Sara reflects on Beijing

Thursday, September 1st, 2011 | Environment Update, Urban Sustainability Where have you just returned from and what was the subject of the conference you are attending?

SB: I was in one of the world’s largest cities, Beijing in China, at an international conference on landscape ecology; in other words, the sustainable use of our landscape (forests, agricultural areas, cities). At this conference there has been discussion about “the mental, mind side of landscapes and sustainability” or the way that the environment forms our children’s values and future decision-making. What were the main conclusions about this?

SB: Unexpectedly many conference sessions concerned our cities. Urbanization in this part of the world creates many acute environmental problems, for example, lack of water, spread of disease, and air pollution, which directly affects the inhabitants’ health and life expectancy.  As a majority of the earth’s population lives in big cities, the city environment is critical to forming our world picture.  At the same time as greenery in all of its forms amid the buildings mitigate environmental problems, it is also important for those of us living in cities to understand ecology. For example, where food comes from - how a cucumber looks when it grows. Researchers (ecologists, environmental psychologists and pedagogues) reason  that if children don’t have contact with nature and its processes early in life, it will be impossible for them to understand environmental problems and behave in an environmentally friendly manner as adults. The appearance of our childhood landscape affects our behavior as adults, what we like, want to protect and value. What implications does this have for our living environments and the way that we form them?

SB: Already now there are children who grow up in such densely built up city environments that they have never seen a real tree – just in books or on film. While food lands on their tables, they have no idea how it was produced or how much nature has had to work for it to be there.  In this way, we feed that thought that we can live without nature, an illusion reinforced in the city. For Sweden and the other Nordic countries this shouldn’t be news. The mind side of landscapes is a part of culture and philosophy. Do we therefore have an easier time understanding this aspect and interweaving it into our environmental decision-making (in relative terms)?

SB: Yes, I think so, but, on the other hand we are not in as acute a situation (by a long shot!) as many other areas of the world.  This means that we do not guard the potential that we have in our landscapes or culture.  This potential is something that we are going to need to manage future climate change. What main impressions and thoughts does the conference leave you with?

SB: My two strongest impressions are 1) that researchers are increasingly crossing disciplines, for example, landscape ecology and psychology; and 2) that unfortunately we only become engaged in environmental questions when acute situations arise, for example, lack of water or levels of air pollution that make the everyday impossible.


Morning smog at Dantun Rd, Beijing, Aug 2011

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