A comprehensive climate change policy requires, as well as carbon pricing and R&D, measures to enhance our love of nature. An economist will splutter in his coffee at this. But if we love and nurture nature and abhor the idea of destroying it, then we are a bit more likely not to destroy it. If people loved nature, it might not be so hard to persuade people to take care of it.
For love of nature, I mean three things together:
(1) Awe – we need to have great awe or reverence for nature, for its beauty, its complexity, strange mix of fragility and power
(2) Understanding – we have to understand the connection between nature and us, how we are affected by it and how we affect it
(3) Responsibility – we have to feel a sense of responsibility for nature, a feeling which is more likely to grow in us as we achieve the first two steps.
All three are needed in our relationship with nature. Without awe you don’t sense humility, and you feel you don’t need nature. Without understanding, with the best will in the world, you can make terrible mistakes. Without a sense of responsibility, you will shrug your shoulders even in the face of your knowledge.
Policy can be used to engender these things in people.
Understanding is the easiest, since we already have a working system for imparting knowledge – the education system. We just need to put more emphasis on helping people understand the interactions between ourselves and nature.
To experience awe of nature you have to experience nature. National Geographic Channel can help, but real connection with nature happens through smells, through touch and through fear. You just don’t get that on the sofa. We must arrange for children of an impressionable age, before urban cynicism dries their hearts like brittle mud, to be out in nature: on mountainsides, in forests, by rivers, on the ocean, with animals and birds wild and domestic.
This is also a form of education. It is absolutely feasible – building on traditions things like the Scouts and Guides or the Young Ornithologists Club, and something like this can be seen in Project Wild Thing in the UK. With urban children currently being brought up to be afraid of the outdoors, we desperately need something like this anyway. Making this policy means doing it on a large scale, consistently, over many years and ensuring it is well funded.
This is not a sufficient condition, and perhaps not a necessary condition of environmental concern. But it is an important part of the mix.
A sense of responsibility for nature is a notion of a higher order. It is partly emotional, partly intellectual. It doesn’t have the totally subconscious character of awe, nor is it learnt like understanding. It comes from example. From seeing your parents and those around you act with a sense of responsibility to their community; from seeing people you respect care for nature; and then you, too, realise that nature is also part of your community and something to care for. The most that policy can do here is to create the environment where such a sense of responsibility can be fostered. More on this later.
This is something for everybody. Humans across a wide range of cognitive levels can love nature and feel responsibility for it.