Sitting on the edge of the seat, glued to the evening news, I watched the street where my family home is go up in flames. Watching the bushland I played in as a little kid turn into smouldering ash, grief passed through me, as did memories of my early experiences of nature. As I watched the raging fires decimate our land and poison the sky with thick smog, I realised, what happens to nature happens to us.
When nature experiences catastrophic loss, humans experience intense loss too, as seen in the Black Summer bushfires. When our environment is continually polluted, we too are continuously polluted. The Earth is a cyclic system, and we will always reap what we sow. Which begs the question, why do many humans treat the natural world as if we are not emotionally and physically vulnerable to its disintegration?
Consider how humans live on this planet, the ways in which we consume, the products we dispose of down the drain, toss into landfill, or the companies we support for our utilities. It's not surprising that lifestyle diseases are more prevalent than ever. Our food is laced with chemicals that kill insects and speed up growth. Where do all these chemicals we pump into our planetary system go? The answer is, everywhere. They go into our bodies directly via consumption of pesticide laden foods, into the soil we grow crops in, and contaminate the water we drink and splash around in. Harmful chemicals cycle around the Earth's systems for years. In that time some breakdown, some accumulate, some persist for generations, causing illness, altering ecosystems and poisoning the planet.
In some ways, it's no surprise the human-nature relationship is fraught, we have been sold a story that positions nature as a commodity, despite widely documented academic and anecdotal literature showcasing that our ability to live fulfilling lives is intrinsically linked to the wellbeing of the planet.
So, if we need a prosperous planet for our own well being and survival, why do we impede behaviours that would facilitate environmental sustainability? As we already know, climate adverse infrastructure is a barrier to better environmental outcomes, but more personally, perhaps we fail to see the intimate links between human health and planetary health. After all, what goes around, comes around. Meaning, what we put into the Earth, the Earth puts back into us, via food, air and water.
Where do we go from here?
To transform our behaviours, we first need a mindset shift. We need to form richer bonds with the environmental systems that allow us to prosper - some communities might already be far along this journey, for some us though, it's time to get started. Pause for a moment and take a breath, now take another one. Every other breath you take comes from oxygen producing organisms of the ocean. The ocean so many of us flock to, to find peace and pleasure. The closer we align ourselves with nature, the easier it becomes to make lifestyle changes such as moving away from plastic, shifting to renewable energy and voting representatives into parliament that have integrity and back environmental policies. It's time to go into nature and reflect on where we come from. The path to protecting our planet, is to love our planet. When you love with fierce and wild abandon, you find purpose, passion and the perseverance needed to make necessary changes. Of course, change can be difficult, and we are all fallible humans, some days we won't make perfect choices and we will tend toward what is easy over what is better for us and the environment.
Luckily nature is always present to remind us when we need to course correct. So, let me leave you with a thought. If the bushfires Australia experienced over the summer of 2020 were a message, how can we learn to listen to what nature is trying to tell us?
Written by Kate Cussen
Kate is a scientist specialising in environmental pollutants, a freelance writer, avid hiker and professional waterfall finder.