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Are We Afraid of Nature?
Or, why save something we don't use?
I woke up at 5:00 because my dog needed to pee. It was still dark outside. I love when the whole world is quiet and I feel like I have it all to myself. I decided to stay up, make a cup of coffee, and enjoy the night air. Standing on the back deck, there was a surprisingly loud hubbub of insects and birds that was both beautiful and frightening. I wanted to hear this massive array of sounds as a beautiful symphony—nature’s symphony—with percussive crickets and chirping larks and the song of bluebirds and cardinals. But frankly there was so much of it and it was so loud, I was actually a little scared. Why are they so loud? Why now? Are they going to attack me as I stand here in my bathrobe holding my mug of coffee? Best to step back inside and close the door where I know I’m safe.
For thousands of years we’ve lived in buildings. And after thousands of years of living in buildings, nature has become the other, the unfamiliar place, the place that could harm us if we're not careful. As much as I love hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking, the beach, etc. I am sometimes afraid of nature. I suspect we all are.
Some of the research I’ve done echos this idea. I recently investigated the home repair and maintenance industry. Of all the services American homeowners outsource, the most frequent is insect/pest control with 41% purchasing it more than once per year. A study of UK homes recommended that, “More effort should be put into preventing/deterring rather than controlling wildlife problems.” We have very low tolerance for nature inside our homes.
Anecdotally, I’ve noticed more people using insect/pest control outside their home, for example to kill mosquitos and plants we deem to be weeds. In South Florida (USA) they spray mosquito insecticide from planes. We kill off plants and animals outside our homes to make nature more comfortable. In other words, we make the outside more like the inside. As the sign says, “Outside is fun again.”
In another research study, I recently spoke to climate journalists in the U.S. and they’ve switched from framing stories in terms of harm to the earth and instead focus on the impact to humans. A few muttered the phrase, "it's not about polar bears.” We care about whether we can water our lawn, if our basement will flood, or if grandma who doesn’t have air conditioning will be alright in the heat. Polar bears are outside, outside is nature, and nature is scary.
What does this mean for climate designers? An obvious question is, "how might we make nature less scary? How can nature be something we care about as much as we care about our own homes?”
But civilization is only becoming more industrialized. So expecting people to care more for nature (or, at least, not fearing it) may be a futile endeavor, sadly.
Alternately, we could ask, "How do we show the connection between the impact on nature and our indoor lives?”
go touch grass If someone tells you to "go touch grass" it means that you need to go outside and do outdoor activities rather than staying inside on your electronics. Mj need to go touch grass, cus 24/7 this boi on the game.