|EDINBURG, May 20 - Think…think… think… but nothing would come to mind; they just couldn’t remember a real experience about the outdoors.
It was the first day of my environmental studies English class. Our professor had asked us to write about a significant experience we had had in nature. But the students around me looked clueless. “Does she mean like when we go to the park with our families or what?” asked the person next to me. “I don’t understand the assignment,” others soon joined.
I thought of the time I was in the woods in Mexico by myself surrounded by pines, sitting next to a big rock with water flowing down in the stream next to me. It was significant to me because it was the first time I had been alone in nature, embracing everything around me.
But the others couldn’t write about a real experience in the outdoors because they simply haven’t had one.
Sadly, this disconnection from nature is common in my generation.
But as humans we need nature, and nature needs us. We cannot ignore the fact that nature is part of our lives, just because we have advanced technologically, have built skyscrapers, and have better transportation.
Richard Louv argues this point by saying that humans have an “innate affinity” towards nature, a biological need tied to our development as humans.
In other words, it’s in our nature to be close to the natural world. So why do we keep pushing it away?
Louv develops the idea of the nature-deficit disorder to describe how society, either directly or indirectly, has allowed kids to drift away from nature. Unconsciously society is telling its youth that nature is an obstacle for the future, that with technology, we don’t require it anymore. In addition, some parents add to growing gap between kids and nature by keeping their children, fearing that they could be hurt outside.
My classmates had been raised according to these attitudes.
Instead we (as parents, mentors, leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers, and students) should be exposing young people to natural world, so that they can nurture a love for nature. This love, in time, will transform into a deep desire to protect our beleaguered environment.
It will also benefit the kids themselves.
For example Marc Berman, a researcher at the Rotman Research Institute in Toronto, discovered that taking a walk in nature can help people who have clinical depression to improve their memory performance and mood. Even those who were not sick received a mental boost after walking in a woodland park for an hour.
Researchers have also confirmed that nature helps people be more creative, find serenity, be calmer and happier, and feel more alive. What is more, it can help kids develop their critical thinking skills and motor skills. Nature also boosts physical vitality and it’s a perfect way to be fit and healthy.
These positive effects can inspire kids to develop a stronger bond with the natural world, which can in turn form a foundation for their environmental stewardship.
Parents, caregivers, and mentors must make an effort to engage in activities with kids outside: getting to those places that can teach them about the native plants and animals in their own ecosystem; showing them the stars and constellations in the heavens; going to a quiet spot in nature and feeling the soothing and relaxing sensations only nature brings. By making kids feel comfortable going outdoors, they will develop a habit, and that habit will have a lasting impact in their lives.
Even the smallest steps, such as taking the family to a nature park, going camping, or simply observing the fauna and the flora around us, can make a big difference.
Locally in South Texas, we have few options to visit the native landscape; however, these places - like Quinta Mazatlán or Bentsen State Park - can become very special if we train our eyes to look for new things each time.
For example, we should be proud that the RGV is the hotspot for many birdwatchers that want to spot unique species of birds that are not found anywhere else in the nation. Families can create a checklist of all the different classes of birds that exist in the RGV and try to spot them and learn more about them. Other opportunities are also available, like learning about native species of plants we have and how to plant them, or how to protect them from the invasive species.
Helping young people explore nature would make a huge difference in the environmental movement. Environmentalism can’t just be about finding ways to make our society more sustainable or developing renewable sources of energy.
It has to offer more than technology.
We must recognize ourselves as part of the planet in order to save it.
Oswyn Verduzco is a student at UTPA studying electrical engineering and plans to minor in environmental studies.
The above guest column is part of a series on environmental issues the Rio Grande Guardian is running in association with UTPA.