We’re celebrating Earth Week 2016 with suggestions for how to apply the phrase “Earth Day Every Day” to conserving biodiversity. There are a number of great suggestions for things you can do every day to conserve energy and water; but we asked ourselves, what actions can we take to conserve biodiversity? This week we’ll explore: food production on biodiversity, how plastic consumption impacts biodiversity, creating a biodiversity friendly lawn, and engaging children in nature experiences to foster connections to the environment.
It might not seem like you are doing anything, especially something for the planet, but one of the best things you can do for biodiversity conservation is to actually take a child outside. Over the past few decades, people are spending more and more time indoors, and connecting less with nature. As television, malls, smart phones, and social media compete with nature, the latter frequently loses. So what’s the big deal? And how does this help conservation? Experiences with nature at a young age are a huge predictor of attitudes towards conservation and natural resource stewardship. Ask myself or any other ecologist how they got started in this field and its always the same thing – exploring and playing outdoors as a child. Whether it was turning over rocks to look inside insect worlds or blowing dandelion seeds, these experiences are imperative to form an emotional bond with nature and a strong sense of place that motivates people to protect natural places. Remove these experiences and you are left with a generation of people unable to make these connections and therefore apathetic towards nature. Who will give money to World Wildlife Fund when they have not seen wildlife? Who will vote for protected areas? This “extinction of experience” is a great and often underestimated threat to biodiversity.
These experiences with nature need not be pristine or profound. Talk to those same ecologists and a lot will muster up memories of backyards and gardens in addition to national parks. These experiences can occur in the most urbanized areas. In New York City and Chicago, there are wild enough areas for coyotes to re-colonize, although the typical landscaped city parks will also do. Don’t think the biodiversity of urban areas is subpar either. Urban parks, gardens, and your yards yield a surprisingly high amount of biodiversity, are important for conservation, and even hold discoveries waiting to be made like new species.
To bring your experiences in nature to the next level for children and biodiversity, use observations as a learning opportunity. See trash? Explain why it’s important not to litter and that animals frequently eat and choke on discarded balloons, straws, and wrappers. Also, pick up the trash to not only project good conservation attitudes, but also good conservation ethic through behavior (double environmental points if it’s recyclable!).
Even if you don’t care about nature, you should get outside (and take a young one too) because it’s good for you! There are selfish reasons to go out in nature that are still effective on your health even if you lacked in nature experiences as a child. Researchers are just beginning to scratch the surface on the mental health benefits of going outside including implications on ADHD, depression, aggression, and even play. For instance, children engage in twice as much play and more creative play in areas of high vegetation, and even views of dense vegetation can improve self-discipline.
Although long-term, one of the biggest things that you can do for biodiversity is ensure this planet still has advocates. Take a child outside this weekend, even if it’s only in your backyard. `