We tend to associate the term “natural” with being a positive thing. We look for natural ingredients in our food and body products, and we try to make good choices. But is it “natural” to use products like sunscreens at all? Weren’t we made to be in the sunlight?
The sun’s light is definitely essential to life, but so are natural defenses against getting too much. Even the world wears a sunscreen all her own: the ozone layer. Thanks to the ozone layer, UVC rays never reach the Earth, and we don’t need to worry about the unpleasant effects UVC radiation would have on our skin and eyes.
More than half the planet's people now live in urban areas. The need to supply food, shelter, fresh water and energy to billions of urban residents is resulting in loss of farmland, forests, wetlands and other ecosystems, as well as the critical ecological services they support, like providing food, clean air and drinking water.
Almost half of Canada's urban base is on land that only a few generations ago was being farmed. According to Statistics Canada, nearly four million hectares of farmland — an area larger than Vancouver Island — were lost from 1971 to 2011, mostly due to urbanization.
Many environmental campaigns over the past 50 years have aimed at getting people to care for imperilled species in wild, far-off places. The focus in Canada has often been on large, photogenic, culturally important animals, with bonus points for campaigns that include alliteration, bumper sticker-friendly slogans and plush toys. This has been a sensible and often successful strategy.
Over the past few years smaller, charismatic critters closer to home have buzzed into the spotlight: bees. About a decade ago, beekeepers in Europe and North America started noticing serious declines in honeybee populations. Bees have lost much of their natural habitat to urbanization and industrial agriculture and face increased stress from climate change-related drought and severe winters.
How much are whiter teeth and smoother skin worth to you? Are they worth the water and fish in the Great Lakes? The cormorants that nest along the shore? The coral reefs that provide refuge and habitat for so much ocean life? Are they worth the oceans that give us half the oxygen we breathe, or the myriad other creatures the seas support?
If you use personal-care products such as exfoliators, body scrubs and toothpastes containing microbeads, those are the costs you could be paying. The tiny bits of plastic — less than five millimetres in diameter, and usually from one-third to one millimetre — are used as scrubbing agents. Now they're turning up everywhere, especially in oceans, lakes and along shorelines. They aren't biodegradable.
Docs Talk: Tell us a bit about your latest research on people and nature.
Dr. Nisbet: We've been studying human connectedness with nature—an idea we call "nature relatedness."
Nature relatedness involves the thoughts we have about our identity and how it includes (or does not include) the natural environment. It also involves our feelings about animals and plants, and our beliefs about how humans should use natural resources.