Know your environment

Today is Earth Day.

I’ve spent it as I’ve spent most of the last eight weeks: inside, buried under required readings, assignment work, lectures and tutorials. While post-graduate study is challenging and intellectually rewarding, studying how to better care the environment feels like it is temporarily disconnecting me from much of it. My current life is very urban. I live and study in the inner city, surrounded by concrete, glass and steel. There’s precious little greenery and no wildness about Melbourne, but this, too, is the environment. This too is Earth.

When we think about environmentalism, about sustainability, about nature, we hold images in our mind like the photo above: a vast swathe of unspoilt Amazon rainforest. Places that take our breath away and make us want to protect them. Animals that inspire a sense of awe and wonder. This, we think, is worth protecting.

What about the every day places, the spaces we inhabit in our daily lives? This is our environment on the most intimate level: the space we interact with daily; the air we breathe, the ground we tread on, the food we eat. We are part of nature and these are the environments we create for ourselves. How then to value our cities and towns, these modified spaces? How to value properly the spiders, whose unappreciated efforts keep insect numbers down. How to value trees transplanted from elsewhere that never-the-less produce oxygen and filter pollution, anchoring themselves into paved-over soils and somehow staying alive? What about the once-wild streams now concreted and hidden beneath us? What about the pigeons and the sparrows that somehow manage to thrive here? This too is nature.

Today is Earth Day: a reminder to care for this planet and the forms of life that depend on her. A reminder that this planet is our environment, that we are part of nature: it shapes us as much as we shape it. The environment is not just the mystique of the Amazon or the brilliance of the Great Barrier Reef, it is the here and now of you and I, and how well we understand that, how we choose to value that, matters.

Today and every day in this still-unfamiliar city I am grateful: for the clean air I breathe, for the urban creeks I cycle by, for the exotic street trees in their autumnal glory, for the spiders and the sparrows, for the sky and wind and rain. This is my environment; something to care for, to protect and improve. After all, it’s keeping me alive.

Rutledge Lane

7 Comments on “Know your environment

    • Hi Eddy! It’s something I’m trying to keep in mind. I’m not a city person as heart but it’s important to remember that this too is part of the planet and something important to manage and care for as best as possible. I still need to get out into the forest when I can though!

  1. I am always amazed by the amount of native wildlife surviving, and often thriving in cities. About 10 years ago magpies moved into our area, and are now a part of our environment. I love their carolling. We have a part to play in developing our little bit of the world — making our gardens as diverse as possible, cherishing areas like the banks of those creeks, looking after the trees in our streets. You are so right to say that the urban is such an important part of our world.

    • When I lived in Brisbane the urban wildlife was surprisingly rich. We had brushtail and ringtail possums everywhere, melomys in one garden, native rats in another, and always eastern water dragons & bearded dragons, native geckos, skinks and blue-tounges… in one house a little file snake lived in the bottom of the garden and a python sometimes came by. Then there were the birds….

      I’m in inner-city Melbourne now, but even in this heavily-modified habitat there is life. In the great urban crush of Lima there were hummingbirds in the summer and squirrels scurrying along the power lines. It’s remarkable!

      The more we appreciate the biodiversity in our cities, the more we teach people to connect with nature and to value the environment in broader terms.We can so easily do more to make our urban spaces into better places by embracing nature right here.

      • It is amazing what is there when you open your eyes. For so many of us the urban environment is the only one we access on a regular basis. You are so right that the more we embrace the spaces we see about us, the more likely we are to appreciate the wilder parts of our world.

    • Very interesting. I knew Elizabeth St was a creek and that’s why it floods, but hadn’t considered the possibility of restoration like that. Flood flows would still be mighty tricky though… Loved the examples from other places, proving it can be done.

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