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Something personal

Why do I care about all this eco-malarkey - and am I in a minority?

Apparently we're all Green these days, but I have a strong sense of deja-vu. Well, yes I was very young in the seventies but old enough to remember what a big fuss was made about "population" and "pollution" and I think I can dimly remember when the word "environment" started to be used in its present broad sense.

On this basis I suppose can just about claim to be an old green, and I did keep the lightest of fingertips on that identity throughout the eigthies and nineties. It's hard to swim against a cultural tide, so why did I even bother?

Even though "the environment" is about everything - about the whole, intricately connected earth system - it starts for many of us with a deeply personal response to what used to be simply known as "nature".

It can be a tricky word, "nature", but here I am using it to mean, you know, green stuff. Trees and flowers and birds and bugs and critters. Not just "wilderness" (I have an ongoing grumble about wilderness snobbery, which I have yet to write up) but your back garden and local park, patches of meadow, the seaside, weather, the battered old british countryside, seen from a train. Sure, beautiful landscapes are often the unexpected result of human activity, but so what? There is still a big, real and important difference between a patch of allotments and a car-park.

The bottom line is, these things, "nature" the "natural world", make me feel good. They are a cure and prophylactic against depression. I find them, in some way, necessary.

That's all I need to say about where my personal motivation started from. But it does prompt an important question. Am I in a minority? Could many or most people live in an entirely man-made environment and be truly happy?

Is "nature" necessary for everyone?

There are some relevant experimental findings - hospital patients recovering faster when they can out look at trees, the mental health benefits of owning a dog, that sort of thing - but I want to offer a rather more general and speculative comment.

A deep fact about human beings is that we evolved. I don't give too much credence to 'evolutionary psychology' because many of the explanations offered under its banner are too specific and too culturally convenient. It is hard to be certain about history, let alone pre-history. But that does not mean that our minds are unconstained by our evolutionary history - it just means that it is very difficult to be sure exactly what the constraints are. I would suggest that, because we evolved from and amidst 'green stuff', having plenty of 'green stuff' around us might very well be a necessity for a decent life (even apart from the sheer life-support function that the biosphere provides).

I don't think this is very controversial - in principle - but, as always, the devil is in the detail.


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