E.O Wilson’s Biophilia hypothesis (1995) posits that, as a result of our extensive co-evolutionary histories with our planet’s myriad inhabitants, we possess an innate desire to interact with other species and ‘life-like processes’. Hypotheses surrounding the numerous benefits of communing with our natural evolutionary heritage are not new and are based on more than mere speculation or intuition. An ever-growing body of empirical evidence from disciplines ranging from environmental psychology to the health and biological sciences have shown that exposure to and prolonged contact with natural spaces and animals is strongly correlated with physiologically, psychologically, and socially restorative effects. Interacting with and sometimes even simply viewing nature through a window, for instance, has been found to reduce stress, quicken recovery time for patients who’ve undergone surgery, alleviate depression, confer cognitive benefits such as improved attention and memory, and reinforce social cohesion. A BBC study which sought to assess the effects of watching videos of wildlife on thousands of viewers from over six different countries found that, after watching the videos, viewers reported significant increases in joy, contentment, curiosity, awe, and wonder, and reduced stress and tiredness. It appears that exposure to and communion with the natural world and our co-evolutionary counterparts taps into a deep wellspring of human happiness, one forged by millions of years of evolution, that is more fundamental and enduring than that which one supposedly experiences via material pursuits.
Such findings are truly profound, for they lend legitimacy to something that many have felt for centuries yet weren’t able to articulate or prove concretely: that we are deeply connected to our natural support systems and coevolutionary counterparts on a multitude of levels- historically, culturally, and biologically- and that the grand delusion of human separateness from and superiority to the natural world has been among the greatest myths ever perpetuated. Yet, today during the Anthropocene, the era of disastrous human impacts on the natural world, we’re systematically eroding the very foundations of life and wellbeing. The 6th mass extinction is well under way, portending the loss of 67% of monitored vertebrate species by 2020. Anthropogenic climate change promises more frequent and intense storms, droughts, wildfires, further species decline, and rising seas. All of these crises are largely rooted in the wildly unsustainable production and consumption patterns of contemporary industrial-capitalist societies, predominantly in the Global North where the ecological footprint of its citizenry vastly exceeds that of the Global South, while collectively our species consumes the annual resource equivalent of 1.6 planet earths. By scaling back the human enterprise- namely, by reducing conspicuous consumption, reusing all we can, opting for public transport, vastly reducing highly polluting and resource-intensive activities such as meat and dairy consumption and production, and generally making more room for natural processes and other species to flourish – we can make great strides towards preserving the extraordinary world that makes ours and our fantastic co-evolutionary counterparts’ lives truly worth living.
-This blog post was written by Heather Alberro, a PhD Candidate/Associate Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at NTU
Want to write a blog post that’s featured on this site? Email us your ideas today at GreenAcademy@ntu.ac.uk!