Scott Sampson: On Earth Day, choose to fall in love

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      By Scott Sampson

      April 22nd, also known as Earth Day, happens to be my birthday. It’s mere coincidence, but it brings me joy each year.

      Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970 (a few years after my arrival), galvanized by the actions of environmental pioneers like Rachel Carson. Almost four decades later, this day has even greater urgency, underlined by relentless news of climate change effects—droughts, wildfires, epic storms, and the like—together with the growing realization that humanity is singlehandedly precipitating the globe’s sixth mass extinction.

      On Earth Day, then, what are we to do? How can you best honour your planetary home and do something meaningful on its behalf? To my mind, the very best thing is to fall in love with nearby nature.

      Contrary to the daily news cycle, the sustainability challenges we face are not first and foremost scientific or technological. We have more than enough science and technology to navigate a sustainable path into a thriving future. Instead, by far the greatest obstacle is psychological, a matter of consciousness.

      Here in the developed world, we tend to see ourselves as outside and above nature. For us, nature is resources, not relatives—objects, not subjects. And people don’t fall in love with resources or objects.

      If we are truly to act on behalf of the planet, we must first care about it, deeply. And that passion-filled descent is most likely to happen not through annual trips to some distant wilderness, but through abundant time in nearby nature. 

      There’s an apt name for the condition we seek: “topophilia”. While it may sound like some nasty skin disease, it translates literally as “a love of place.”

      So, how do we go about initiating a love affair with nature? I would like to give you three simple tools that you can start using today, for free. Together, these tools spell out the acronym “NEW,” with the idea being that we want to foster new eyes with which to see the world.

      First of these is “Notice.” Too often these days, we walk right passed amazing natural events. A butterfly on the branch. A hawk passing silently overhead. A spectacular evening sky. When you step outside each morning and evening, pause for 10 seconds (yes, you can spare the time) and just notice what’s going on. How does the air feel? How many different kinds of birds can you hear? What are the clouds up to? The key here is to open your full suite of senses and simply experience the moment.

      The second nature connection tool is “Engage.” By this I mean full body engagement. It might involve walking, skiing, fishing, or some other outdoor activity. They key is to find something you enjoy that gets you outdoors (and off your smartphone) on a regular basis. The more “off trail” and wild, the better.

      The third tool is “Wonder.” If we’re going to fall in love with nature, we need periodic experiences of amazement. A night sky full of stars. Delicious vegetables from your own garden. Locking eyes with a wild creature. Wonder can also be catalyzed by amazing ideas. Learn the story of your place. Where does my water come from? What plants and animals existed here before me? How has this place evolved over time?

      The great things about this trio of tools is that it doesn’t matter in which order you use them. The key is to engage all three on a regular basis.

      Like any good relationship, the benefits of loving nature flow in both directions. We come to care more about our place, and are more prone to act on behalf of it. And we benefit by having greater physical, mental, and emotional health.

      But if you really want to do something beneficial for the planet on Earth Day, when you try out these NEW tools, take kids with you. 

      These days, the average child in North America spends about seven to 10 hours each day gazing at screens, and closer to seven minutes a day outdoors. The result of this indoor migration, which has occurred over the past generation, is that we are raising an unhealthy generation totally disconnected from the natural world. As a result, we are threatening the wellbeing of our kids and the places they live.

      In other words, share the love! Whenever possible, bring kids with you on your outdoor adventures. They need nature just as much, and perhaps even more, than you do.

      So, this birthday, I mean Earth Day, how about making a commitment to transform your family into a bunch of topophiliacs? The Earth will definitely appreciate it, and odds are your family will too!

      Scott Sampson is a science communicator, dinosaur paleontologist, and president and CEO of Science World British Columbia. He is also the author of the book How to Raise a Wild Child.