The benefits of green spaces and natural settings are becoming more apparent all the time: reduced stress, depression and feelings of aggressiveness; an increase in overall happiness; faster post-operative recovery; a decline in ADHD symptoms in children — all of these outcomes have been verified when people spend time in nature. The outdoors make us happier, cause us to be kinder and can even give us bigger brains.
While you could say these kinds of benefits are priceless, there’s a new trend afoot. By assigning a monetary value to natural elements in a healthy environment, it is hoped that governments, businesses and others in positions of power will come to see that protecting nature makes good financial sense.
This concept of pricing ecosystem services and natural features — and allowing them to be bought and sold — is gaining wide acceptance among conservationists. But could this approach end up obscuring the unquantifiable, soul-restoring advantages of natural places and put them at even greater risk?
A new species of lion has recently been discovered, announced the National Geographic Society a few weeks ago. Were the animals caught by camera trap or spotted by a tracker in the remote regions of Africa? No. They were found — in all places — in an Ethiopian zoo. It’s questionable whether any other representatives of this species are alive in the wild today.
All over the world, the struggle to keep endangered species from going extinct is often played out in zoos or in captive breeding centers. The last known Tasmanian tiger lived out its life in a zoo before it died in 1936, giant pandas are being bred in Chinese reserves and whooping cranes are being raised at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland.
Living in zoos or in other places of captivity, however, changes wild animals — sometimes to the point where behaviorally they little resemble their wild counterparts. But is keeping an altered, threatened wild species from going extinct better than losing it altogether?
Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai wouldn’t suffer a single tree to be cut down for her coffin; her body was laid to rest in a casket made of hyacinth, papyrus and bamboo. At her funeral service this September in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, which she fought to save from obliteration by a 60-story skyscraper, her family planted a tree in her honor. That brings her total up to roughly thirty million and one.
As the founder of the Green Belt Movement — a reforestation project that paid impoverished Kenyan women to plant seedlings in order to renew the environment and increase their access to firewood and clean water — Maathai was responsible for the growth of some 30 million trees. Her battle with ovarian cancer ended on September 26; since then, environmentalists, feminists, and democracy advocates have voiced their grief and admiration.
As Julio hauled the net into our skiff, we spied a green sea turtle ensnared in the mesh. In this case, we were happy to see our captive: Julio is the Magadalena Baykeeper on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, and part of his job is working with Grupo Tortuguero — the world’s foremost sea turtle conservation group — to capture, study and release endangered turtles in order to help ensure their future.
There’s a great story that my mom used to tell regarding her family’s dog. It involved her brother, who was at the time a young man just returning from three long years in the Pacific theater during World War II. When he stepped out of the car and onto the lawn, the dog walked up to greet him, took a good look and a sniff and then began to jump and dance around uncontrollably. She did that for about 30 minutes straight. When she finally settled down, it wasn’t two minutes before she got up and expressed her joy all over again. She repeated this 30-to-two-minute cycle for the remainder of the day.
Disneynature’s acclaimed new film Earth presents the most spectacular 100 minutes of wildlife footage I have ever seen. The film reunites directors Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, who produced the award-winning BBC series “Planet Earth,” in a new venture that brings equally stunning images to the big screen.
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