Environmental values: the heart of the matter
Why do we care?
I’ve always been passionate about the environment. I love learning about nature, I love spending time outside and, most of all, I love to work toward saving it.
Everything I do and every decision I make takes environmental impact into account. Where does this straw go? How much water did it take to make this meal? How much carbon did this Light Rail Transit trip to work emit? How was the electricity produced that was used to charge my phone?
For a long time, it never occurred to me that this was an odd thing to do. Tallying up environmental impact isn’t something I do consciously; it’s just something that’s been engrained in me.
I’ve noticed that although I’ve met some people who care about the environment, I’ve met many more people who simply couldn’t care less. This begs the question: What makes people care about the environment more than others?
I began to research this topic and what I found is that it seems to largely come down to people’s differing values.
Sources of influence
The Oxford dictionary defines value as, “The regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.”
Everyone has their own set of values, because we all have different experiences and are influenced by a unique set of sources.
According to a paper written in Psychology Today by Barbara Markway, the most common sources of influence are our parents, friends, school systems, literature, institutions, religious groups, television, radio, newspaper, reports, social media…and the list goes on.
As I looked back on what the important influencers of my life have taught me, it began to make more sense.
When I was seven, my parents and my grandmother taught me not to waste food, to recycle and to compost organic material. When I was 11, my grandfather told me about what it was like growing up in a small town in Germany in the 1920s with next to no material possessions. When I was 13, documentaries such as “An Inconvenient Truth” taught me about the severity of climate change. When I was 18, books by Naomi Klein taught me that there are things that I can do to help mitigate my environmental impact. Now at 20, I’ve learned extensively about environmental issues in my classes and read peer-reviewed reports about palm oil and factory farming in my spare time.
There's no doubt in my mind that this information has helped compel me to care about the environment and cement the fact that I have a duty to protect it.
Impact of experience
It’s important, however, to take into account the impact that our personal experiences have in shaping our beliefs and solidifying our values.
Since starting my internship at the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) a month ago, I’ve asked nearly everyone I’ve encountered why they love the environment.
From camping outside in a forest and sitting around a campfire, fishing trips with grandparents on calm lakes, hiking up glaciers on weekends in Jasper National Park and horseback riding through the foothills, to simple things such as seeing wildlife in a city park or learning to do spring planting in the backyard, these places are where people’s love for the environment began to grow.
I’ve lived in Ottawa my whole life, surrounded by houses, paved roads, construction every morning and bad traffic. So why do I care about the environment? If you ask me where my favourite place on Earth is, the answer is telling. My family’s cottage on Lake McDonald is where I spent much of my time in the summers growing up. Surrounded by pine trees, fresh water and the short hiking trails of the Laurentians, it’s here that I likely forged my connection with the outdoors.
Extensive research has been done to try to determine how people’s environmental stewardship values are shaped But my experience shows there’s a recurring variable.
If you want people to come to care for and respect the environment, surround them with nature — smelling the fresh air, feeling the wind on their face, seeing wildlife, hearing the birds and the rustle of the trees. Once you feel connected to nature, that’s when you want to work towards saving it. So what are you waiting for? Go, get out and explore.
The Conservation Internship Program is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Summer Work Experience program.