Relevance of Nature for Human Health – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

Nature is all the animals, plants, and other things in the world that are not man-made. It also includes all the events and processes that are not caused by people. It plays a pivotal role in the overall development and wellbeing of an individual. It provides multiple resources to humans as well as help in managing their stress and anxiety levels. However nature is being destroyed and neglected by mankind for fulfilling their myopic desires. This warrants a proactive approach towards preservation and conservation of nature.

Why is the relevance of nature for Human health?

First,  Harvard Medical School scientists find spending time in nature lowers cortisol, the stress-exacerbating hormone. Scientists researching the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku’ or ‘forest bathing’ found that walking through woods, looking, touching and smelling leaves results in 12.4% lower cortisol and a 5.8% lower heart rate.

Second, The USDA finds green spaces boosts cognitive development in children and childhood access to nature strengthens cognitive health in old age. Experts believe that even a short walk in a park or viewing a tree outside an office window has a measurable effect on our cognitive function. It improves our ability to concentrate, recall, process maths and put ideas together in a creative way.

UNEP finds exposure to pollutants causes developmental delays and lower IQs in children, exacerbating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in older people.

Third, the mere existence of nature around human beings helps them to tackle emotional and psychological stress. Spending time in nature, from a small park to a large reserve, lifts people out of the troubles that cause them to ruminate. In psychology, ‘rumination’ refers to repetitive negative and self-referential thoughts. The USDA estimates individuals with just 10% green space near their home face a 25% greater risk of depression and a 30% higher chance of anxiety disorders.

Fourth, it helps us understand the evolutionary process by studying different species found in nature. For instance, studying chimpanzees can help understand various aspects of human biology as both of them have 98% common genetic material.

Fifth, there are many crucial functions that are performed by leaves due to which they are called building blocks of life. They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen that we need to breathe. They help settle dust which we would otherwise inhale, damaging our lungs. They absorb the polluting and toxic gasses released from vehicles and factories. 

Many of them are edible — spinach leaves are nutritious, tender tamarind leaves give a tanginess to lentils and curry leaves add flavour to so many dishes. 

We also use palm leaves to thatch homes and many houses have aloevera and tulsi leaves with medicinal properties — part of our in-house drugstore used to treat colds, coughs and skin ailments.

They become fodder for sheep, goats and cows, are used to make nests by birds, ants and squirrels, get nibbled on by caterpillars that become pollinating butterflies.

Why does nature have such a deep impact on Humans?

First, Like all species on Earth, human beings are also the children of nature and strongly connected to nature at every level.

Second, Our brains have been honed over millennia learning from nature — climbing trees, foraging for food, preserving water, building shelters. As nature taught us, we grew.

What are the factors enhancing separation of Nature from humans?

First, the desire to become developed is inducing every country to focus on industrialization. Greater number of factories emit large scale pollutants like Sulfur Dioxide, Carbon Monoxide etc. that results in air and water pollution.

Second, the rapid urbanization has resulted in large scale deforestation and concrete has replaced the tree canopy in cities. People in cities are suffering from much higher rates of mental illness, stress, depression and other challenges.

Third, the digital revolution has enhanced access to more screens and more electronic devices. This has reduced interaction of humans with the physical world and devoid them of multiple benefits arising out of such interaction.

Fourth, the class inequality also restricts access to nature and its services. It’s easier for rich people and much harder for the poor to experience the green spaces.

What steps have been taken for preservation of nature?
Domestic

Nagar Van Udhyan Yojana: It aims to increase forest cover in urban areas by developing 200 Urban Forests across the country in the next five years.

Various Acts: Wildlife Protection Act (1972), Environment Protection Act (1986), Biological Diversity Act (2002) and others play a pivotal role in nature conservation.

National Green India Mission: It is one of the eight missions launched under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC). It aims to increase green cover in India to the extent of five million hectares (mha) and improve the quality of existing green cover on another 5 mha.

International

The World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Inter-American Development Bank(IADB) have pledged to mainstream nature into all their policies, analyses and investments in human development by 2025. 

The ADB and IADB have established a Natural Capital Lab, formally recognising nature as an asset and acknowledging the high costs of overlooking this.

UN Sustainable Development Goals: These goals induce countries to work in such a way that development takes place without damaging the environment and without compromising the needs of future generations.

UN Convention to Combat Desertification: It was established in 1994 and is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.

The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the dryland, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found

What more can be done?

First, there is a need to understand the enormous contribution of nature to human wellbeing and bring this into policy, planning and financial investment.

Second, human well-being involves reconnecting with natural experiences. Government can collaborate with NGOs like GreenPeace to spread awareness about nature interaction. Masses can be encouraged to adopt simple practices like just hearing birdsong at dawn that can have a very deep effect on people.

Third, there should be greater research using state of art technology in order to find out the impact of nature on human beings. For instance, we can use accelerometery or consumer wearables which give us granular, minute-level data of whether people become more vigorous in green spaces than built-up ones.

Fourth, there should be equitable access to nature for every human being. Countries can use innovative concepts like the ‘3-30-300’ strategy. Under this every home should have a view of three trees, every neighborhood should have thirty percent canopy cover and three hundred meters distance to the nearest green space.

Fifth, the teachers should encourage students to create an effective bond with nature using many fun activities. This includes Painting on leaves and stringing them together to make colorful decorations, making toys from leaves, like a whistle or a doll from coconut leaves etc..

Conclusion

Humans can and must rebuild their bond with nature. They must understand that a stable natural ecosystem is a sine qua non for long term survival of planet earth. Further, any future discourse must be guided keeping in mind the saying of Mahatma Gandhi – ‘There is enough for everyone’s need but not for anyone’s greed’.

Source: The Times of India, The Times of India, The Times of India

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