Stephen A. Fuqua (SAF) is a Bahá'í, programmer, and conservation and interfaith advocate in the DFW area of Texas.

January 7, 2009

In Need of a Nature Bailout

If our economy is in need of a financial bailout, then perhaps our society is in need of a nature bailout. I've often felt that lack of spirituality is one of the strongest elements holding society back from a greater advancement of the general weal. New evidence suggests that lack of contact with the natural world stunts individual focus, resolve, and calm – in other words, it interferes with our ability to approach the world constructively. I'm convinced there is a connection between these two notions, though I'm not ready to explore that connection just yet.

That our well-being is affected by contact with nature is not only obvious to nature lovers; it has also been scientifically established for some time and addressed by hypotheses such as nature deficit disorder and biophilia. The new evidence mentioned above is well-covered in a Boston Globe article. The author summarizes, "Just being in an urban environment, they have found, impairs our basic mental processes. After spending a few minutes on a crowded city street, the brain is less able to hold things in memory, and suffers from reduced self-control."

The various research and hypotheses cited on humans in urban habitats lead me to wonder:

  • Should cities that are trying to tackle obesity try planting trees in city-owned sidewalks and parking lots near fast food restaurants?
  • Should cities go on a massive tree planting spree in big open parks, especially near city-owned housing?
  • Should businesses bring more plants into the office – even if they're fake?
  • Should low-achieving schools put money into greening their playgrounds?

Of course, all these actions would have additional benefits in terms of soaking up carbon dioxide and cleaning out pollutants. So, while we're in the mood for big bailouts, perhaps we should be talking about a nature bailout, funded in part by the big economic bailout, to help rescue not only our souls, but also children's test scores, domestically-abused women, the chronically overweight, and maybe even the stressed out American Office Worker.