Timeless Spirit Logo ARTICLE

A Spiritually Enlightening Online Magazine. July's Theme: "Love"
Volume 2 Issue 5 ISSN# 1708-3265
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Love nature? It's in our Genes
by David Suzuki PhD

While in Ottawa recently, I was amazed to discover that the city was packed with tourists coming to witness the spectacle of the spring colours. Really, I shouldn't have been surprised - nature tends to draw crowds the world over.

In Algonquin Park each year, thousands of people spend their evenings straining to hear the call of wolves. In towns like Churchill, Manitoba, and Iqualuit, Nunavut, locals welcome visitors coming to experience the annual migration of polar bears and the display of northern lights. In Chicoutimi, Quebec, the townspeople proudly protect the salmon run in the small river running through the town.

According to renowned Harvard ecologist, Edward O. Wilson, more people around the world visit zoos and aquaria each year than watch all professional sports. This is only natural, he claims, because humans have a profound need to "affiliate" with the rest of nature - an innate need he has named "biophilia," a love of life.

Try showing a young child a butterfly or flower, or for that matter, a spider or snake. You will see an instant attraction, often with the child wanting to stuff the object in her mouth. That, Wilson believes, is a direct expression of biophilia. Unfortunately, he says, in our concern that something might bite, sting or dirty us, we teach our children to be repelled or frightened by nature, eventually replacing biophilia with biophobia.

Recently, the spectacular achievement of elucidating the entire genetic blueprint in a human genome was deservedly feted as an historic milestone. But in the rapturous speculation about the potential benefits - new drugs, cures for hereditary disease, elimination of mutations - I believe we ignored the most thrilling insight gained. In the DNA of all human beings are found hundreds of genes identical to those found in mice, fish, insects, plants and bacteria! The Human Genome Project revealed what many native people have always understood, we are genetically related to all other forms of life - they are our evolutionary kin. Viewed this way, our actions can no longer be driven by the perception of other species as "resources" but must be tempered by the recognition that they are our relatives.

As debates rage over the fate of the last remnants of intact nature in our forests, prairies, coral reefs and wetlands, arguments focus on jobs, economics and cost, but how do we assign value to our relationship with other life forms? In a time when we are told repeatedly that the economy is the bottomline, that we must sacrifice and do without for the sake of the economy, I would suggest that we need to recognize that there are other things that are very real but fail to be recognized.

When I received an unsolicited letter from a real estate agent suggesting that I "put my house on the market and buy up," I wondered what it is that has made my house a home. My wife and I bought the property 25 years ago and to me, what makes it most precious are: the spot under the dogwood tree where our pet dog (Pascha) and cat (Blackie) are buried along with sundry birds and mice the children have brought in off the street; the raspberry and asparagus patches my father-in-law, who lives upstairs, planted just for me; the kitchen cabinet my father built for our apartment when we were first married and that I tore out and installed in our house; the gate handle carved by my best friend when he stayed with us for a week; in the backyard, the clematis plant on which we put the ashes of my mother and niece when they died. Those things tie me to that place, make it my home and give it value beyond anything money can buy. Yet on the market, they are worthless.

How do we put a price on the spectacle of spring blossoms, the thrilling answer to our calls from a wolf or the inspiring journey of a salmon back to its birthplace? We can't because they are priceless and we are spiritually impoverished when we ignore them.

David T. Suzuki PhD, the Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. David has received consistently high acclaim for his thirty years of award-winning work in broadcasting; explaining the complexities of science in a compelling, easily understood way. He is well known to millions as the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's popular science television series, The Nature of Things. Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

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