Connecting with the Natural World   John Knuerr
  Oct 04, 2004 05:24 PDT 

J. Baird Callicott, a philosophy professor, wrote an essay entitled "The
Land Aesthetic", in which he tries to capture Aldo Leopold's thoughts on how
we come to appreciate the landscape.
In brief:
- he begins by pointing out that the Western appreciation of natural beauty
does not flow naturally from nature itself; is not directly oriented to
nature on nature's own terms; nor is it well informed by the ecological and
evolutionary dynamics. it is superficial and narcissistic; in a word, it is
He describes Leopold's land aesthetic as an appreciation that begins simply
with our ability to perceive what is pretty. To develop a land aesthetic
requires a willingness to learn things about the land that deepens our
knowledge which in turn informs our senses.
I'm pretty sure that all of us on this list have experienced this process
The challenges you point out are not limited to the issue of forest
appreciation. The greater issue is the overall dumbing down that is
occurring in our culture and the fact that most people are more and more
cut-off from significant experiences of the natural world around them. And,
the expectation is that the natural world will give them wow-experiences
that they can immediately consume (sound-byte mentality).
So, I'm thinking if we can give them an immersion experience in the forest
that includes a cognitive component on forest dynamics, we might have a
shot? The language we use doesn't need to be complex. It could be in the
form of a story (... imagine your standing in this spot 140 years ago...
what would you see?) that engages them and educates them.
Any thoughts?
Connecting with the Natural World
  Oct 07, 2004 11:03 PDT 
John, Bob and all-

I would love to see more discussions on the topic of people and nature. I
have been taking a much needed break from this problem for the past year and a
half, shifting my work from natural history education and public outreach to
pure research. But, I know for certain that science and research will not
preserve and restore our natural heritage. They are tools that can be used to help
but on their own are completely inadequate to accomplish this exponentially
growing task.

As long as the majority of people have no understanding, respect and personal
connection with the natural world all our efforts to protect it will amount
to nothing. The trick that I have been trying to figure out is how to make
those deeper connections with a wide enough audience to affect change.

In my opinion the "get out there" message is an abysmal failure. The limited
benefits of this movement have been far outweighed by the increased impacts on
our natural areas. Getting people to drive their SUVs to the few remaining
"wild" places and having them put on their hiking boots or skies, or grab their
climbing ropes all so they can conquer the mountains is not the solution. It
is just a way of forcing our cultures short sighted and self centered values
upon nature instead of allowing nature to teach us the lessons it patiently lays
before. Until people understand that nature surrounds and supports them every
day (regardless of whether they are in the forest or a treeless city) they
will never understand its importance until it is too late to preserve and regain
what we are losing.

We can't just throw people out the door and expect them to get to know
nature. They need to be taken by the hand and reintroduced by those few remaining
people who have either not lost the connection or been fortunate enough to
regain it. I think groups like ENTS, Audobon and others (especially those who take
people into their own backyards or neighborhood parks) are a part of the
solution. But these groups have to find ways to reach a much larger audience and
connect with people who's minds are being numbed by ever more detached ways of
viewing and communicating with the world. How can we help people slow down and
see the real world immediately around themselves when television and even the
internet are bombarding us all with messages to speed up and look ahead or
beyond to some magical place where some mythical happiness awaits us?

Ok, I've at least convinced myself. I'm gonna turn off this computer and go
out and enjoy this beautiful fall day.

RE: Connecting with the Natural World   Robert Leverett
  Oct 07, 2004 12:47 PDT 


   I'm with you completely. The science must be there. We all agree on
that, but so must popular interpretation of the science to the general
public and political activism to translate often scattered efforts into
statutory protections.

   One lesson that we seem destined to have to relearn over and over is
not to take our eye off the ball. Places don't stay protected. We have
to stay continuously engaged and be ready to pass the torch to the next
generation when the time comes and that implies a next generation that
is ready. It is our responsibility to see that takes place. It is a never
ending process.

RE: Connecting with the Natural World   Ernie Ostuno
  Oct 07, 2004 23:44 PDT 


Although I agree that the environmental consciousness of the average
person needs to be raised, I think back about where we came from...

One hundred years ago, when people would seem to have had a better
connection to the natural world than we do now, we were laying waste to
vast sections of North American forests in the most unsustainable manner
possible. Even the Giant Sequoia were being felled without regard to
their sheer grandeur...and only a lack of profitability saved them from
being decimated. While we are still looking at the same basic economic
engine running today, we do have the legacy of a few dedicated people
committed to conservation that have been able to harness some of the
most destructive tendencies of that engine. While this has made an
important difference, I worry that as long as the profit motive drives
the engine, we will always face a fight to protect our natural heritage
no matter how enviro-conscious the general population is.