A forest has a unique kind of energy that anyone who ventures into it can feel. There are sounds, scents and so much visual beauty. Even our skin is stimulated by the wind, the rain or brushing against the understory. Ancient forests are abundant with this kind of energy, which is why many consider them spiritual places. When we defile these great cathedrals, we bring silence where there once was an abundance of life.
Has modern society become disconnected from nature? Urbanization is often blamed for isolating us from the forests and waters that once created wonder and adventure for us as children. But one doesn’t have to live in a rural setting to be thrilled by a trip to the mountains, a day at the beach or a stroll along a woodland trail. People travel from cities around the world to visit wilderness treasures like Banff National Park. Tourists are ecstatic when they see a bear, a moose or a bighorn sheep. Our love for nature still exists.
Imagine strolling out of the forest onto a deserted beach to see an elk standing in the water with its massive body and tall antlers. It turns to look at you, then slowly moves away into the early morning mist. No amount of urban living can desensitize a person to the euphoria felt during an encounter like this. Even a seasoned wilderness adventurer is moved by the sound of whales breathing or a loon’s call across a lake at dusk. These are instinctual connections with the wild, which have survived for thousands of years.
Harvard biologist Edward O. Wilson defined “biophilia” as an innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms. Think about a time when you spotted a majestic bird like a bald eagle, a kingfisher, or a pileated woodpecker. Did you stop and watch while the constant chatter of your thoughts paused for a brief and beautiful moment? Or that first time you stood before a massive ancient tree. Did you feel the bark and try to put your arms around it? Did you hope your photos would preserve this wonder and elicit an echo of the emotion that filled your heart?
Take a deep breath and recall your own moment when you were enthralled by the beauty of nature.
It’s a tragedy when people are unable to connect with their natural affiliation with forests, waters and wild creatures. Targeted information floods in from social media, designed to capture our thoughts and addict us to a “meta” world. The constant flow of advertising drives us to consume and treat nature like a playground where we can try out our most expensive toys. All this modern-day background noise weakens our solemn respect for the wild, enabling remorseless acts of destruction, like the felling of an ancient grove of giant cedars. Some of us feel nothing when forests that have existed for thousands of years are reduced to desolate clearings and slash piles waiting to be burned.
Many scientific studies indicate the natural world has a significant impact on our health and well-being. Is it possible that we are adversely affected by the loss of species, the polluting of pristine watersheds and the elimination of wildlife habitat? We are now in the midst of the sixth major extinction event. Could this be a factor contributing to the increase in depression, anger and polarization in society?
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Perhaps a sense of hopelessness is inevitable when extractive resource economics continue to outweigh the long-lasting societal benefits of carbon sequestration, managing the water cycle and purifying the air. An economic value of zero is given to natural systems that provide beauty to our eyes, wonder to our senses and “comfort to our souls.
A paradigm shift is required in our economic, financial and legal systems or the unsustainable consumption of nature will continue until every last old-growth forest has been replaced by tree farms lacking in biodiversity, soil health and mother trees. However, hope lies with Indigenous communities fighting for a larger role in the management of our remaining old-growth forests.
The Protect Our Elder Trees Declaration aims to bring about a transformation in ecosystem management based on Indigenous leadership and guidance. Many non-Indigenous people have also awakened to the need for change and are protesting against a system where the profit motive of corporate and political influencers is prioritized over ecosystem and societal health.
We have an evolutionary bond with the natural world, which is weakened as wilderness disappears and social distractions escalate. If we want to live happier and healthier lives, we have to reconnect with nature, stop inflicting industrial-scale damage and give it time to recover. But recovery requires a timescale that is foreign to our fast-paced society.
The Earth’s climate system will take thousands of years to cool to pre-industrial levels once the world has reached net-zero emissions. It will take millions of years to recover the biodiversity that is disappearing while we try to maintain business as usual.
Clearly, we can’t wait to protect the sequestered carbon and biodiversity in ancient forests around the world. With this understanding and our emotional affiliation with nature, we must be decisive in making the changes needed to stop the plunder of our remaining old-growth forests.
Rob Miller is a retired systems engineer, formerly with General Dynamics Canada, who now volunteers with the Calgary Climate Hub and writes on behalf of Eco-Elders for Climate Action.
Thanks Rob, we here in Cold
Thanks Rob, we here in Cold Lake have a provincial park that provides this environment. One my sons, now forty just loves the quiet of the forest. He also has a boat and frequently during season you will find him on the lake enjoying that kind of quiet there to.
I spend 75 summers at Grand Beach Manitoba and always enjoyed berry picking in the sandy forests there. The quiet, the smell, and being away from everything I always enjoyed
This is beautifully written
This is beautifully written Rob. Thank you. It's hard to express in words all that our ancient forests offer to us and how wrong it is on all levels to keep cutting them down. I hope we can collectively come to our senses soon.