"People see an endangered species every day now when they look in the mirror."--Rob Watson, Environmentalist.
For most of us, nature plays a minor role in our lives. We roll from our beds to our cars, our cars to our offices, our offices to the pub, and then-- if we're lucky--back to bed. We're creatures of routine. And since the Agricultural Revolution of the 18th century, that routine has been simple: the more we package, automate and shove nature into the background of our lives, the more developed and evolved our society will become.
But as we now know, there is nothing like the recent tragic events in Japan to open our eyes--albeit briefly--to our intensely vulnerable relationship to our natural surroundings.
In the face of environmental tragedies like these, the explosion of manufactured landscapes, such as Japan's Sheraton Seagaia Ocean Dome, the world's largest artificial beach, seem bizarrely out of place in the world. Before it closed, Seagaia, with its perfectly groomed, crushed white marble sand, permanent blue sky and fixed 30 degree temperature offered guests a perfectly modulated paradise in case they found the real beach--300 meters away-- too windy, too far, or otherwise not to their liking.
"IMAGINE CLIMATE CHANGE WERE A MISSILE HEADED TOWARDS US FROM ONE OF THE COUNTRIES IN THE 'AXIS OF EVIL'. SURELY OUR GOVERNMENTS WOULD WASTE NO TIME IN LAUNCHING AN ALL-OUT WAR ON SUCH AN ENEMY."
Seagaia is one of many such man-made constructions. And at a time when we need to be paying the most attention to Nature, whole generations are out of touch with the raw and unadulterated, natural world. These days, it is no stretch to say that Nature is often not perceived as 'natural' unless it comes in a glossy plastic package along with an easy instruction manual.
We're all guilty. I'm the first to put my hand up for easy-peel oranges, the ever-fresh scent of clean alpine air wafting from my wall plug, or the newfound possibility of wearing the same clothes all year round. But as increasingly extreme natural disasters strike and artificial barriers crash down, the impact of our actions on the natural world reveal themselves, and even these small transgressions become harder and harder to justify.
Believe it or not, the scope of natural disasters we are currently weathering have been forecasted for years-- within academic circles, peer review journals and let's not forget the fringe of society labeled emotive tree-huggers and aggressive activists. From the birth of the greenhouse theory in 1827 to Roger Revelle's statement in the mid 50's that humanity was conducting a "large-scale geophysical experiment", climate change warnings and predictions have been in plain view for decades, right up to the terrible barrage of images on Haiti's earthquake, Japan's tsunami and most recently, Alabama's tornadoes.
This begs a more interesting question: if we've had the data for so long, why has no one raised the alarm?
In some ways, our collective ignorance of impending environmental change --the kind that makes Apocalypse Now look like Bambi--should be blamed on the scientific community. If we're honest, hasn't it all been just a little too abstract? Surely the buck should have stopped long ago with the scientists, governments and policy-makers who, for all their deep insights into complex issues, have only compounded public confusion with smokescreens and complicated jargon. Instead of translating hard evidence, they have widened the gulf between the science of climate change and public understanding. If there's been a need for urgent collection action, nobody's known it.
"IN SOME WAYS, OUR COLLECTIVE IGNORANCE OF IMPENDING ENVIRONMENTAL CHANGE --THE KIND THAT MAKES APOCALYPSE NOW LOOK LIKE BAMBI--SHOULD BE BLAMED ON THE SCIENTIFIC COMMUNITY. IF WE'RE HONEST, HASN'T IT ALL BEEN JUST A LITTLE TOO ABSTRACT?"
Professor Dan Gilbert famously wrote in the LA Times that, 'global warming lacks a mustache'. If we hope to rally for a real green revolution, then the flat, emotionless rhetoric surrounding such critical foes as atmospheric statistics and greenhouse gas concentration levels needs to go. Instead, we should understand climate change in more accurate terms--us against a common enemy. Imagine climate change were a missile headed towards us from one of the countries in the 'Axis of Evil'. Surely our governments would waste no time in launching an all-out war on such an enemy. This is what global warming is; only it's much bigger than a missile and far more fatal.
This is not to say there hasn't been real progress recently in changing the way we think about caring for our planet. Spurred on by a wave of entrepreneurs, celebrities and conscientious politicians bandying about the phrase 'eco-friendly', society is slowly starting to embrace a newfound environmental consciousness. But there is much more urgent work to be done.
Can we see past all the organic moisturiser, fair trade coffee and carbon neutral clothing to take the lasting actions needed to avoid the 'tipping point' for even more environmental catastrophes? After all, when the Greenland ice sheet melts, having soft skin and a nice pair of hemp-woven jeans will be about as useful as water wings. From scientific reports and climate change conferences, to documentaries and even disaster movies, everything is pointing in one direction: if we don't start reacting sooner rather than later, our chances of survival on this world are slim.
So where do we go from here? The solution is likely hiding in the back of your wardrobe, subtly disguised as a pair of walking boots or a dusty backpack. In this age of distraction and packaged nature, we need to wake up, and go outside and have a look around--to start experiencing more of the very thing we are trying to preserve.
"SHAKE OFF YOUR PLANETARY DETACHMENT, GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER BRUCE PARRY AND TACKLE THE NATURAL WORLD, HEAD ON."
The time has come. Shake off your planetary detachment, get in touch with your inner Bruce Parry and tackle the natural world, head on. Whether its mushing with huskies in Alaska, white-water rafting in Wales, or simply taking a lunch break outdoors to sit in the sun, it has never been easier to explore the wild wonders of the world. There is no excuse. We're spoilt for smart choices: Eco-Tourism, Adventure Travel, Sustainable Tourism, Responsible Tourism, Nature Based Travel, Green Travel, Multi-Sport Adventures - all these, to name just a few, are at our fingertips.
It's time to start listening--really listening--to nature. It's changing fast, and we don't know how longer much of it will be around. So get out there, and enjoy our natural world. It won't be a perfectly regulated sea dome, where the temperature is always 30 degrees, the sand is imported and the wave are modulated; it will be much, much better.
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