Why I love the messy and the unexplored…

ECO intern and HECUA student Elena Meth is with ECO for a few weeks starting in October 2017.

Elena wrote about what inspires her love of nature, and why getting into and truly being with nature is central to our mental health and well being.

The following is an excerpt from an essay I wrote earlier in the year in response to Richard Louv’s book on child development and environmental psychology, Last Child in the Woods. Louv is best known for his discussion of “Nature-Deficit Disorder,” a phenomenon he describes as the behavioral problems, such as Attention Deficit Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and childhood anxiety and depression, which arise from a lack of integration (not just standing around outside) with nature and natural spaces. A short summary and excerpt from the book can be found here: http://richardlouv.com/books/last-child/

In my fifth-grade year book, when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I responded very matter-of-factly that I would be an environmentalist in the Redwood National Forest. My teacher desperately tried to explain to me than environmentalism wasn’t a career, but I wasn’t convinced. From a young age, I had noticed rows of healthy trees being cut down in neighbors’ yards, or the way my classmates played during recess surrounded by the outdoors, but somehow not quite actually outside. At ten years old, I recognized the issue Richard Louv classifies as “Nature-Deficit Disorder” in Last Child in the Woods, and that it wasn’t just something out of which my friends would grow.

The problem was, and still is, much larger than my suburban classmates scratching bark off a tree and not understanding the ramifications; it is an issue of Louv’s described Third Frontier, that has somehow convinced adults and children alike that it’s alright to stay inside “where the outlets are” (10). One specific issue Louv raises in Last Child in the Woods that resonates with my childhood recollections, both positively and negatively, is the fostering of respect and understanding (or more often lack of) for nature during childhood years.
A major theme of the novel is the recent, and increasingly more severe, disconnect between people and nature. This problem is multi-faceted, but as Louv discusses, it can be rooted in a lack of respect for nature and natural environments.

Just like anything else, respect and understanding comes from interaction. If kids aren’t willing or able to immerse themselves in forests and fields, how are they to know what they are? The idea that kids are no longer playing outside – that they no longer want to go outside – is baffling to me. Some of my earliest memories are from walks through the park with my mother and dog, and my father taking me to programs sponsored by our local nature reserve. I don’t remember learning to respect nature because it was never an explicit lesson at my house. I grew up touching and smelling things I couldn’t understand, not jumping away in disgust.

I do not have a single experience to explain why respecting nature is so meaningful to me, rather I have a cycle of experiences. When I was five years old, my mother drove me to a place called Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve, a 134-acre reserve owned and maintained by the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania (an organization similar to Forest and Bird), only five minutes from our new house. Beechwood instantly became a magical place for me. I remember school trips and after school walks around the property where I was always allowed to explore in every way in which my juvenile self needed.

At Beechwood, no one ever told me not to touch something or to stay back because it “wasn’t safe” (except for a few poison ivy vines). Instead of saying no, and leaving me discouraged and unwilling to further explore, my parents and the educational directors at Beechwood cultivated that curiosity and explained the unknown. As we walked down hot, muddy trails in summer my camp counselors would point out interesting things along the way to enhance our natural knowledge and to keep us pokey campers moving along.

My experiences with Beechwood Farms as a child were so formative, they motivated me to go back as a high school, and now college, student and return the favor for a new generation. As an education volunteer and intern, I led the hikes I remember loving so when I was little. Being on the other side of things, I had the chance to see exactly how psychologically calculative the whole endeavor of environmental education really is.

What seemed like basic hikes when I was eight were actually carefully planned, stimulating and engaging experiences with goals to not only encourage environmental curiosity, respect and understanding, but also general curiosity for the world. Beechwood Farms is a unique place in that it is specifically maintained for educational purposes. The staff have been working for over forty years to maintain trails so toddlers can easily hike them, to provide activities to challenge young minds, and finally to establish relationships that keep kids like me coming back for years to come.

Unlike other, more wild, outdoor places, Beechwood has been so psychologically significant in my life because of the interactions between the environment and people. Sure, I have my favorite tree and path, but it’s the people who have ensured my love for the messy and unexplored that keep me coming back.

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The Environmental Impact Of Cigarette Litter

Daisy Poe from Quitza draws our attention to the immense threat to our marine environment and air quality caused by smoking and discarded butts.

Quitza is a non profit where users from all over the world support each other while quitting smoking using Quitza’s custom made social support network. Quitza combines the social support with real time progress tracking technologies where users earn awards when they reach milestones throughout their quit. These are then shared with the community for further support.

 

According to the WHO there are currently over 1 billion smokers globally.

Six million of those smokers will die each year from a smoking related illness.

The negative consequences of smoking range far from just the health effects on the individual. The environmental impact caused by improper disposal of cigarette butts is as large as it is concerning.

Each year 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded improperly around the world. They are the single most littered item in existence, ever.

It is in our towns and cities that the vast majority of cigarette ends are discarded improperly. With the help of wind and rain they are often blown or washed into our waterways. They then either remain in our lakes and rivers, make their way to the ocean, or get washed up in our natural spaces.

While in our waterways cigarette butts can often be mistaken for food by aquatic life. If a human adult ingests a cigarette butt they are likely to have some mild health consequences such as vomiting and a upset stomach. Imagine the pain and suffering ingesting a cigarette butt would cause to an animal the size of a fish. (Symptoms include vomiting, respiratory failure, and often death.)

If the cigarette butt gets washed out of our waterways onto a riverbank or onto the beach, non marine life faces the same issue. Land animals will also mistake it for food, ingest it, and receive the same potentially lethal consequences as aquatic life.

To make matters worse, (contrary to popular belief) cigarette butts are not biodegradable. They can take up to 25 years to fully degrade. While they do so they are releasing over 4000 toxins into the soil or water that surrounds them

It would be tempting to discount this issue due to the small size of a cigarette butt. However a study conducted by SDSU found that a single cigarette butt placed in a 1 litre tank of water killed half the fish in the tank.

When we remember our initial statistic of 4.3 trillion improperly discarded cigarettes butts each year, the cause for concern arising from these toxic chemicals entering our ecosystem becomes apparent.

So what can we do to reduce the amount of harm caused to our environment by cigarette litter?

 

Various research organizations and public health bodies around the world have proposed a variety of solutions to this issue. However one main common solution to the issue is commonly agreed upon.

 

Many people are simply unaware of just how large the problem of improperly disposed cigarette litter is. They are unaware of how harmful it is to the environment.

 

Through education and awareness campaigns it is possible to reduce the amount of cigarette litter that is improperly disposed of, reducing the scale of the problem.

 

It’s time to start treating cigarette butts like the toxic waste they actually are.