The Irish Times view on nature in a time of crisis: The call of the wild

We need to recognise that our health, in every sense, depends on the health of the natural world

A man jogs past grazing deer in the Phoenix Park in Dublin earlier this month. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

A man jogs past grazing deer in the Phoenix Park in Dublin earlier this month. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

 

Environmentalists and poets have long argued that a sense of connection with the natural world is essential to our well-being. And there is now compelling evidence that the physical and mental benefits of engagement with nature are indeed very significant. So it is perhaps not surprising that the Covid-19 crisis appears to have created a surge of interest in birdsong and spring flowers among people who had previously not felt any great interest in what nature was up to on their doorsteps.

People are calling radio shows to enthuse about hearing the dawn chorus in our inner cities instead of the dull hum of traffic. The visits of badgers to more than one suburban garden mark the passing days in cocooned suspension with a new, inter-generational family ritual of collectively observing animal behaviour with great pleasure.

In the countryside, roadside banks and hedgerows are ablaze with blossom, and so much easier to appreciate for walkers taking their daily local exercise when there are few cars on the roads.

Internationally, stories of big mammals sauntering down main streets have attracted viral social media attention. While some of these stories have no basis in fact, their invention and mass consumption speaks to our desire to believe that, even as a virus is wreaking misery on our own species, the natural world as a whole is going about its business as well, or even better, than usual.

The coronavirus emergency has heightened our awareness of our own individual mortality, and of the vulnerability of our evidently unsustainable global and national economic system to the natural catastrophes that system is exacerbating or engendering – fire, flood, drought and now plague. If we are to learn the lessons of this disaster, we need to see nature as more than a comfort blanket to grab in the dark. We need to recognise that our health, in every sense, depends on the health of the natural world. We cannot go back to exploiting nature at current levels, and not expect further dire consequences. That means we will need to change our lives, and lifestyles, not just during lockdown, but for the future.

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