It has become a tradition for my fiancé and me to take a walk looking at the Christmas lights when we are at his family’s home in Derbyshire, England. This year it struck me that instead of Santas, angels, bells and stars, we saw a lot of lights showing scenes derived from nature.
There were glowing plastic deer and trees in almost every garden. Many had invested in projectors. This latest Christmas light fashion projects moving pictures of falling snowflakes onto your house, giving the impression of real snow falling. Other gardens had huge, inflatable polar bears and penguins.
I found these Christmas light choices interesting, because they seemed like an unconscious try to reconnect with nature. Right now, our Western societies are getting increasingly disconnected from nature. This means we spend less time outdoors, interact less with animals as well as plants and feel less like being part of nature.
Although, it is difficult to put numbers on our connectedness to nature, the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) published a study in 2013 after interviewing children aged eight to twelve. The young participants had to agree or disagree with 16 statements such as “being outdoors makes me happy” and “humans are part of the natural world”.
The report showed that four in five children in the UK are disconnected from nature. This means children spend less time playing outdoors and interacting with nature. Consequently, today’s youngsters feel less empathy for animals and plants, less responsibility for the environment and less like being part of nature.
I assume you can already guess where this is going? Exactly, disconnecting from nature is thought to result in people caring less about the extinction of species, pollution and global warming. To value something and safeguard it, you need to be engaged with it. But if we disconnect from nature, we will not care about its fate any longer.
So, disconnecting from nature is obviously bad for nature. But will it affect us humans? The answer is it does seem to affect our health. Research has linked visits to parks and other green spaces in cities to better mental and physical health. Some of the health benefits are obvious. If you spend a lot of your time in parks, you are more physically active. Nevertheless, a lot of research still needs to be done on this subject to find all the links. The main message is: We humans also profit from a good connectedness with nature.
Back to our Christmas light story. As a society we are disconnecting from nature. Still people choose a lot of nature scenery for their Christmas lights which shows that people still value nature in a way. The Christmas lights I saw felt like they romanticised animals and plants like a memory from better days a long time ago.
This is where I want to remind people, that nature is still here. Yes, we are losing many species and ecosystems, but all is not lost yet!
Deer still roam across a great number forests and meadows in the Northern hemisphere and the last time I checked we still had trees too. If we decide to protect and safeguard our local ecosystems, there is no need to buy plastic copies of its animals and plants. We could experience real animals and plants for free. The RSPB has a few tips for those wanting to protect their local wildlife and ecosystems.
If we decide to effectively fight climate change with real, lasting changes to our lifestyles and economies, there is no need to project falling snowflakes onto our houses. We could have real snowfall for free. The campaign Sustainability for All has some very good suggestions on how to fight climate change with simple lifestyle choices.
So, what can you do to reconnect and stay connected to nature?
Indoors, buy and grow plants in your house, apartment, balcony or garden. Watch nature documentaries. Read books about animals and plants. Feed birds in your garden or on your balcony.
Outdoors, go to the local park for a walk or a run, look for plants and animals you don’t know and google them or look them up elsewhere. Take your kids, encourage them to play in the mud and look for plants as well as insects. Go to the zoo. Go to the country side for a walk, a run or a bike ride. Go to the local beach or lake for a swim in the summer instead of the indoor swimming pool.
There are countless possibilities. Find the ones you enjoy most.
But whatever you do, do not get glowing plastic deer and trees for your garden!