Engaging children with the environment at a young age is critical to their own well-being, as well as the well-being of the planet, said two world-class scientists at an Earthwatch public lecture last night. Being the national student news service, Young Academic is obviously very interested in this issue, which could be crucial to the development of the future generation of scientists.
During Why Emotion Matters to Conservation Science at London’s Royal Geographical Society, Dr. Wallace “J” Nichols and Dr. Anastasia Steffen presented to a 700-strong audience, discussing the importance of fostering love for landscape and oceans.
Earthwatch scientist Dr. Steffen recognised the importance of “taking every opportunity to get children out into open spaces” to help them “fall in love” with nature, and consequently recognise the need to preserve it. She highlighted her work studying the landscape and historical use of the Valles Caldera in New Mexico.
“The feeling of love we have for a landscape is adaptive” she said. “It’s part of our evolutionary development. I don’t know what a coyote feels when it recognises a healthy, safe environment to inhabit, but it’s probably something akin to love.”
Her co-speaker Dr. Nichols, a marine biologist, is leading the emerging scientific field of “neuroconservation”, investigating how natural environments could be essential for our well-being, helping reduce stress – a factor that can lead to disease -, and encouraging creativity.
He noted that every well-executed marketing brand uses neuroscience to create an emotional hook. Music, magic and meditation are just some of areas which have exploited neuroscience – so perhaps it’s time conservationists did the same, he said.
“When we interact with our environment, something changes,” stated Dr. Nichols. “Neuroconservation will become a powerful tool that will help us to fix what’s broken. It will allow us to talk about dignity, beauty, compassion and community within our work.
“As scientists we use fear and shame to communicate – which stresses people out more. As biologists, we know that a stressed animal doesn’t reproduce, or seek food. It’s in flight or fight mode. We can treat stress by reconnecting with our natural world.”
Earthwatch Executive Vice President Nigel Winser said:
“These messages hit home and we have much to think about as we decide how best to harness the ideas in developing future ‘citizen science’ activities. The speakers shared current research that will emphasise the importance of ‘environmental sensitivity’ brought on by a quality field experience with quality people, as happens on Earthwatch expeditions.”
Earthwatch inspires connections between people and the environment. Our mission is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.
Since 1971, we’ve been enabling people from all walks of life to join leading scientists working on crucial, environmental research projects locally and globally. We currently support about 60 projects across nearly 40 countries.
Dr. Steffen leads Earthwatch project Encountering the Prehistoric People of New Mexico.