Over the last century, we have created a human made environment and a way of life that has become increasingly hostile to humans. Our modern way of life seems to provide us with a higher standard of living and unparalleled levels of convenience. At the same time, however, we are denied many of our most fundamental physiological needs as human beings from the air we breathe to the water we drink and the food we eat. With more than half the world’s population already living in urban areas and 68% of the world’s population projected to be doing so by 2050, this disconnect is only set to continue and be felt by more and more people around the globe.
We have cocooned ourselves from the natural world in our hermetically sealed built environment but have forgotten how important that connection is to our health and wellbeing. The true extent of the problems caused by our increased exposure to artificial lighting is not known; however, scientific research is revealing the health implications of light pollution. Life on earth evolved with a clear distinction between day and night and our circadian rhythms are based on a cycle of light and dark that helps to regulate many of our biological processes. We have tended to look upon sleep as an inefficient use of our time. However, medical research is warning us that sleep deprivation and a sedentary lifestyle have a significant impact on our health. Lack of sleep has been linked to many health problems, including the impairment of our cognitive functions, the degrading of our emotional intelligence and mental ill-health.
Our modern lives are reducing our exposure to the natural world. In 2005 Richard Louv coined the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ to describe the negative impact this is having on our wellbeing. More recently, the medical profession has begun to recognise the benefits that nature can have on health. Doctors in Scotland’s Shetland Islands now prescribe birdwatching, rambling and beach walks to their patients to help treat chronic conditions.
Our urban lifestyles and separation from the natural world have led to a greater appreciation of all things wild and natural and a strong desire to preserve areas of the natural world that still exist. ‘Rewilding - a new model of conservation - adopts a hands-off approach letting natural order take over without any agenda over which species should or should not thrive. Interestingly, there has been a shift in public opinion concerning one of the most controversial aspects of rewilding: the reintroduction of ‘apex species’ (those animals close to or at the top of the food chain). Many of these species have been missing from our ecosystems for centuries due to overhunting and persecution. However, there is now a growing acceptance within society that we should be doing more to connect with the natural world.
The term ‘Anthropocene’ was coined in 2000 to describe the current geological age. This is the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on the climate and environment. The challenge over the next century will be to find new ways to harness this influence to consciously designing more suitable environments that support our most basic physiological needs.