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I find my peace when I’m watching waves break against the shore. While I’m hiking in a forest listening to the birds. When I’m kayaking down a river, water sloshing around me. As someone living with a mental illness, connecting with nature is how I get out of my head and feel my most grounded, confident and strong.
I’m not alone. There’s a reason why walks to the local park have been such a prominent feature of the Covid-19 lockdown. Nature isn’t somewhere to visit – it is home. It has the power to give us perspective, boost our mood, and help us get through.
With all the anxiety of the Covid-19 pandemic, many have been struggling with their mental health. People have been isolated from their support networks or coping strategies. Worries about family and friends, grief from loss, and stress about job security have been taking their toll. For some, a peaceful walk on a local track has been a source of light when everything else seems scary and uncertain.
Throughout this pandemic, we’ve also caught a glimpse of what happens when we treat the Earth more kindly. The skies have been clearer, the air has been cleaner, and birdsong has been louder. Those precious places where we find peace, to take a break from everyday life, have been able to take a breath.
Our mental and physical wellbeing rely on a healthy planet. That means making sure our local rivers are clean enough for us to wander down and have a swim in, as well as addressing longer-term issues like the climate crisis. Preserving a habitable planet is crucial for our collective health and ultimately, our survival.
But over the course of human history, we’ve disrupted nature to the point where only 20% of the Earth’s surface now survives as wilderness. In the last 50 years, we’ve wiped out 60% of the world’s animal population. And we’re losing more each day.
We shouldn’t need a pandemic to recognise the need to take better care of our home. But that’s what it has taken for some. We now have a rare chance to create a new normal for our world – one where we look after both people and the planet. A world where the landscapes we enjoy for solace and rejuvenation are thriving and full of life.
I believe we should protect the Earth for its own sake. But we have to protect it for our own sake, too.
Research has proven the positive mental health impacts of spending time in nature. Those lockdown strolls in the park? They lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels while improving cognitive function, creativity and feelings of wellbeing. Cities built around green spaces have healthier populations, mentally and physically. And really, we are a part of nature, so it’s no wonder we feel better with our toes in the sand than we do in a concrete jungle.
Right now, we have a chance to build a future that locks in the mental and physical health benefits of nature by protecting the planet we call home. In response to the Covid-19 downturn, the Government is about to invest billions of dollars in stimulating the economy. This money could be used to provide people with warm and safe housing, powered by the sun and wind. It could fund bus and train networks that help people stay connected for a fraction of the carbon. It could enable new ways of food production that work in harmony with the land instead of against it.
With changes like these, both we – and the Earth that nurtures us – can thrive. Nature feeds us, sustains us and lifts our spirits. So isn’t it only right we build a system that allows us to properly protect it?
Samantha Caughey is a Marketing Specialist at Greenpeace Aotearoa.