20 September 2009

Are we on a one-way street away from nature?

The other day I was watching segments of David Attenborough's speech during the opening of the Natural History Museum's Darwin Centre in London earlier this month. At one point, Attenborough said (my transcription):

...we are increasingly cut off from the natural world. It's a paradox, isn't it? That, we as mankind, know more about the natural world than we've ever done in history. And yet, at this particular moment, over 50% of the human race is urbanized to some degree.
This general idea is, of course, not new. I have in one of my old notebooks a quote attributed to Jacques Cousteau that I wrote down in the 1970s, which, after several translations, reads something like this: "We have grown so distant from nature that we've forgotten how to treat her."

Earlier this morning I read Danilo Mainardi's essay, The technological zoo, in the book Beasts and Bestiaries. And by coincidence, it turned out that he was thinking along the same lines when he wrote about his observations in New York City:
We are all aware that the minds of modern people (nowhere more than in the "Big Apple") are devoid of animals. Animals have no place in today's world, and they are portrayed less and less. When we go to the cinema, the ones that appear most alive and present are dinosaurs—which have been extinct for millions of years. And, of course, ecology fills our mouths with the word "biodiversity", which really means (but have we taken this in?) all the different species of plants and animals that share the planet with us.

Ecology, as fashion, therefore, not as real knowledge...
One result of our alienation from nature is that when we, especially our children, mix the fragments of information coming from the TV and the movies with the surviving bits of centuries old misconceptions about nature, the resulting "knowledge" could be quite distressing. That was the topic of this post.

For now, I have nothing else to add to these notions. Later today, I will be going out to be one with nature, however briefly that may last.

Over the hedge by by Michael Fry and T. Lewis.


EcoRover said...

You must know Paul Shephard's work about our deep connection with nature? Anyway, it is definitely true that most of the world's population is living an increasingly alienated life. Even here in Montana, I am amazed by the proportion of my students that have never fished or hiked, know the difference between a raven and a starling, and don't care a rat's ass about the natural world...

Joseph Lai said...

Oh, yes, in Singapore City, we have people who scream in terror at the sight of a cat walking towards them and we have children afraid of walking on grass patches. I am not joking!


I don't know who Paul Shephard is, but will look him up.