Why we fight for the living world:
it's about love, and it's time we said so

Excerpted from an article by George Monbiot in The Guardian:

In his beautiful book The Moth Snowstorm, Michael McCarthy suggests that a capacity to love the natural world, rather than merely to exist within it, might be a uniquely human trait. When we are close to nature, we sometimes find ourselves, as Christians put it, surprised by joy: “A happiness with an overtone of something more, which we might term an elevated or, indeed, a spiritual quality.”

He believes we are wired to develop a rich emotional relationship with nature. A large body of research suggests that contact with the living world is essential to our psychological and physiological wellbeing. (A paper published recently, for example, claims that green spaces around city schools improve children’s mental performance.)

This does not mean that all people love nature; what it means, McCarthy proposes, is that there is a universal propensity to love it, which may be drowned out by the noise that assails our minds. As I’ve found while volunteering with the outdoor education charity Wide Horizons, this love can be provoked almost immediately, even among children who have never visited the countryside before. Nature, McCarthy argues, remains our home, “the true haven for our psyches”, and retains an astonishing capacity to bring peace to troubled minds.

Acknowledging our love for the living world does something that a library full of papers on sustainable development and ecosystem services cannot: it engages the imagination as well as the intellect. It inspires belief; and this is essential to the lasting success of any movement.

Is this a version of the religious conviction from which Pope Francis speaks? Or could his religion be a version of a much deeper and older love? Could a belief in God be a way of explaining and channeling the joy, the burst of love that nature sometimes inspires in us? Conversely, could the hyper-consumption that both religious and secular environmentalists lament be a response to ecological boredom: the void that a loss of contact with the natural world leaves in our psyches?

Of course, this doesn’t answer the whole problem. If the acknowledgement of love becomes the means by which we inspire environmentalism in others, how do we translate it into political change? But I believe it’s a better grounding for action than pretending that what really matters to us is the state of the economy. By being honest about our motivation we can inspire in others the passions that inspire us.

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1) Why We Fight for the Living World: It’s About Love, and It’s Time We Said So, George Monbiot in The Guardian
2) The Moth Snowstorm: Nature and Joy, Michael McCarthy
3) Abstracts on the Link Between Nature and Wellbeing, Annual Reviews of Public Health and Annual Reviews of Environmental Resources
4) The Nature of Happiness: Nature Affiliation and Mental Well-Being, Andrew J. Howell and Holli-Anne Passmore, Chapter 11 from Mental Well-Being: International Contributions to the Study of Positive Mental Health