The Norwegian countryside is a magnificent playground for a kid. Swing-sets and slides are fun. But for a child, nothing beats striking out into rolling hills and mysterious towering forests. There is adventure everywhere. I have always lived in a city, but I was lucky growing up to have ample opportunity to explore these treasures of Norway.
Some of my favourite memories are from those adventures. I remember the excitement of coming across a clear, gurgling stream. I remember the smell of damp pine after a rainfall. I remember clearings with long grasses, swaying in the wind. The winters were cold, but just as fun. The woods and mountains would retreat under their winter blankets of snow and ice. On sunny days, the light glinting through icicles on the trees was a magical scene. I developed a deep love for nature around this time, which I’ve carried with me all my life.
As for many living in cities, nature would often feel like something for decoration. There, grass was tamed and cut short, and trees were more often caged in planters on the pavement. City parks are a refuge, but as work takes over everyone’s life, there seem to be fewer and fewer opportunities to enjoy the natural world. That’s a problem for everyone in the city. Over half of the planet’s people live in urban areas, and urbanization is continuing rapidly. I think most of us city-dwellers will feel sometimes we are losing touch with the environment. But just as we are withdrawing from nature, protecting it has become even more critical.
The trappings of modern life – skyscrapers, smartphones, fast food – are built atop a foundation of complex natural systems. The rivers, forests, deserts, grasslands, oceans, and all of the ecosystems that make up our beautiful world give us what we need to survive and thrive. Without healthy natural systems, our modern life begins to crumble. Yet often these systems are so complex that it’s very difficult to comprehend how important they are. A seemingly insignificant change – pollution, deforestation, river rerouting – can cause disastrous effects. We see it with climate change. A small global increase in temperature is causing rising sea levels, more floods and droughts, and species to be decimated. Our natural foundations – the annual rains or the pollinators that make sure we can grow our food – suddenly feel shaky.
Clearly, it’s important we safeguard this basis for human survival. But how do we protect all of this if we barely understand the connection? Learning about nature helps, but to truly understand the connection we need to feel closer to it. The sense we get from being outdoors, in the wild, is the sense that we are part of something much larger than us. Almost everyone who has ever set off into the great outdoors on an adventure has felt it instinctively.
That’s why this World Environment Day we are asking people to feel that closeness again, to get outside, to connect with nature. On 5 June, go for a hike over the hills, a bike ride through the forest or a swim in a lake. Whatever opportunity you have to get close to nature, do it! And don’t stop on 5 June, either.
Life is better when we are in touch with our planet. And when we connect with nature, we are letting ourselves understand it, and thereby helping to save it. I was lucky to find a world full of wonder nearby when I was young. As I grew older I discovered the vast wonder of our world. There is so much to explore, so much to be inspired by, and so much worth protecting outside our urbanized bubble. Let’s get outside and enjoy it!