With her masters in sustainable development and years-long interest in health Susette eats, works, and lives as "green" as she possibly can.
When we don't have regular, quality interactions with nature we starve ourselves emotionally and intellectually, but mostly spiritually. Children especially show it. They become flighty, easily distracted, always pushing for attention when they don't get enough time outside to play and relax in natural settings.
The Value of Nature to Humans
Interacting with the environment teaches us about ourselves as people - how life works as a whole, where we fit in, and how to take care of ourselves in the natural world. Studying how the natural environment works has helped us design many of our products as well—making life more interesting and comfortable for humankind.
A recent study conducted by the UK government showed a high correlation between contact with nature and quality of life. This is not surprising, since we humans are an organic part of the universe, having evolved from nature, and being dependent upon it for our health and sustainment. We need the comfort and the lessons that nature has for us, including lessons on how to build products that will make our lives easier.
Psychological Health Benefits From Nature
In February, 2009, a Newsweek interview of Peter Kahn, environmental psychologist from the University of Washington, reported an experiment he ran to see what kinds of benefits office workers might receive from exposure to technological versions of the earth (via plasma screens), rather than the real thing. Then he compared it with the real thing to see if there were differences.
In windowless offices his team erected plasma TV screens framed like windows, through which they projected a variety of nature scenes for almost four months. They found that workers sitting near the scenes of parklands and mountain ranges had a "greater sense of well-being, clearer thinking, and a greater sense of connection to the natural world."
Kahn then tested the difference between technological views of flora and fauna and the real thing. This time he found that the real thing gave the same benefits but also reduced stress in workers, whereas the plasma image did not.
Finally his team tested to see if just getting outside the office was enough to reduce stress. They found a distinct difference between those who walked down a busy street and those who walked in a corner of the local arboretum. Those who took the nature walk brought back to the office a better, more relaxed focus and a clearer concentration on their work. This matches studies that have been done with children in schools.
Nature Deficit Disorder in Children
In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv describes how children are affected when they have no contact with the natural world—when they are constantly talking on the cell phone, watching TV, or playing games on the computer.
He stated that humans do not have the capacity to live without nature, which is hardwired into us, and children who do not get out on a regular basis develop a plethora of problems with attention, anxiety, depression, and obesity.
When I was a child there were no cell phones or computers. My seven siblings and I played outside on sand piles or in the culvert stream, explored the woods, picked wild blackberries, swam in the ocean, or climbed trees. We had a ton of adventures that taught us about ourselves, whetted our curiosity about life, and helped us learn better in school.
Our school also took us out on regular nature walks as part of the curriculum. This gave us a sense of wonder about the world in general, stimulating us to ask questions that teachers could segue into lessons about biology, wild animals, conservation, and similar topics. That, in turn, helped us grow up as better balanced adults.
Humans Need Nature to Stay Balanced
In addition to becoming better humans, we need the natural world to help us stay alive and be healthy. We need the food it produces, the insects that pollinate and make plants fruit, the birds that keep the insects in balance (especially mosquitos) and the little microbes and fungi that break down rocks, chemicals, and soil into compost, so the plants we harvest and eat are healthy. We even use nature to produce supplements to our health—like Balance of Nature capsules that help us balance intake of fruits and vegetables.
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We need rain and oxygen and sunlight, and we need them to function in a balanced way. We need wolves, lions and tigers, vultures and condors, sharks and whales, and all the other predators to keep the smaller animals in check. We need grass to feed our cattle, sheep, pigs and chickens (grain is not enough), and wild stock to interbreed with our own when a species grows weak.
We need to know we belong to something bigger than ourselves, something to keep us touring and exploring, forever expanding. We need the challenges and lessons nature provides us—mountain climbing, sailing, swimming, hunting, spelunking. We need its security and its unpredictability. And we need its systems of survival to show us how to effect our own survival in more comfortable and sustainable ways.
Nature Teaches Us About Being Human
As examples, here are some of the lessons I've learned in nature. When I was two years old I was caught by the sight of sunlight streaming through red, green, and gold maple leaves that overhung the country road down which my parents drove. Colored sunbeams lit dust motes floating in the air and filled my eyes and heart with wonder. That was the day I learned about the soul nature of Beauty.
When I was four I stood alone on a bridge at the San Diego Zoo in Southern California, entranced by elegant white swans swimming in circles below me. When my mother came to fetch me for chocolate cake I didn't want to go. I was busy absorbing Grace and Dignity.
When I was 11, body-surfing alone in Hawaii, I was caught by a fierce riptide and nearly drowned. Tumbling over and over in the ocean, unable to breathe and on the verge of panic, I heard a voice inside me say, "Relax. You don't need to breathe. You'll know when it's time to get up." I relaxed until I felt my knees scrape bottom, and soon lay on the warm sand of the beach—with an intense clarity to the scene around me I had never seen before. I now knew to be respectful and careful of Nature's Power.
When I was 13 at a girls' church camp in the mountains, I climbed a hill alone behind my cabin. I lay down in the meadow on top of the hill and immersed myself in the sun, the smell of the earth, the buzzing insects, and the calls of birds. Time drifted. I felt myself merge with everything around me and knew the Safety of Belonging.
Continuing into my adult years, I learned lesson after lesson through interactions with nature. Even at 51, I learned to dissolve fear into trust when the cliff ledge I was hiking at Devil's Punchbowl in the San Gabriel Mountains petered out and I couldn't turn around. I had to edge my way backwards until the path widened out enough to turn.
These are examples of spiritual and psychological lessons everyone learns from nature, whether they're aware of it at the time or not. In addition, humans have learned practical lessons from nature that have helped us to develop products—countless products that make our lives easier and more fun.
Technological Inventions from Nature
Humans have mimicked nature's workings in tons of products we've made and processes we've developed for improving our lives. We learned about composting, fertilizing, companion planting, and permaculture from the balance existing in a thriving ecosystem.
We created electricity using the power of the waterfall and storage capacity of dams. From natural hot pools we created spas and jacuzzis.
In imitation of our bodily functions we created :
- cameras (eyes)
- microphones (the eardrum)
- windshield wipers (eyelids)
- ball joints (the ball of the shoulder)
- knives (incisors)
- mortar and pestle (molars)
- plumbing and hydraulic systems (our circulatory system)
- hydraulic shock absorbers (knee joints)
We got suction cups from the octopus, inboard (boat) propulsion from the squid, anesthetics from venoms and poisons, sonar from bats and dolphins.
We created architecture in the shapes of mountains, icebergs, stalagmites, caves, cliffs, and low hills. We've imitated nature in countless sounds of music and objects of art.
Using the aerodynamics of the albatross we created airplanes and drones. From the hummingbird came the idea for a helicopter. And the deep-water glide of a whale turned into submarines, complete with the occasional surfacing for air.
And who hasn't seen a long train hugging the ground, winding up and down and around a mountain, like a giant, segmented caterpillar?
New Technologies To Increase Quality of Life
These are only a few of the thousands of inventions we've created already from observing and experimenting with the natural world. In fact, every time we run out of ideas we turn back to nature.
Phil Gates' book, Nature Got There First, shows the connection between many of the products I listed above and their counterparts in nature. Colorful illustrations make it interesting reading for older kids, as well as adults. They help bring the concepts home that nature inspires human invention, and that we should preserve ecosystems we don't know much about, in case they have unknown processes we can create new products from.
Here are some of the questions that scientists and engineers are looking to the earth to help us answer now:
- How can we solve our energy crisis?
- How can we absorb and translate the heat of the sun into heat for ourselves and our houses, or turn the spiral energy of whirlpools, tornados, and hurricanes into energy for running machines? What about converting wave energy or collecting from volcanoes or even earthquakes?
- How can we mimic the ability of mushrooms and algae to break down rock, oil, chemicals, and other throwaway toxins?
- How can we set up complete life cycle systems in our manufacturing processes, so that nothing is wasted—where one factory's discards become another's raw materials? Can the work of mushroom mycelium offer answers?
We humans are much more dependent on nature that many of us would like to believe. We need it in order to thrive psychologically and spiritually, practical support from it to thrive physically, and ideas from it to develop more effective technologies that create comfortable, sustainable lifestyles. It's time to recognize the extent of our need for Mother Earth and to make her health a more conscious center of our lives, rather than an occasional side thought.
I Am Nature
What has been your favorite experience with nature so far? Please share it:
Ben Reed from Redcar on November 25, 2017:
Thought provoking article. Thank you for sharing.
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on March 03, 2013:
I lived for years in Oregon in and near the Cascades, MermaidMoney. I totally know what you mean. Except for the overabundance of cloudy days, I really loved being so close to nature.
Alanna Fox Starks from Detroit, Michigan on December 26, 2012:
This is an amazing article, Sue. I love these ideas. My children and I cannot live without nature. We spend several weeks per year just enjoying outside, in Lake Tahoe and at the beach in San Diego county. We take regular trips to the ocean, just to watch the waves in the SF bay weekly. They grew up in the forest and miss those days of watching deer, owls and squirrels play in our tall pines. =)
Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on June 06, 2012:
how true this is.. and how wonderful a hub.. I want everyone to read this.. I am sharing
Sustainable Sue (author) from Altadena CA, USA on June 06, 2012:
I have now (lol). Great word. And very expressive of how I feel about nature. I feel the craving especially living in a city, where nature is so tamed down that you almost can't connect with it. Luckily, there are foothills nearby. :-)
James Kenny from Birmingham, England on June 05, 2012:
Fantastic article Sue. Have you ever heard of 'Biophilia' It's a theoretical condition that all humans have. It's basically an intrinsic link between us and the living world. We need a healthy, fertile world for both our physical and psychological well being. Voted up etc.