New environmental coverage in the Irish Times

The new Irish Times Environment Page, where we will be expanding and deepening our coverage of, and reflections from, the environment over the coming weeks, months and years.

Our relationship with the natural world has rightly become one of the defining issues of this century. However, the constant association of “the environment” with “catastrophe” is profoundly unhelpful, disabling, and simply wrong. Engaging with nature should be a source of pleasure, not a trigger for crippling anxiety.

We cannot and must not evade the daunting challenges of climate change, land degradation, and biodiversity loss. The road to December’s Paris COP21 conference, and beyond, will be among the stories you read here. But our sense of helplessness in the face of such devastating changes too often slides into despair; then it can collapse into weary, fatalistic indifference.

To counter this, we need to focus more on expanding the ways citizens, educators, scientists and communities are already finding to engage positively with nature, and reviving old ones. Here at home, and across the world, there has been a surge in innovative conservation and restoration projects, in urban agriculture, in sustainable farming programmes and in artisan food production, to give just a few examples.

New research has confirmed the widespread conviction that the physical and mental wellbeing of children and adults depends to a remarkable degree on their ability to access, and engage with, natural landscapes. Hospitals are recognising that even very small increases in contact with nature significantly benefit patients.

When children are given an opportunity to encounter wildlife and wild places, even in urban settings, their sense of wonder and delight is almost always spontaneous and immediate. We need to find ways to nurture and sustain this pleasurable engagement with nature through all phases of education, and in adult workplaces and leisure activities.

If more people enjoyed a closer relationship with the natural world, and had a more direct grasp of nature’s extraordinary variety and resilience, our society would be in a better place to tackle the consequences of centuries of environmental abuse by our species.

The focus of the “green” constituency to date has too often been too negative and too narrow.

No-one has done more to evoke the wonders of nature for Irish Times readers, over several generations now, than Michael Viney, in his Another Life column and in his delightful, informative and insightful books.

It is a privilege to join him as a regular contributor, along with Sylvia Thompson and other colleagues, to this very welcome development of expanded weekly environmental coverage in The Irish Times. Viney’s column will continue to be the flagship of this coverage.