In 2007, the world reached a milestone – according to the United Nations, more than half the world’s population lived in cities. More people live in cities than in the countryside.
For celebrated ecologist and author Don Gayton, this poses a problem – people are becoming more detached from nature and the environment is being cast to the side when big decisions are made.
Gayton will be in Revelstoke on Thursday, Nov. 3, to deliver a talk titled Reconstructing Culture and Nature. The talk will look at the challenges posed by this ‘nature separation’ dilemma.
The Times Review reached Gayton on the phone last week to talk about the issue.
What is your talk about?
I work as an ecologist but I’ve always been interested in the more social and philosophical aspects of our connection with nature, the social connection with nature and how that’s eroded over time and how we can strengthen that connection.
The description for the talk states ‘contemporary culture gives nature a low priority, so those few who are connected to and speak up for nature do so from the margins.’ Can you elaborate on that?
Generally, I think you’ll find that it’s only a small minority in society that see nature as a particularly high priority. Obviously jobs and the economy, those kinds of priorities come first. I think we’ve reached a point in our social and technological progress that we maybe need to re-evaluate where nature is in the list of social priorities.
Revelstoke is a small town surrounded by nature. How is your talk relevant to people that live here?
One of things that we can do is look to those communities and those individuals that are connected to nature and figure out what is the mechanism, what is the process by which they do bond with nature and can we franchise that to other parts of the province? In a sense I’m probably preaching to the converted by talking about this in Revelstoke. I should be doing it in West Van or some place like that.
Why it is important for people to get more connected to nature?
“My premise is an awful lot of the environmental issues we encounter, be it the decline of salmon or global warming or deforestation – ultimately it gets back to, ‘what is our relationship to nature?’ Is it a purely utilitarian one where nature is seen as this bountiful source of resources? Or is it more of a transaction where we take from nature but we also give back to it.”
How do you feel this disconnect from nature impacts our society?
Again, I think it goes back to where nature is in the list of priorities. Because it tends to be rated quite low, then I think a lot of our social and economic decisions are made without the long-term interests of nature in mind.
There’s another element there. There’s a recent book called The Last Child in the Woods, which talks about how for generations we’ve grown up being close to nature in many ways and that the current generation and future ones are very much less connected because of technology and video games and progressive urbanization of our society. That’s an extremely important bond we need to preserve and we need to think of new and innovative ways of building that bond in children and also in adults as well.
What solutions do you propose for solving this ‘nature separation’ dilemma?
I’m good with questions and not so good with solutions. The only real solution is for us to start talking about this and thinking about it and wrestling as a community and as a society. I don’t think any one person is going to come up with a slick, whiz-bang answer for this problem but as long as we’re dealing with the question, that’s the important thing.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
This probably sounds like a very deep and philosophical talk but it’s actually not. It’s more street level thinking about society and nature.
Don Gayton will deliver his talk at the community centre on Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. The talk is presented by the BC Interior Forest Museum and the Columbia Basin Trust as part of the U.N. International Year of Forests 2011. Admission is free.