When discussing rewilding, the focus is often placed on its environmental benefits, such as enhancing biodiversity, restoring ecosystems and sequestering carbon. However, we seldom delve into the impact rewilding has on people.
What role do we play in rewilding? Are we separate from nature or an integral part of it? Are we mere destroyers of nature, leaving it to the wild animals to rectify the mess we’ve created? Or are we keystone species, solely responsible for nature’s recovery? Perhaps rewilding holds more than just environmental benefits. In a profound way, rewilding could be the key to addressing another problem — the human problem.
Our era is plagued by war, poverty and civil unrest, which collectively engender a sense of angst and existential dread in many individuals. Throughout the world, we are taught what to learn and how to behave, often facing repercussions if we deviate from the prescribed path. Consequently, many people live inauthentic lives, conforming to the status quo. Inauthentic not just for themselves as individuals, but inauthentic for Homo sapiens as a species.
“Tyrannosaurus rex lived closer to the time of the iPhone than it did to Stegosaurus”
Homo sapiens is an animal that has evolved over tens of thousands of years. It is often, almost completely, forgotten that what we think of as norms are incredibly recent inventions. As a species, we only began to settle in one place around 10,000 years ago, when we realised we could domesticate plants. In evolutionary terms, 10,000 years is the blink of an eye.
To put it into perspective, consider that Tyrannosaurus rex lived closer to the time of the iPhone (66 million years before) than it did to Stegosaurus (82 million years earlier). Our bodies are not designed for the sedentary lifestyles most of us lead today, nor are they adapted to the excessive consumption of sugar, meat, and processed foods.
We evolved in Africa, where our circadian rhythms were attuned to the predictable sunlight hours that encouraged us to be alert and more productive when it was light, and drowsier when it was dark and our efforts were less worthwhile. It therefore makes sense that the production of serotonin in response to sunlight would develop to encourage us to make the most of whatever sunlight we had. Our bodies are less attuned to the fluctuating sunlight hours that many of us experience further away from the equator. Consequently, the lack of serotonin for 6 months of the year draws some into a deep depression.
Scientists refer to this disconnect between Homo sapiens’ evolutionary development and our current way of life as a “mismatch”. We often feel lethargic and mentally foggy when we remain sedentary all day, experience weight gain and chronic illnesses due to our dietary choices, and struggle to get out of bed on dark winter mornings.
Recognising that many of our problems stem from this mismatch, the solutions lie not in concealing the symptoms but in understanding the underlying causes. We feel energised when we are active, combat diseases through proper nutrition, and experience greater happiness when we spend time in the sun. Even the NHS now prescribes “nature-based interventions and activities” as a remedy for depression.
This evolutionary and anthropological perspective not only provides guidance on how to live as Homo sapiens but also offers a remedy for the apathy many people feel toward climate change. When we become so disconnected from the natural world, residing in concrete cities and obsessing over material possessions and financial success, it is unsurprising that many fail to see beyond their individual perspectives, often dismissing the issue as irrelevant to their own lives. Even those who care about the climate often view it as a problem only insofar as it affects their personal well-being. By focusing so much on our individual and species-centric viewpoints, we risk creating a dystopian world where humans survive in an artificial environment, while the planet itself becomes a relic of what it once was.
“We, as Homo sapiens, are inherent components of the natural world, just as a transmission is an essential part of a car”
Rewilding beckons us to comprehend our rightful place within nature, recognising that we are an integral part of it. Some erroneously believe that our recent advancements in engineering and global dominance signify our conquest of nature, as if we were playing the role of gods with the planet under our complete control.
However, if there’s one lesson that climate change has unequivocally taught us, it is that this belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Describing our profound reliance on nature as hopeless would be both accurate and emotionally charged. Likewise, likening it to a car’s reliance on a functioning transmission would be nonsensical. We, as Homo sapiens, are inherent components of the natural world, just as a transmission is an essential part of a car. Without nature, we would be lost, just as a car without a transmission.
Immersing ourselves in nature allows us to grasp its vital significance to our well-being. Psychologists and philosophers have pondered over why we experience a sense of relaxation in natural surroundings, suggesting that it stems from a fundamental mismatch.
In our modern lives, we strive to lead highly organised and goal-oriented existences. We relentlessly pursue these aspirations, and when we fall short, it leaves us feeling discontented. Unfortunately, this happens all too frequently. However, when we engage with nature, whether consciously or subconsciously, we find ourselves amidst chaos. Nature is inherently chaotic, lacking a predetermined order, yet it thrives. It operates in harmony with its own inherent rhythms. Perhaps as a collective, we need to embrace a greater acceptance of the chaos that permeates our lives.