The Door to Happiness opens into Nature!
by Mr Attish Kanhai, Benthic Ecologist,
Institute of Marine Affairs
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once commented, “The door to happiness opens outward.” Given Kirkegaard’s reputation for being somewhat broody, it is doubtful whether he was talking about the literal outdoors. He did not seem like the outdoorsy type. However, to grossly miscontextualise Kirkegaard and to take this quote literally, I agree. The door to happiness does indeed open outward because outward is where we find nature, outward is where we find biodiversity.
The diversity of creatures on this floating rock through space truly warrants celebration and reverence. It is tempting to think as we look around and see birds fly, the odd pets about our gardens and animals here and there, trees, shrubs and the like, that this is the sum total of biodiversity. But two thirds of life on earth cannot be seen with the naked eye. One single bacterium can fit on the tip of a needle one million times. Even these minute creatures add their voices to the choir of life albeit ever so quietly. Each living thing on this Earth, from the smallest of microbes in the soil, to the largest deep-sea whales that rival the size of passing ships, blends seamlessly into the tapestry of life. As more and more of nature’s sopranos, altos, baritones or tenors grow silent, the song of nature becomes less Mozart and more Falco. Our challenge then, is for Amadeus to keep on rocking (Unless you’re a fan of 80s music you will not catch that reference, I digress).
Biodiversity, in a practical sense plays an extremely important role in our health and well-being. Nearly 75%1 of all new medicines and drugs are derived from nature. Without plants and animals, the medical field would look radically different. Our ability to treat diseases would be greatly compromised, and medical discoveries would be limited were we not able to draw on the wealth provided to us from our biodiverse nature library. To date only a small fraction of plants, animals and microbial organisms have been studied for their medicinal properties. Who knows what cures lie dormant in nature waiting for its chance to influence the world? The greatest tragedy would be if these plants and animals would become extinct before we get a chance to know them.
Research has shown that biodiverse environments can help us to mentally recharge2. For example, people living in neighbourhoods with more birds3 report being less stressed. The more biodiverse an environment the more relaxed people feel. The less connected we are to nature, the more our mental and physical health suffer. However, our connection to nature is becoming less commonplace, as green spaces give way to grey concrete jungles. It is no wonder people living in intensely urbanised areas report decreased mental health4. Biodiversity conservation is not an option it is a necessity.
No one needs me to keep itemising all the ways biodiversity is being destroyed and the extremely poor job Homo sapiens (humans) have done as stewards of our other earthly gifts. On the flipside, if we have the power to destroy, we also have the power to preserve. The impetus for biodiversity conservation can fall in only one place and that is squarely on the shoulders of those who have, up until this point, shirked our responsibilities.
As we commemorate World Biodiversity Day we are charged to be part of the solution, a solution to the problem we have created. A shift in thinking is required. We are part of nature, we come from nature and everything we do affects nature. We are part of the organism, the numerous parts of Earth’s symphony that harmonises in a way no other planet in this galaxy can boast.
The Yale office of sustainability highlights six ways in which we can assist biodiversity in our local environments5:
- Support local farms – in Trinidad there are an abundance of farmers’ markets that sell locally produced goods. Supporting farmers’ markets has the added benefit of keeping money in the local economy
- Save the bees, the pollinators – bees are under constant attack from a variety of sources. Planting nectar producing flowers or, if you are so inclined, building a bee box for local bees to call home can be very helpful ways in saving the bee community. Most importantly don’t kill the bees!
- Plant local flowers, fruits and vegetables – yes an apple a day keeps the doctor away but here in Trinidad we are fortunate to have a wide variety of local fruits and vegetables. Local nurseries can provide a variety of information on local plant species, where they are sourced and how best to care for locally grown plants.
- Take shorter showers! Biodiversity depends on the abundance of local fresh water. Taking five-minute showers and turning the water off while washing your hands, doing the dishes, or brushing your teeth are all easy ways to conserve water.
- Respect local habitats. Plants growing in the parks and nature preserves near your homes often play an important role in preserving the local ecosystem. When you are outdoors, protect local biodiversity by sticking to the walking path or hiking trail. Help your children and pets to do the same!
- Know the source! It is important to support companies that sustainably source their products and do not engage in environmentally destructive practices.
Kirkegaard’s entire quote reads: “Alas, fortune’s [happiness] door doesn’t open inward so that one can push it open by rushing at it; but it opens outward, and therefore one can do nothing about it.” I am less inclined to agree with this full statement. We can still do something about it. Preserving biodiversity means preserving happiness. Simple steps and mindfulness for our fellow Earth dwellers does more than we perceive. Perhaps if Kirkegaard had spent more actual time outdoors he would have experienced more happiness instead of having to write about it.