The attitudes and beliefs we have about the environment are shaped by both internal and external factors.
According to Julia Corbett, there are three major influences on our environmental beliefs: childhood experiences, a sense of place, and historical or cultural contexts.
“Even decades ago, psychologists knew that children’s experiences with nature had crucial and irreplaceable effects on their physical, cognitive, and emotional development…Earlier forms of a child’s knowledge are not lost as the child developed but are embedded, reworked, and transformed into more comprehensive ways of understanding the natural world and acting upon it.”
Taken from Communicating Nature, these statements bring up how influential our childhood experiences impact our lives further down the road.
What are kids truly learning and being exposed to? While growing up, people take what they have previously been shown by the world and mold it into their own perception of reality.
As we grow up, our time spent directly with nature decreases remarkably. Our sidewalks around campus and downtown are mindfully decorated with trees and flower pots, but how much does this make up for the lack of true contact with nature and the endemic way life has evolved in this special region?
Most of the time, the way we interact with “nature” is almost completely vicarious, such as watching the annual Shark Week. Watching a ratings-driven nature documentary is only symbolic of actually going out on a boat, miles away from the sight of shore and seeing a great white in person. Nothing can truthfully stand in for seeing a ginormous shark except that experience alone, but not everyone lives near the coast or has access to a boat. However, a week filled with watching nature documentaries sitting on your bum in a climate-controlled living room could never take the place of the raw experience of being out with nature itself, whatever the occasion is.
The majority of people living in the United States reside in cities. The sight of an open meadow, an untouched mountainside, or rolling hills of green, untouched land are scarce for this huge group of people. Corbett writes, “Your perceptions and evaluations of the environment in those places are expressions of place-based self-identity.”
Our personal beliefs and attitudes predict how we interact with the environmental. Imagine traveling just north of Flagstaff on the 180 past Snow Bowl Road and turning onto an unpaved, barely marked forest road. To an outdoor lover, this could be a new spot to go camp for the night, following the moral code of “Leave No Trace.” A couple hours after sunrise the next morning, the only evidence would be footprints and a residual human smell. Now, what if a few teenage boys came up from Phoenix for a weekend camping trip? The same location might have some beer cans, food wrappers, or even broken glass and other trash littered around. The way each of these two groups of people interacted with their environment is an example of “place-based-self-identify”.
From the beginning of European settlement in North America, nature was seen as an obstacle. Corbett states, “Many settlers believed it was their Christian duty to impose control, civilize, tame, subdue, and in essence, denature nature.” These early Americans had no remorse for nature on their westward journey. Historically, forests were there only waiting to be chopped down for wood. Nature was widely perceived to be a resource storehouse .
Our environmental beliefs and attitudes are influenced largely by our personal experiences growing up, our self-identity and how we perceive nature, and by the circumstances we are in now based on how we historically lived with nature. These predisposed beliefs have an effect on environmental issues we currently face surrounding the use and abuse of plastic and water.
We need to start becoming aware of how our actions effect the environment, even if this wasn’t what we and our parents were traditionally raised to be mindful of. We are the future.
Communicating Nature by Julia Corbett (2006).