Last week, I went for a hike with a couple of friends, and somehow our conversation moved to grizzly bears. One of my friends is Canadian and she worked as a guide in nature while living in a small town in the Rocky Mountains so she obviously knows how to behave around a bear. My other friend does too because she has spent time in Canada too, and most probably because she is interested in nature.
I shared with my husband the stories they told about close encounters with bears, and we started pondering the importance of learning how to behave around wild animals and in nature in general. He is Norwegian and believes that most Norwegians nowadays, even those who live in remote rural areas, have lost this kind of knowledge. This lack of knowledge creates separation and fear and has led to what we see as little respect for certain animals such as bears and wolves. We constantly hear about how low the bear and wolf population in Norway is and it is because they are often killed out of fear.
This morning, after hearing about the heat wave in Europe, I asked myself, how long have humans been on Earth (according to atlas.com, six million years if we count our ancestors, 300 000 years as we are now!) and how come it seems like the destruction of our planet to such the scale we see now with pollution and abuse of natural resources seems to be relatively new?
I believe that one of the reasons why we are abusing nature and leading our planet Earth towards climate change is the distance we have created between nature and natural processes and ourselves. In part, urbanization is responsible as more and more people move to the cities attempting to improve their lives and lose contact with nature, in part capitalism, especially in rich countries, which teaches us to believe that our well-being is in buying stuff and experiences.
I am constantly surprised by the attitude many people have towards nature and especially animals. It often seems to me that animals are seen as objects and not as sentient beings. Even thousands of domestic animals are dumped every single summer in Norway because people want to go on a vacation and can’t bother to find someone who can take care of their cat or dog.
We buy our food in supermarkets, spend a lot of money on fruits and vegetables that come from abroad, and are ignorant of all the local edible plants. We recently visited a botanic garden in Hamar, where the guide explained that for hundreds of years, Scandinavians got their vitamin C from among other things, Elderberry. Until someone in the 1700s, I think, introduced lemons as the better option. Lemons that need to travel from afar. Then, gradually, the knowledge about elderberry started fading away. The same has happened with medicinal plants. We have no clue on how to heal ourselves from minor ailments other than going to the doctor and getting a prescription where we could easily use plants and/or common sense.
My point here is that I feel we have lost so much valuable knowledge that on one side would contribute to our immediate well-being and on the other help us develop respect for all living beings. As a global community, we need to stop and reflect on what kind of information we keep feeding our minds and our children’s minds, and whether half of this information is useful.
The more I spend time in nature and learn about the local ecosystems, the more in awe I am and develop a respect for it.
Luckily, I see a trend at least in Norway, where people are going back to traditional knowledge. We are also rediscovering the importance of making and repairing things ourselves. For the benefit of the Earth, but also for our personal well-being. Just remember how well you felt last time you made something with your own hands.
As one of my students said the other day, it is not about going back to the old way of living, but it is about not forgetting the valuable knowledge and values we had before the industrial revolution at the same time as we benefit from the advances and inventions we have today.