Canadians relate closely to freedoms and democracy, quality of life, caring for others and multicultural tolerance and have long viewed environmental issues as a major public concern, according to surveys of our values. National Parks are one of the often cited symbols of Canada. We are proud of the abundance of nature in Canada, yet we have been slow to establish national celebrations of the great natural world we inhabit.
Cultures are defined by traditions, protocols, and ethics reflected in such endeavours as the arts, cuisine, literature, music, language, legends, philosophy, religion, and science. In a Nature Culture, the natural world would be a guiding influence in these endeavours. A compelling reason to adopt a Nature Culture is the discovery of the health and childhood development benefits nature provides. You can read more about the strength of these connections in a review paper by Paul Sandifer and his co-authors. Cecilly Maller and her coauthors call for a rethink of how we design cities because of potential cost savings derived from nature. They wrote “This approach [nature connection] offers not only an augmentation of existing health promotion and prevention activities, but provides the basis for a socio-ecological approach to public health that incorporates environmental sustainability”.
These conclusions are beginning to shed a new light on the role of land conservation. For over a century now, conservation in North America has focussed largely on saving species and habitats. The approach varied on how much human activity was tolerated, but the philosophy remained firmly on the priority of preservation of nature. There was good reason to do so for imperilled species and ecosystems and where species were sensitive in their lifecycle such as at nursery and migration areas. Although conservation activities often spoke to the importance of nature to people, nature was seldom viewed as essential to the society. Despite environment being an ongoing concern, Canadians gave only about 2% of total donations to environmental causes, according to Charity Intelligence Canada. The evidence for benefits from nature to humans alone should be a rallying call for conservation.
In a Nature Culture, the preservation of species and habitats becomes part of the cultural fabric. Sustainability is vital to the continuity of the culture. The loss of nature in a Nature Culture takes on special meaning because not only are species and their habitats lost but the culture too. The Nature Culture focus shifts from preservation for nature’s sake to preservation of nature for the sake of the culture.
This difference might seem academic but in practice, it is anything but moot. In a Nature Culture, some places would justifiably remain off limits or have limited human access in order to sustain species or ecosystems. Other protected areas might provide for human use with certain caveats to ensure sustainability. Several conservation applications fit this premise. British Columbia’s Ecological Reserves program restricts access to reserves to preserve representative species and ecosystems. Parks fit the example of areas with limited human activities and they allude to a cultural connection. For example, Canada’s National Park’s web site says:
“National parks protect natural environments representative of Canada’s natural heritage. ….Each provides a haven, not only for plants and animals, but also for the human spirit.” The goal is to “establish a system of national parks that represents each of Canada’s distinct natural regions.”
Although there is recognition of humans, there remains a need to connect people with nature as an element of Canadian culture.
If this sounds a lot like what some indigenous people have being saying for a long time, you are correct. Not that long ago, all human societies were closely associated with nature.
Living in Canada with its abundance of nature provides an opportunity for a testing ground to use our science and technology to sustain nature as a foundation of a culture. There is also potential economic growth in nature activities.
There is a germ of a Nature Culture connected to the land already in place in Canada. Where I live in British Columbia Bird Week, the Meadowlark Festival, Brant Festival, Adams River Salmon Run, and Wings over the Rockies are a few examples of opportunities to learn about nature. The Squamish Eagle Festival is especially interesting because of the breadth of the cultural events associated with the return of the eagles. All of these events could be underpinnings of a Nature Culture if they became traditions.