Nature Talks 2018 at Moment Factory (Photo by Martin Beaulieu)

Nature Talks 2018 at Moment Factory (Photo by Martin Beaulieu)

Nature and me: Cultivating the relationship

Green Mountains, Sutton area (Photo by Guillaume Simoneau)

Green Mountains, Sutton area (Photo by Guillaume Simoneau)

For many of us, our relationship with nature is no longer what it used to be. How does this affect our quality of life? How can we reconcile modernity and nature? Experts explored these questions at an event in Montreal organized by the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC).

A survey released last September by NCC, in partnership with Ipsos Public Affairs, revealed that although 87 per cent of respondents said they were happier when they spent time in nature, 66 per cent said they spent less time in the outdoors today than when they were young. Almost three-quarters of respondents explained that it is simply easier to stay inside.

Any relationship can have its contradictions. Our relationship with nature is no exception. But becoming aware of this is the first step in breaking the deadlock, or at least in improving the situation. So why, knowing that connecting with nature is a source of well-being, are we nevertheless more and more withdrawn from it? How can this trend be reversed? On December 3 in Montreal, several experts examined these questions during the NatureTalks Cross-Country Speaker Series, the latest in a series of cross-Canadian events organized by NCC.

What has happened to our relationship with nature? “For the vast majority of human history, we have lived closely with nature,” says Nathalie Zinger, executive coordinator for conservation engagement at NCC. According to her, for the first time in modern history, we are trying to dissociate ourselves from nature. In recent generations, our population of farmers, fishermen and lumberjacks has become 80 per cent urban, and the vast majority of us are glued to screens. “Unfortunately, this experience of dissociation between humanity and ecology represents a setback for nature and for the inhabitants of this planet,” she says.

While 11 per cent of Canada's land and fresh water is now part of a park or protected area, nature continues to lose ground. According to another panelist, Delphine Acoca, regional manager at the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation, we tend to underestimate the services nature provides us. Trees, for example, help absorb the CO2 produced by fossil fuels, filter the air we breathe, purify the water we drink and regulate temperature, to name just a few services.

Reconnecting to nature

When we wonder what contributes to our distance from nature, fingers are often pointed at technology. However, according to Eric Fournier, executive producer at Moment Factory, a multimedia studio that has created illuminated and interactive paths in the forests, pitting these two against each other is misguided. He describes how technology can bring us closer to nature. The success of Foresta Lumina in Coaticook is proof of this. “Where we initially projected 7,000 visitors, it will end up being 10 times more in the first year,” he says. “Since then, we have received requests for illuminated paths all over the world. Today, we are operating nine Lumina projects, three of which are in Japan, two elsewhere in Canada and four in Quebec.” Eric insists that using technology to bring us closer to nature is particularly effective with younger people.

We can reconnect to nature through technology, but also by proceeding step by step, at our own pace. And it can be as simple as starting with taking care of a plant at home, says Delphine Acoca from the TD Friends of the Environment Foundation. According to Delphine, taking an interest in and learning about nature will also motivate us to try to preserve it.

And, according to the last speaker of the evening, Bernard Voyer, adventurer and mountaineer, it is indeed by observing nature and being inspired by it that we can find the strength to act. His own dreams of discovery and adventure took root when, as a young child, he immersed himself in the landscapes of the Lower St. Lawrence. He thinks that we may be protecting our offspring too much today: “Young people are born adventurers,” he says. “Give them a backpack, take them on an expedition, even if only on Mount Royal!” And as a result, encourage future generations to cherish and protect nature, in grateful acknowledgment of all the benefits it brings us.

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Atlantic puffins (Photo by Bill Caulfield-Browne)