The loss of a connection with nature is having major consequences on social, economic and environmental health in Canada, a new report by the Canadian Parks Council suggests.
On Friday, ministers from federal, provincial and territorial governments met in Toronto to discuss the report and find ways to reconnect people with nature.
“This is an issue of national interest, because Canadians’ relationship with the natural world is changing,” said federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq.
Within a generation, the first-of-its-kind report on the importance of nature suggests the country has gone from being a rural to an urban nation — with 80 per cent of Canadians now living in cities. It notes that Canadians are spending 90 per cent of their time indoors, adding increasingly sedentary lifestyles are contributing to chronic health issues such as obesity, heart disease and depression.
Richard Starke, Alberta’s minister of tourism, parks and recreation, said it’s startling how quickly the numbers have changed.
“It’s truly amazing to think that in a country as beautiful as Canada — renowned the world over as Canada is for its natural beauty and world-class parks system and green space in abundance — that we would ever house a population that spends 90 per cent of their time indoors,” he said, “but that’s exactly what the numbers are telling us.”
Starke said it needs to stop.
“We are going to start inspiring Canadians to rediscover nature and all that it has to offer,” he said, noting Alberta alone has 28,000 square kilometres of provincial parks and a wide range of recreational activities.
The report suggests getting out in nature not only lowers blood pressure and stress levels, it contributes to the economy by creating outdoor tourism and recreation opportunities, and nurtures environmental ethics.
Conservationists said it’s a timely report.
“As we face increasing pressures on the environment from land use and climate change, we need people to understand the importance of the natural world,” said Wendy Francis, program director of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. “If you don’t spend time in nature and don’t feel connected to it, then you won’t understand it or feel the need to defend it.”
Francis added that it’s a societal transformation that’s required.
“Parks are part of the solution, but they aren’t the only solution,” she said, noting parents and schools also play an important role in getting children playing outdoors.
Starke, who co-chaired the meeting, said the report serves as a starting point to reconnect Canadians with nature.
Some of the commitments by the parks ministers include developing a national parks passport for Canadians, linking web-based platforms from parks across the country; and sharing programs across provincial boundaries.
“It’s time to unplug from our technology and reconnect with nature,” said Starke. “It’s like mom always said, ‘Go play outside.’
“Mom was right on this one and it’s time we all started listening.”
Source: The Calgary Herald