Over the course of human evolution, the dependency people have on nature remains unchanged. In order to identify how cultural values and personal experiences affect our perception of an ideal natural environment and why we choose nature time and time again, I interviewed three generations of my family: a baby boomer, a millenial, and a gen Z who have been shaped by varying cultures and life events.
The Baby Boomer: The post-World War II era faced an influx of newborns, otherwise known as the baby boomers, including my 73-year-old grandfather, a retired bank manager. He grew up in a family of farmers in the countryside of southern India and moved to the city to pursue an university education and later a job to support his wife and two children.
The Millennial: Representing the millennial generation is my 42-year old mother, a former botanist and lecturer, with an earnest fascination for plants. Although she spent her childhood in India, she has travelled the world and has settled down in Canada with her husband and three children.
Gen Z: On behalf of Generation Z, I interviewed my 10-year-old sister, a Grade 5 student who enjoys writing poetry, anything to do with the outdoors, and spending time with family and friends. Her heart is shared between the United States and Canada; the place she was born and the place she calls home.
How would you describe your current relationship with nature?
The Baby Boomer: Not too shabby. I still manage to get out on those morning strolls for a fresh breath of air and to retain my youthful disposition.
The Millennial: Nature is precious and has been with me from the start. As a result of the current pandemic, I am trying to incorporate little reminders of the natural world into my daily life by maintaining a home garden and lots and lots of money plants. Seeing something grow up before my eyes is a priceless experience and my plants give me that sense of fulfillment.
Gen Z: Nature is a second home for me. It comforts me when I’m down, lifts me up when I’m weak, and keeps me company when I’m alone. The sound of flowing water is comforting and I get my best sleep when it’s raining outside. So I guess, nature keeps me grounded and guides me towards the things that really matter.
Was a healthy environment a major concern for you in day-to-day life during your childhood? Has your perspective changed?
The Baby Boomer: Not at all. My life was very simple back then as a child: complete my household chores, go to school, hang out with friends, and do it all over again. I always had a fascination for catching and examining animals. I was the biggest enemy of the local dragonflies and toads, but I never meant them any harm. Only after securing a job as a bank manager, did I notice all the problems, including those related to the environment, around me.
The Millennial: I had a very healthy environment back home, since I was brought up in a small farm town, and miss those days very much. When I moved to an urban vicinity, the apartment complex I was living in showed me the realities of the modern era and the negative effects of pollution. Now that I finally moved into a house where I can set up my own home garden, I have hope that even I can make a change. Seeing the birds, bees, butterflies, and earthworms in my garden during the springtime is worth all the extra hours and effort.
Gen Z: I care about ensuring that the environment is clean and safe, so that future generations can enjoy the same experiences I had. I try to make small eco-friendly choices, from taking notes on my computer, not charging my electronic devices overnight, and wearing a set of clothes at least twice before tossing them in the laundry.
What do you believe is the most alarming environmental issue?
The Baby Boomer: Air pollution is the most alarming issue for me because living in a metropolitan city at my age and regularly travelling has taken a toll on my health. Especially with the on-going COVID-19 pandemic, respiratory problems caused by air pollutants can be quite difficult to manage.
The Millennial: The use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers in agriculture is certainly an alarming environmental issue. Recent research had shown that they could be a potential cause for different autoimmune diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, leukemia, and lymphoma, whose occurrences have heightened in recent times. I am a big fan of organic gardening and use it to cultivate my home garden, using homemade compost and livestock manure, rather than chemical alternatives to rejuvenate soil and keep decomposers fed.
Gen Z: Plastic pollution is the most alarming environmental issue in my opinion since over 8 million tonnes of plastic are released into our oceans on a yearly basis, releasing toxins and disturbing aquatic life. However, I also believe that this can be solved through reuse and recycling, as well as using sustainable, durable alternatives, such as bioplastics and wood.
Back home, how was the Earth celebrated?
The Baby Boomer: My family thanked the Earth for the food, water, and other resources it provided us with through cultural festivities during the planting and harvest seasons. Nowadays, although we celebrate these occasions, we do it out of tradition, rather than respect… something that needs to change.
The Millennial: Every day was Earth Day for me. My neighbors and I were never afraid to play in the rain, climb trees, and roam around the farms I lived near. We would be outdoors for at least 3 to 4 hours on a daily basis… that is until I went to university and had to accustom myself to urban life.
Gen Z: My teachers always do a mini-lesson on environmental stewardship and the history of Earth Day. Throughout the year, we also take action for a green future by cleaning up litter, setting up a compost bin for food waste from our school cafeteria, and maintaining a school garden.
What is the most important lesson nature has taught you?
The Baby Boomer: The course of your life can change like how a river’s banks change direction every monsoon.
The Millennial: Good and bad are subjective. Catching the deer is good for a wolf, but escaping the wolf is good for the deer.
Gen Z: Change is a necessary part of life, just like how the seasons change throughout the year.
Do you think your descendants will share the same perspective you do about nature?
The Baby Boomer: Yes, they will. Because in the end, nature is the staple that holds life together. Everywhere you turn, it’s there in some part or form. Those who fail to understand the significance of nature now, will realize it sooner or later. I was just a normal man trying to support his family who didn’t have the first clue about environmental advocacy. When my perspective of nature changed over time, why can’t it for others?
The Millennial: Unfortunately not. Daily life is becoming ever so virtual with school being conducted online and a pandemic keeping our life at a stand-still. Sooner or later, all they will have to do is switch on a VR set and ‘nature’ will be all around them. What they don’t realize is technology will never be able to give them the same joy and fulfillment as reading a book underneath a willow tree will… at least not yet since it will take a certain level of maturity.
Gen Z: No, since increasing online entertainment is a much more convenient option than trekking through the woods or taking a plunge at a river. However, I believe that the importance of nature and a healthy environment will still be recognized, since it is vital to our survival.
After interviewing three generations of my family to uncover how the importance of nature has evolved, I found that it ultimately has not changed. My grandfather believes that nature is the staple that holds life together; my mother finds joy and fulfillment when tending to it; and my sister calls it her second home. The positive relationships they have developed with nature regardless of their differing backgrounds manifests that tomorrow, nature will be just as significant to a person’s survival and overall well-being as it is today and was yesterday.