness and mental conditions, such as depression, obesity and ADHD, as well how outdoor education improves creativity and critical thinking.
We can acknowledge that most of our generation’s lifestyles do inherently take us away from nature more than past generations, and most would agree that it’s primarily due to our increased relationship and usage of technology. My six-year-old nephew has his own iPad – just 15 years ago, iPhones did not yet even exist.
As university students, most of our education involves sitting down in classrooms and using a computer for assignments, research and readings. It’s inevitable that so much of our time is taken by sitting indoors with technology. And so, our first challenge is actually getting out into nature.
We all carve our own relationships with nature differently, and that relationship means something unique to each person. In recent years, hiking has become one of Vancouver’s most popular trends. While popularizing the outdoors is a great benefit, the motives behind can be contradictory. Numerous hikers are climbing peaks just to take photos of the view, they leave the top in a span of minutes and completely forget to “take it all in.”
When we view nature, whether it’s the local green path or a provincial park, if we only see it as a pleasant backdrop to our fitness or pro le picture, we’re not connecting with it. We’re considering it an accessory. Our relationship with nature is becoming artificial, more commonly experienced through virtual channels, such as Instagram, rather than direct contact. Many Vancouverites view hiking as a race to the peak, there’s a sense of accomplishing the mountain and it becomes more of an ego achievement.
At this point, we’re seriously running the risk of future generations using their childhood experiences of nature as a benchmark for which they measure future environmental degradation. Imagine a future world where grizzly bears do not exist, and to that generation, it’s won’t be out of the ordinary. If we want to protect our environment and biodiversity, we need to create opportunities to reconnect with nature for both children and adults.
We need to rethink how we spend our time in nature. We need not slow down to truly take a view in, or to stop and feel a flower petal’s texture, or even to take your shoes and socks off and walk on the wet moss.
Try it some time, I dare you.