Since we have been over in New York we have celebrated world ocean day and world environment day at the UNHQ. While I have not previously been one to celebrate such days, the hype around it at the UN really got me thinking about my experiences with nature as I have grown up. This then lead me on a tangent of thinking how contrasting my experience of nature and the ocean has been in comparison to the 8 million people that call New York home.
Being in New York for 2 weeks has been the longest I have ever stayed in a city bigger than little old Welly. I am feeling a bit of cabin fever over here! While I have enjoyed myself a lot with living the yo-pro big city life for the past 2 weeks, I find myself looking for the horizon among skyscrapers and feel a bit uneasy about taking underground public transport. I feel like a small fish in a big pond with no water.
Reflecting back on pictures from NZ on environment day I was reminded of my concept of being connected to ‘nature’ - usually amongst the mountains, on the ocean or in a river somewhere. Usually without technology, or buildings or noise. Where I feel most connected to the environment is when I am out of cellphone service, sitting still and listening to the birds and the river flowing past, or diving into some freezing water.
In New York I feel so far removed from my normal environment that I don’t feel a connection to nature at all. I feels bizarre to celebrate Environment Day in a place that seems so inherently un-environmental! For me it feels like I am so disconnected, that my actions don’t necessarily have repercussions outside of the skyscrapers, trashcans and fast-food culture of this city. I’ve found myself asking how people who grow up or live in these large cities like NYC actually interact with nature. I’ve also wondered how they feel motivated to act towards protecting the environment when they are so removed from it. When you grow up with skyscrapers as your forest and two polluted rivers as your city’s lifeblood, it’s understandable that the environment may not be engrained in you as a priority.
The concept of connecting with nature is one that was mentioned a number of times over the course of the conference and I found myself genuinely interested in how the people from all around the world described their connection to nature. 11 out of 15 of the world’s major cities are next to the ocean, and most of the others have waterways running through them. These large cities like New York are interspersed with greenery such as Central Park or the highline, where you can find the locals sunbathing or playing games outside at most times of the day. I guess from an outsider's perspective it may seem strange but the locals genuinely feel connected to nature through these small green spaces, the rivers, or through experiences they can have on the fringe of the city.
In my time over here we have met with a number of NGOs and organisations who are all doing amazing things to protect the environment. WE ACT and the Environmental Defence Fund are two of these organisations that we had the privilege of meeting. WE ACT are based in Upper Harlem and campaign for environmental justice. They have a huge base of support from around the world but also from volunteers in New York City. They link having a healthy environment strongly with a healthy life, and work towards achieving equality in environmental standards between areas of high socio-economic status to low socio-economic status.
The EDF work with governments to help implement policies that will be better for the environment, such as clean energy and reducing consumption. About 70% of the carbon dioxide emitted from New York is from A/C in buildings, and the EDF are actively working with the city to try and lower these emissions. They also work heavily in small-scale fisheries management around the country trying to work within sustainable catch limits. These people were genuinely passionate about the environment and cared deeply about the decisions being made about its management.
It is amazing to see the city celebrating world environment day and world ocean day collectively and passionately. There was a flotilla of boats that paraded down the Hudson river, an Ocean Festival held on Governors Island, the ‘La Mer’ wave sculpture walk, and a number of buildings that were lit up either green or blue in support of the environment and the ocean. At the UN in particular, an entire day of celebration was had with cultural performances and speeches from some of the most inspiring people.
It has been heartening to see the passion people have and action that people are taking to make meaningful change in not only their local areas, but also at a larger scale from NYC. You don't have to be from a beautiful country, or a small town in the countryside to be motivated to protect the environment. I have learnt that everyone feels a connection to nature, but it just may be through completely different ways than I am used to. I believe it is so important for people to feel connected to an issue in order for them to want to act on it and feel responsible for their actions. It goes to show that even in the large cities where there is little access to the traditional sense of the outdoors, people still genuinely feel a connection to their environment and are willing to act to protect it. New York - I am impressed.
All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences.