Ethics and You Education Plus

Earth ethics and human health

Get out of the electronically-controlled life. Photo: R. Eswarraj  

There are prayers people used to say, apologising to the Earth for stepping on her every morning. But when did you last feel the earth beneath your feet?

Environmental studies are part of the academic curriculum, but a relationship with nature during childhood is as important as lessons on saving the Earth. There are school-goers who step off elevators, climb into school buses, jump down on to the compounds concreted for cleanliness, play for a while, enter a school paved neatly with mosaic or flooring of some kind and return along the same path. Once they enter their homes, after a snack and milk, they sit at tables in artificial light to first finish their homework. Later, they watch television or entertain themselves with either a laptop or an iPad.

This article is not about taking care of the Earth — there are enough studies and movements about that — but about realising that we need to stay linked to the Earth for our own physical and emotional health and stability. It is an acknowledged truth that energy flows from a stronger or higher source to a weaker one. A tree can sustain us, giving us psychological comfort, shade and food. Flowers, scented or otherwise, can lighten our mood in an instant. In contrast, in our passive state, we cannot do anything to elevate the condition of the tree or flowers. Mountains and oceans fill us with a sort of primitive awe. After all, are we not but recent guests on this planet? Consider Tiruvannamalai, certified as one of the oldest geological spots on the subcontinent. Imagine that! We stare at the sacred hill or walk around it and congratulate our puny selves. The only effect we can have on its environment is to interfere with it and erode its rhythms.

There is an aspect of ethics we have to consider in relation to our watery home, and what better time to think about it than now, in this month flagged as the “Earth month”? But first, an anecdote to get us going. About ten years ago, during the farewell of a senior employee of the British Council (south), one of the managers said, “At last, Ms…. will be able to follow the doctor’s orders and sit in the sun.” Upon further enquiry, though everybody smiled disbelievingly at the remark, the truth was that this highly efficient cultural executive who had helped and inspired hundreds of people was suffering from a severe deficiency of vitamin D. What was its natural and endless supply? Sunlight. Why was she a victim? Because her working hours meant that she never actually spent any time exposed to the sun.

This is close to where most of us trapped in an electronically-controlled life might soon be. For many years, we have heard repeated warnings that an exclusively urban life with no contact with the earth or plants is very unhealthy for animals and people. With the rise of technology and industrial growth, people are increasingly losing physical contact with nature. This gap has led to mental and physical health problems in many people, especially children.

We know about malnutrition which is caused due to lack of certain foods leading to severe conditions of anaemia and bleeding and breakup of tissue resulting in infections, disease and death. But a new term has been coined now — nature deficit disorder. The current disconnect between humans and the rest of the natural world has been discussed in great detail in books such as Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods.

This is caused by a variety of mental and physical problems, resulting in the increasing gap between people and nature. Virtual reality, however exciting, can never be the healthy equivalent of climbing a tree or rolling on the grass or playing in the mud. Difficulties such as obesity, mental ailments and depression are some of the things that affect people deprived of nature. After establishing a direct correlation between humans and nature, steps can be taken to ease these disorders. But first, we must come to terms with recognising them for what they are.

The nature-Earth deficit is invisible but will gradually seep into their lives: unmanageable allergies and a sense of fear and insecurity originating in a vital disconnect. This brings me to the theory that our love for gardens comes from primitive memories of the ancient forests and woods we once inhabited. Though danger lurked in the form of wild animals, insects and reptiles, the forest was also home and a source of life and food. Nature both protects and destroys, and it is time we recognised that both possibilities have power over us.

This past year has brought spectacular natural upheavals around the world which are impossible to ignore. The Earth is speaking to us. Are we ready to listen?

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 2:09:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/Earth-ethics-and-human-health/article14403103.ece

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